HC Deb 28 February 1895 vol 31 cc129-44

*MR. J. W. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire) moved— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to withhold Her Assent to Ordinance No. 57 of the Universities (Scotland) Act, until it be revised, by leaving out Section (xii.) of the Ordinance. He apologised to the House for detaining them at that late hour, but his object was to remove from the perpetuation of an Act of Parliament matters which he thought were small enough to be safely entrusted to Local Authorities like the Universities themselves. The Ordinance to which he took exception applied to all the four Universities of Scotland, but it applied to the Aberdeen University in an extraordinary degree. This Ordinance dealt with the subject of Bursaries. A Bursary was a Scholarship, which was gained on entering a University and held by students during their University career; and in the University of Aberdeen, it would be no great exaggeration to say, that there were almost as many Bursaries as students. So nearly, at all events, was this the case that every student who went up to the University had a reasonable hope of winning a Bursary. A consequence of the Bursary system was, that the subjects which paid at the Bursary Examination were exclusively those taught at all the training schools that fed the Universities. The Bursary Examination not only reflected its shadow backwards on all the schools, but forwards on the University curriculum. By Ordinance No. 11 no student could take any language for his degree which he had not passed in at his Entrance Examination, and in Aberdeen the Entrance Examination was synonymous with the Bursary Examinations. Whatever subjects were laid down for the Bursary competition would be the subjects that would regulate the secondary education of the district, and would influence the University curriculum itself. The part of the Ordinance to which he took exception indicated what those subjects were to be. The Commissioners had laid down that no student should select more than five of those subjects, which were placed under two categories—compulsory and optional. The compulsory subjects were English, Latin, and Mathematics; and the optional were Greek, French, German, Italian, and Dynamics. It was strange that science should be represented in the list by one subject only, and that subject Dynamics. For the compulsory subjects double marks (400) were given, and for all the optional subjects, except one, 200 marks—the exception being Greek, and for that subject 400 marks were given. How would this work out? Take two students, a boy and a girl, going into the competition; the boy taking Greek, and the girl Modern Languages as special subjects. Each of them would get 1,200 marks for the compulsory subjects. The girl would get 400 more for French and German, making 1,600 marks altogether, the total she was allowed to get. The boy took Greek, and with an extra subject, say Dynamics, which he was allowed to take, could thus bring his marks up to 1,800. Now, for one student to compete with the possibility of making 1,600 marks only, while another student had the possibility of making 1,800, meant the difference between a Bursary and no Bursary at all. The effect of the Ordinance would be to prohibit students in some cases from entering the Universities. Moreover, the consequence of the system would be that, while Greek and Latin would be favoured by students for the Bursary competition, French and German would be neglected in the schools and in the University curriculum. That was a state of matters of which the people of Aberdeen made serious complaint. He wondered how the Commissioners proposed to justify it. He believed the principle on which they based their action was, that Greek was twice as difficult to learn as French or German, and therefore double marks were given for it. But was the Greek paper at the Bursary competition twice as difficult as the French or German paper? He might show by statistics that such was not the fact, but his case was strong enough without doing so. Even granting that Greek was twice as difficult to learn as French or German, the fact would not touch his argument. If there is anything in the argument at all about Greek being double as difficult as French or German, it would cut the other way. If it is true that it took a man double the time to learn Greek that he would spend in acquiring French, why did they allow him to take up, in addition to this difficult subject, an extra subject and bring the marks up to 1,800. Now, another argument was this: They said that they were defending the poor against the rich. They said that the rich man's son could go to France and Germany and learn those languages there. Well, he was pleased to say that it was a well known tradition in the University of Aberdeen, that when a rich man got a Bursary he passed it by and handed it down to his poor neighbour. But was it a fact that going to France or Germany to learn those languages was an advantage? Why, they were answered over and over again that the reverse was the case, and it stood to common sense. He knew that from his own experience, a man might, by that means, obtain greater colloquial capacity, but if he had to pass an examination as to grammar, syntax, and literature, it would be altogether different. As to those things, a man would do better to stop at home. It was also contended that this ordinance took a great step forward, and that it was a great improvement. He contended that that was not the case. He did not ask them to accept his humble authority, but he quoted Professor Ramsay in favour of the view he took. Hon. Members might imagine, and he had been told that he was there to champion modern languages. But that was not so. He was there for the purpose of championing the cause of his University against a measure which would be seriously deleterious to it. Public opinion was gradually setting against the compulsory enforcement of Latin and Greek in our University courses, and the shrinking in the number of Art Students in the Scottish Universities could only be attributed to the fact that they went to other places where the study of the dead languages was not forced upon them. He regretted the position which the Commissioners had taken up in regard to this matter, but who was going to support them in the House on that occasion? Two of those Commissioners sat in the House; and it seemed to him that the only support they would receive would be from quarters which were not exactly progressive in their views. He had been blamed for bringing the matter before the House of Commons, but the University for which he was speaking had done everything within their power before taking this final step. They had petitioned in the sense of his Amendment, but the Commissioners had taken no notice whatever. True, other Universities had not moved in the matter, but then it did not affect them to the same extent. A University which had few or no competitive Bursaries could afford to sit easily under the ordinance. Cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator. An appeal to the Privy Council had been suggested, but they had had enough of appealing to the Privy Council, and preferred coming to the House of Commons, a step which was deemed necessary in the interests of an institution which would be seriously endangered by the enforcement of the ordinance of which he had to complain.

MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N.E.)

said, the hon. Member had done ample justice, both in the matter of argument and of rhetoric, to the cause which he advocated. He rose to answer him because he happened to be a Member of the Bursary Committee of the Commission. He regretted the absence of his two colleagues, the hon. Member for the University of Glasgow and Aberdeen, and the hon. Member for Ipswich. He was authorised by them to state in the strongest language their concurrence with the Ordinance which had been passed unanimously by the Commission, and their opposition to the present Motion. That Motion was a little unusual in form, for it asked that the Commission should revise the Ordinance. They had no power under the Act to revise the Ordinance; all that could be done was to move Her Majesty to withhold her Assent to it. The question, however, had been raised clearly enough by the speech of the hon Member. It had been represented by him that the action of the Commission had been to give an undue preference to the study of Greek over Modern Languages, and to do so contrary to the customs and requirements of Aberdeen University. When the Commissioners undertook the duties laid upon them they found Greek an indispensable requisite to obtaining the degree of Master of Arts. The Commissioners found that Modern Languages had no place whatever in the obtaining of a degree; and they placed Greek as an optional subject and Modern Languages as optional too. They found the Bursaries in precisely the same situation, that is, that Greek was a necessary and compulsory subject to obtain a Bursary at all; indeed it was still a compulsory subject; and it was by the free action of the Commission that Greek would no longer be a compulsory subject in University competitions and for graduation. It was true that, in introducing Modern Languages as voluntary subjects, they had thought it necessary to secure that Greek and Modern Languages should be taken at their proper relative values, and it was their action in that respect that was called in question. The hon. Member seemed to think that if you included Modern Languages you must make them take as good a position as any other subject; but that was an untenable and an extravagant proposition. It had never been done in any similar case, such for instance as the Indian Civil Service Examination, in which there was great variation in the numbers of marks for different subjects. A still nearer illustration was afforded by two munificent bequests which had done much to foster education in Aberdeen and the adjacent counties; and under these bequests £2 per student was given for the teaching of Greek and Latin and £1 for German and French. Yet the Commissioners were told they were interfering with the needs and arrangements of Aberdeen University. It was one of the most important and difficult parts of their work to regulate the relations between the Schools and the University. It was their duty to see that, while they admitted what an American witness called "soft" subjects into the curriculum of the University, the "soft" subjects did not drive out the hard subjects, and that due value should be assigned to one and to the other so as to make them effectively and substantially equal. More than that they had not done. He need not assure the House that, in seeing this equal justice done, they had no prejudice against the modern side of education, which was well represented in the Commission. They had the President of the Royal Society, and the hon. Member for South Manchester (Sir H. Roscoe), a distinguished man of science. To a certain extent, also, the Commissioners had the guidance of a Commission of Inquiry of 1878, also consisting of eminent men, who had recommended that the door should be opened to every form of intellectual culture. The Commissioners had adopted that principle, and all they had done in the matter of Bursaries was to guard it by the condition which he had mentioned. The hon. Member said that a lad could not proceed to graduation unless he had passed a preliminary examination in one of the subjects, but it should not be forgotten that the lad might take the preliminary examination at any time. It was further said that the Commissioners ought to have left this matter to the discretion of the Senatus. But the Commissioners felt it to be their duty when they opened these avenues to those easier subjects, also to take precautions that that liberty should not result in the entire extinction of studies in the higher literature in the Scottish Universities. Reference had been made to the Universities Committee of the Privy Council; and he could not help asking, why did not the hon. Member and his friends avail themselves of the appeal to the Universities Committee of the Privy Council, which was conferred by the Act. His hon. Friend was not accurate in saying that the University authorities in Aberdeen petitioned. They only exercised the statutory right to lodge objections to this statute before it was passed by the Commissioners as an Ordinance. The Aberdeen authorities only lodged one objection; they claimed for themselves the liberty to deal with this matter at their own discretion. If they had stated any of the detailed objections mentioned that evening, those objections would have received the most respectful consideration; but they were not made. In their Ordinance the Commissioners had been much indebted to the suggestions of the different University bodies. No such objections as his hon. Friend had taken were laid before the Commissioners. The only thing the hon. Member and his friends did was to claim the right to regulate this thing for themselves and to that the Commissioners found themselves unable to agree. In conclusion, he wished to say that it was not possible to argue this case as it ought to be argued at that hour of the night. Moreover, the House of Commons was not the proper tribunal before which to bring the case. The Act of Parliament gave an Appellate Court which sat at midday and not at midnight, and which would, if required, go calmly and deliberately into the case. The hon. Gentleman and his friends had declined to avail themselves of that court, and had brought the matter before the House at a time when it could not be discussed. This was not a case in which the House of Commons could wisely or properly interfere with the discretion they had committed to the Commissioners. If the Commissioners had not opened the door as they had done to every kind of intellectual culture, it would have been very proper for the House of Commons to pronounce an opinion; but when they had done that, then the House had no right to interfere with them in a matter which, though to his hon. Friend it was a matter of detail, from the point of view of the Commissioners was vital. He begged the House to remember the constitution of this Commission. It was a Parliamentary Commission appointed by the House of Commons. It was not merely a Commission appointed by a Minister. Its composition was canvassed and even altered by the House, and accordingly the Commissioners were the servants of the House whom the House had charged with a particular duty which it could not undertake itself. They asked as public servants to receive the support they ought to receive, and he doubted not that they would receive that support. If objection had been taken in a question of large policy it might have been a different thing; but the Commissioners in the course of five years had woven a web for the reform of University Education in Scotland, and he asked the House not, suddenly in a quarter of an hour, to make a hole in it, and ask them to tear it up. He left the case in the hands of the House with the greatest confidence.

