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The following special article was written by Sir James Irvine, president of St. Andrew's University, the largest center of learning in Scotland. Sir James is on the board of administrators of the Harkness Fund, which was established two years ago to promote Anglo-American friendship by sending British graduate students to this country.
The Commonwealth fund as the Harkness gift is called, has given me the chance to study your American universities and to compare them in method and policy with out British universities. Of course, my primary aim while in this country has been not to generalize about the differences to be found, but to find what universities can give most to the 20 students that come here annually through the Harkness gift.
We are very anxious that the selected men that receive the schola ships contribute as much as possible to the understanding of your country by our country. We, therefore, try to send the students to as many different schools as possible, and we require that they shall spend their Summer vacations at our expense traveling throughout the country.
Harkness Standards Are High
The standard for the Harkness scholars is considerably higher than that for Rhodes scholars. A Rhodes scholar may be an undergraduate, and he is chosen chiefly for his qualities of leadership, both in the classroom and on the athletic field. On the other hand, a Harkness scholar must be a graduate of some British university, and although athletic ability and leadership in extra-curriculum activities are by no means disqualifications, the first considration is intellectual ability and originality.
The Harkness scholar comes to America with a serious intellectual purpose and it is the business of our committee to find the right environment for him. Most of the men that come to this country are not familiar with the various types of higher education that are to be found in. America, and we have to keep each man informed as to the place most suited to his needs, and yet we never can allow more than three of the scholars to be at one university at the same time.
Small Universities Are Popular
There has been from the beginning a strong claim for Harvard, Yale, Princeton. Cornell and California, and so to these universities we have sent many of our men. Gradually, however, we are showing to our men the advantages of the smaller colleges in the East and the State universities in the West.
The great objection to choosing a Western university for one of the British scholars, is his natural aversion to a large institution, in which his connection with his teachers and fellow students can not be intimate. In fact, I view with a certain amount of alarm the increasing size of American universities. Most of the higher seats of learning in the West are considerably overcrowded, and only recently have the Eastern colleges limited their numbers strictly.
British Colleges Breed Intimacy
In the British Isles, even when our enrollment becames large, we have the compensating feature of the college system. A man who goes to a British university is a member of the university only for the purpose of examination and parietal regulation: his real connection is with one of the many colleges that form the university. The British student is more than a name on a register, for he is known as intimately by the members of the college as he is known by the members of his own family. Although in Great Britain, very few of the men room together, and much more study is done in comparative solitude than in America, I would unhesitatingly say that the Britisher far exceeds the American in his familiarity with his professors, tutors, dons, and other students.
Fraternities Powerful In U. S.
I understand that there has been some discussion of the possibility of introducing the college system in this country. Without attempting to give a hasty judgment, I should be inclined to say that the system of fraternities in this country. Without attempting to give a hasty judgment, I should be inclined to say that the system of fraternities in this country would make the college system impracticable. The fraternities are in America a strong social and political force, and they are so deeply embedded in the structure of higher education that an attempt to infringe upon their privileges would meet with considerable opposition.
The are serious attempt that has been to counteract the influence of the fraternity was made by the late President when he was at the head of Princeton University, and I am told that even there the suppression of fraternities is only nominal, and that the eating clubs exercise practicaly the same functions that the Greek letter societies once had.
Predicts Wide Tutorial Growth
Another very important feature of British university life, the so-called tutorial system, is, however, more likely to gain headway in American education Already Harvard is trying to use a modified tutorial system, in which the tutors are supplementing rather than replacing the regular professors.
The tutorial system in our universities is the main method of instruction there are no classes under instructors and lectures are for the most part optional. A student is assigned to a tutor and given reading to do. This gives much more responsibility to the student than does the American system, and encourages his initiative and originality.
I' carries with it one serious danger, however, if applied without discrimination. It may attempt to combine the independence of the English ideal with the thoroughness of the German ideal; that is, American universities which adopt the tutorial system must not try to use the English tutors with the idea of securing the effectiveness of the German seminar The result of this would be to raise the general level of the educational standard but to put the exceptional man at a disadvantage.
