LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Sta,—I venture to call the attention of your readers to the Report of the Committee on Agricultural Education, of which Lord Justice Luxmoore was chairman (Cmd. 6433).
Amid the plethora of planning the Report stands out by a searching scrutiny of the facts and by courageous and realist suggestions, and not least by strict reckoning of ways and means. It estimates the cost of its recommendations at 31 millions for capital and 2 millions of yearly expenditure. These figures by themselves are far from reflecting the emergency which the Report shows to exist, but they are a solid advance on the present total expenditure of about £600,000 a year.
The Committee, being concerned specifically with post-school educa- tion, premisses first that rural school education must be brought up to date and up to standard: otherwise farm institutes and agricultural colleges will lack fit material. Of the extent and the gravity of these arrears at the early stages of education the Committee appears to have been thoroughly aware. It is to be regretted that circumstances have debarred it from pushing its enquiries in this field, and bringing home to the public the deficiencies of country schools.
The historical part of the Report is uncomfortable reading. There has been for long too little conviction or energy in supplying the educational needs of agricultural workers, and, correspondingly, a fumbling method. It is true that at any time assurance of stable markets and liveable prices will hearten agriculture more than any refinements in the incidentals or the ancillary services, of which education is the chief. But the neglect of technology has been a severe handicap, and will presently be severer, unless remedied betimes in answer to the rapid industrialisation now proceeding throughout the world, e.g., in India, and to the prospective need for this country to curtail imports and grow more of its food.
The history of agricultural education is a talc of small views and divided responsibilities. The encouragements, financial and otherwise, of the Ministry have failed to energise the local authorities sufficiently. The generous standard of 6o per cent. grants towards the expenditure of local authorities has brought no rush on their part to incur their 40 per cent. ; while the Ministry was more concerned, perhaps, to have its money taken than to ensure the best use of it by close inspection. This permissive partnership of unwilling or unenterprising partners the Committee considers should be brought to an end.
This is a recommendation that will be hotly challenged by some critics. It is challenged indeed by the minority report of one member, the Hon. Mrs. Youard. She defends the vested interest of education committees in the running of any and every sort of education in their areas: though the qualifications of these committees for running farm institutes with their farms are doubtful, to say the least. She is with the majority in the vital point that too per cent. of the costs must be found by the Ministry. The broad fact is that the Report declares a state of crisis and emergency in agricultural education—and emergency needs call for proportionable methods. Government departments and local authorities, after all, are to be judged in the end not by administrative prerogatives, but by results. If a method used for getting good work done should fail, and if that good work under the test of circumstances should become critically urgent, it is plainly necessary for the parties to think again, and to devise a better method. It is refreshing to find a Committee courageous enough to strike out on a new course, and inventive enough to offer a practicable plan.
The new plan is to set up a National Council for Agricultural Educa- tion which shall be independent of the Ministry of Agriculture and of the Board of Education, and for which the Minister of Agriculture shall be answerable in Parliament. It is recommended that under this Council the advisory work shall be organised by provinces and counties and the functions of farm institutes and agricultural colleges shall be carefully demarcated. The granting of degrees in agriculture is left to the Universities, the hope being expressed that if they offer diplomas in this field it should be for post-graduate study only.
The Committee's major recommendations are based on the facts of insufficiency and failure. Its enquiries have shown that the development of agricultural education when left to the initiative of local authorities is patchy and inadequate. The counties with a rich yield per penny rate are not agriculturally-minded, while those with a meagre rate, and largely dependent on agriculture, cannot themselves afford, or obtain from elsewhere, a just provision under the existing system. Only an initiative and financing from the centre will get the work in train. The application of a uniform formula in defiance of deep-going differences from area to area has led in this matter to paradox: some counties that can pay for agricultural education do not want it, and others, that need it, cannot finance it. If the Ministry must bear the entire cost—and this is the unanimous view of the Committee—it is reasonable that the
Ministry should have the management.—I am, &c., JOHN MURRAY. Exeter.