MR. R. C. JEBB (Cambridge University)

supported the Ordinance of the Commissioners. In the Bursaries concerned, those for students in the Faculty of Arts, the subjects of competition had hitherto been English, Latin, Greek, and Mathematics. The Commissioners had now made Greek optional, the alternatives being French, German, Italian, and Dynamics. This was a concession, but to it they attached the condition that Greek should carry twice as many marks as any of the other subjects. The reason for this condition was, that, as experience showed, the average student required a much longer time to reach that degree of proficiency which the Bursary examination tested in Greek and Latin, than to attain the corresponding point of proficiency in French and German. This was proved by statistics furnished to the Commission from secondary schools. A definite gauge was afforded by the Higher and Lower Leaving Certificates given by the Scotch Education Department. A boy on the classical side of a secondary school would not infrequently obtain a Higher Grade Certificate in French, when he could obtain only a Lower Grade Certificate in Latin, though he had been devoting far the larger part of his time to the ancient language. The right principle was that intellectual tests of equal difficulty should carry equal value. If unequal tests were to be given equal values, the result would not be a real equality, but only the delusive semblance of it. The Indian Civil Service Examination afforded a precedent for the action of the Commissioners. In that examination 2,300 marks could be obtained by classics (including Greek and Roman history), but only 1,000 marks by French and German. The reason against leaving the assignment of marks to be settled by the authorities of Scotch Universities themselves, was that the result would be perpetual uncertainty. A vote of the Senatus might at any time change the relative value of Bursary subjects. The whole system of secondary teaching would be deranged, because schoolmasters could feel no security as to the weight which would be given to different subjects from year to year. The adjustment of marks between the different subjects was not in this case a mere detail, but involved a principle, which ought to be fixed by Ordinance. Many things—as, for instance, the courses of study for the degree—were fixed by Ordinance in the case of the Scotch Universities, which in the case of Oxford and Cambridge were left to be settled by the Universities themselves. There was in this respect no real analogy between the Universities of Scotland and those of England. The Ordinance now impugned had received the unanimous sanction of the Commission. It was accepted by three out of the four Scotch Universities. If it was rejected, the work of the Commission as a whole would be injured in a vital part. The consequences would be far-reaching. Not only would Greek be soon killed out of Scotch education, but a fatal blow would be dealt to classical scholarship in Scotland generally, and to all the interests of that higher learning in which Scotland had been so long and so honourably distinguished.


said, that everyone in that House recognised the great services of the Commissioners. They had given their time and labour, and sacrificed their own convenience to an extraordinary extent. The House was very grateful to them, and had proved its gratitude by passing without any controversy a very large number of the Ordinances which they had presented. He thought the House was bound to do that in the case of any Ordinance which was constructed and organic, and that the House had done. But he did not think the House was deprived of touching a question like this, which he certainly maintained lay on the surface, and was not organic, constructed as part of the main system of Scottish Universities. If the House was to cut out the words stating that in determining the marks to be assigned, the several subjects for bursary competition, Greek, Latin and Mathematics should be assigned to them double the marks assigned to other subjects, the Ordinance and the whole arrangement of the bursaries would yet remain perfectly operative, the machinery would be quite perfect and it would be left to the authorities of the different Universities to say what proportion of marks should