Tutors Must Not Cramp Brilliance
If I may give a word of warning to the men who are trying to introduce the tutorial system, it would be to advise them against any form of this system that does not help the exceptional student.
A problem that American universities face is the tremendous numbers of applicants that must be sifted out each year. In Great Britain, in the past, education beyond the secondary schools has never been popular, in the sense that it was considered one of the rights of all classes. The wealthy and the men with a stong intellectual bent, in general, have been the only ones anxious to attend our universities, and, as a result we have had no difficulty keeping men out.
Our tests of admission have, until recently, consisted of a fortnight of gruelling examinations: however, in Scotland we are going to try a new plan much like your certificate system, by which a man will be admitted on the basis of his record time, but it may also give a fresh opportunity to men who may be read scholars, although not necessarily good writers of examinations.
Discounts Intelligence Tests
The American methods of admission are, of course, of different types. The college examination board given much the same sort of test as do the Scottish universities. The certificate system as I have said, is already being used For the psychological and intelligence we have no parallel. In Great Britain the intelligence tests were scrapped along with the other products of the war, and we have no great faith in their reliability.
Our post graduate work in Great Britain, too, demands much higher qualifications than does the same quality of work here. We do not admit men merely on the basis of some degree received in an ordinary academic coarse, but we demand students who by theses or other similar evidence have shown that they possess originality as well as mere parrotlike memory.
Public Interest Keen Here
The whole aspect of our institutions is much more academic than is the aspect of American universities. We have strict rules which restrain the conduct of students, and so our students are rarely the subjects of the same sort of caricature that is found in humorous publications here.
And, furthermore, although we have a considerable number of men interested in athletics, our sports are much less the center of public interest than are yours. In America, I fear that the increasingly professional attitude of sports will work harm to both the men and the universities, and I can understand the alarm felt by your college presidents.
The athletic danger is perhaps a result of the enormous influence that alumni have in this country. We do not have in Great Britain the same catering to the graduates of our schools, partly because the schools are entirely or almost entirely independent of the financial support of the alumni. We do not have endowment drives and our university presidents are not campaign managers.
British Do Not Cater to Alumni
In the case of the four chief Scottish universities, Oxford, Cambridge, and a few other old seats of learning, the funds derived from benefactions centuries old paid all the expenses of the university until the time of the war. With the increased cost of living, however, these established benefactions meet but 70 per cent, of the expenses, and the other 30 per cent, is gained through fees and through a grant from the Government. The newer universities, like Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds, are supported by voluntary contributions and by local levies.
Although this moy seem to be in some ways like the State universities in the West, there is an essential difference. In America the State not only contributes to the support of the school, appoints its officials, and, as in the case of evolution, restricts its curriculum. On the other hand, the British university that is supported by local funds still retains its independence, for the towns have acted in a most generous fashion, allowing the universities to spend the money as they think best.
English Graduates Equally Loyal
You must not think, however, that the alumni have no further interest in the university once they have received their degrees. They are in spirit intensely loyal, and at least as much concerned as the alumni of American schools in the essential welfare of their colleges. They are not of the same importance in the government of their schools as are American alumni, however. On the court, which corresponds to an American board of trustees, they have not more than a representation of one out of every three members. The chief control resides with the faculty, a practice which is, of course reversed in America.
There is one other comparison that occurs to me between American and British universities, a comparison which may be of less general interest, but one which interests me particularly. It is a comparison of the American and British methods of teaching science. I am myself a former professor of chemistry and I am now in this country addressing the Institut of Politics on the subject of "Chemistry and World Peace", so I have good cause to study the relative methods of scientific instruction.
Scientists in U. S. Often Commercial
In America I notice that most of the students who major in science are anxious to use their knowledge in a vocation. As a consequence, here your finest men are often absorbed into industry, while in Great Britain our best men, if they use their scientific knowledge at all, stay in the university, where they become research specialists and teachers. In the long run it, perhaps, does not make much difference to science, as American industries no less than American schools have their laboratories for research. It merely reflects in one instance the different attitudes of the American and the English student
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