be given to each subject. That was permitted to every and the smallest college in Oxford and Cambridge, and he was bound to say that the great Scottish Universities were perfectly competent to carry out the same duty. If the Commissioners had been deputed by Parliament to fix the marks for the bursaries examinations, then he quite agreed with the Member for Mid-Lanark they were bound to support them unless they had done something very extreme indeed. But if they were not so commissioned under the Act, they were justified in doing it by the Act, but were not bound to do it by the Act, and they in that House might form their own opinion about the matter. But to come to the question itself. What was the reason which his hon. Friend opposite gave—and he thought every one would allow he was a perfectly adequate exponent of the theory—for giving double marks to Greek and Latin that they did for French and German? The hon. Gentleman said that it took twice the time to attain a certain proficiency in Greek that it did for French and German, and that therefore it ought to have higher marks. But what was their answer to that? Their answer was that they should give the same marks to French and German as to Greek, but that in order to obtain the highest marks for French and German students should be obliged to attain a much higher efficiency than was required for Greek. That was the way to encourage French and German, but the method which had been adopted by the Commissioners did not so much encourage Greek as discourage French and German, because he observed that this was what was the case: that a student who really applied himself to French and German with energy and interest, who made himself an excellent French and German scholar and really enjoyed French and German literature, when he had come to that degree of perfection could only, after all, obtain a pitiful 200 marks. He wished hon. Members would recollect what they themselves were at the age these lads went in for the Bursaries. How was it possible for the great run of lads to get the only thing worth getting—a real intellectual education—out of one or two subjects, out of Greek and Latin? All the tendency of modern education had been to multiply the channels through which people could attain intellectual interest, and he ventured to say there was not in a great school of 500 or 600 boys more than five or six, or a dozen at most, who got a really genuine intellectual interest out of Greek. He did not think there were more than five or six or seven boys in a great school who really knew Greek, as he believed a great many hon. Members of the House knew French literature. If they multiplied the number of subjects, if they took natural science, a certain number of other boys got an intellectual education, and if they took modern history, and French and German, more boys still got intellectual education. But the necessary condition of getting that intellectual education, was that they should encourage excellence, and they could not encourage excellence by the system of giving half marks for subjects—the only result of that would be to discourage them. The Commissioners had done two very good things. They had done away with Greek as a compulsory subject in the ordinary degree examination, but they had greatly undone that by making Greek practically a compulsory subject in the bursary examination. And, again, the Commissioners had done themseves very great credit by admitting girls and women to compete for the Bursaries. But after all, what was the use of admitting girls to the bursaries if, at the same time, they put the girls under an immense disadvantage, because in the girls' schools of Scotland French and German were largely taught, but Greek was taught only, as it were, by a certain amount of special coaching. If a person took up Greek, he could get 1,800 marks, but if he did not take up Greek, he could only get 1,600 marks. The variation between the two figures made all the difference. Often the first-rate man would be beaten by the second-rate man. That certainly was the case in every final degree examination, the figures of which he had known. ("No no.") Yes; 200 marks would cover the difference between half a dozen men in the tripos; certainly it did in his tripos, and in that of many around him.


remarked that the right hon. gentleman was supposing an examination for a degree which followed a course of study at the University; whereas the competition for Bursaries at entrance could only test teaching at school.


said, he was speaking of a bursary examination. and every one knew what an important thing a bursary examination was. It was a serious thing to put in a position of incapacity and disadvantage two languages like French and German, the elements of which were quickly mastered, and from which intellectual enjoyment was soon derived. In this controversy then he felt that, as a Member of Parliament, he was bound to say, that he agreed with his hon. Friend behind him. But it was not a Party question, or a Government question, and every hon. Member would, no doubt, vote exactly according to the view he took of the matter.

MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's,), Hanover Square

said, the question was whether education in Scotland was to be determined by a vote of the House after three-quarters of an hour's debate, or by a Commission which had carefully examined into the matter, and by the authorities of the Scottish Universities themselves. On one side they had the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland and two hon. Members behind him, and against that they had the declared opinion of the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews. Aberdeen was alone in the matter. But he had had a letter from the Principal of Aberdeen University protesting against the course which had been taken by the Secretary for Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the advantages of French and German. No one could deny them. But the great vaunt which Scotland had over England in educational matters in the past was that the Scotch were better grounded in the Classics than the English. In Scotland a knowledge of Latin had gone far deeper into the population than in England; and it was at that system of education they proposed to strike a blow by this Motion. The crofter's son had been introduced. He believed the crofter's son would in many cases have better opportunities of learning Latin and Greek in Scotland than French and German; for German and French had not established themselves in Scotland as Greek and Latin had done. He appealed to the House not to disturb the deliberate judgment of those appointed to consider the matter, or to run counter to the wishes expressed by the heads of the Scottish Universities.


said, that he was bound to say one word on this question as the Representative of Aberdeen City, because his colleague was absent. The case of Aberdeen University was very different from that of the other three Scottish Universities. The bursaries at Aberdeen had a greater importance than elsewhere. He put it to the House that the mistake which the Commissioners had made was in legislating on the same lines for Aberdeen and the other three Universities. He wished to dissociate himself from any disparagement of Greek; and he did not altogether agree with his right hon. Friend (Sir G. O. Trevelyan) in the remarks he had made on that subject. He found himself more in agreement with the right hon. Member for Cambridge University as to the relative importance of Greek and Latin. The difficulty in relation to the many bursaries at Aberdeen was that the Commissioners should have laid down one stereotyped rule for them all, and not trusted the University authorities to make varying rules. He could not understand why the Commissioners, for whom he had the highest respect, should have thought it necessary to include Aberdeen in the same Ordinances as the other Universities, and to apply the same rule to all the bursaries. There was a very-strong feeling in Aberdeen on this subject, and he believed that the general wish of the city and the neighbourhood was that which had been expressed by the hon. Member for Kincardineshire.

SIR HENRY ROSCOE (Manchester, S.)

said, that as the only other Member of the Commission present he wished to express his strong feeling in favour of the Ordinance. No one would think that he had any distinct preference for Greek over the modern languages. On the contrary. But justice must be done. The Commissioners had endeavoured to put these subjects on an equality with respect to the entrance examination. The difficulty of the situation was this—that if an adverse vote of the House were given, the whole of the Ordinance must be put back for at least one year. The other Universities were prepared to send in their pupils on the footing arranged by the Commissioners, and they were satisfied with it. If, in the course of time, Aberdeen found that the proposed scheme worked adversely, the remedy was in the University's own hands in the way of a reference to the Privy Council, and therefore it was not proper to interfere with the result which the Commission had unanimously arrived at. On behalf of Lord Kelvin and himself, he wished to say that the subject of dynamics was introduced at their distinct request, because that subject could be taught with mathematical accuracy. That was not the case with biology or geology, and the other "ologies." For school-work a subject was needed which could be treated with mathematical precision. He entreated the House to support the Ordinance.

MR. R. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.),

said, he wished, as a representative—which he was entitled to be in different ways—of three Scotch Universities, if not of every University in Scotland except Aberdeen, to say that he entirely dissented from the style of remarks indulged in by his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and also by one of the Members for Glasgow. With respect to the Secretary for Scotland, he was disappointed with his remarks. They were very unnatural from him. He knew the right hon. Gentleman was a good Greek scholar, and could read Greek with intelligence, and occasionally with pleasure, and he was extremely sorry that he should have discouraged the enjoyment of that pleasure on the part of any portion of his (Mr. Wallace's) fellow-countrymen, and his own constituents beyond the Tweed. It was unworthy of him. As to the President of the Board of Trade, he always heard his opinions on any subject with a large amount of deliberation. He had studied his books, and more particularly that great work on "The American Commonwealth." He had even read again the last edition of it. He had listened to his arguments against the power and usefulness of Greek in Aberdeen, but at that time in the morning he did not want to go far into the subject. He simply wished to say that, having been connected all his life with Scotch Universities and Scotch Education, he deplored, and would continue to deplore if necessary, the idea of diminishing the power of Greek literature in Scotch education. They had far too little Greek in their academic curriculum and their University studies. He would not go back to the days of Dr. Johnson, and quote what he said about the relative connection between Scotland and England. He thought it was too just. Since that time they had been endeavouring to make up their leeway, and knew by experience the power and usefulness of Greek studies, though they recognised that of Latin studies. He thought that every effort to excite an interest and enthusiasm, if possible, in the study of the Greek originals was an effort to elevate the thoughts of humanity and to inspire the populations with not merely what was useful in the modern conception, but inspiring in regard to every idea that helped towards a higher ideal of humanity. He did not desire to argue the question at that late hour, but as a Representative of various Scotch Universities he desired simply to urge as strongly as possible that no discouragement should be given in the Division to Greek studies.

The House divided:—Ayes, 45; Noes, 101.—(Division List No. 18.)