31 MAY 1930, Page 10

The Scottish Universities

MORE than the generality of mankind, the Scot has the reputation of being an educated animal. It is, indeed, often said by those who do not wish to honour him that he owes his alleged success in the world less to superior gifts than to.. intenser 'cultivation. Certainly, even in the daYs When - Scotland had no universities of her Own, the higher education of her sons was a matter of concern to the Scottish mind. There are in existence documents sholing that the kings of Scotland were in the habit of making 'grants from their privy -purse to enable young men of good family and promise to study at the University of Paris.. The spirit of the Carnegie system is not of modem growth. To-day some rough idea of the relative importance of Scottish and English- universities in the communities they 'serve may be Obtained by comparing the university statistics of the two countries. The population of England is about eight times that of Scotland, yet, althOugh there are thirty thousand students at English universities to-day, there are no fewer than ten thousand at the four Scots universities. So far- as numbers go, then, it is clear- that St. Andrew's, Glasgoir, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh are holding their own. If, however, one wishes to form a true appreciation of the role and character of these Scottish institutions, it is necessary to understand that they are by history, tradition and present structure quite different from the two great English universities with which their age entitles them' to be grouped. On the other hand, if they resemble the provincial Universities' in organization, they are distinguished from them by those elusive; imponderable; but very real qualities that come from deeply rooted tradition and the assurance that each is as good as the other and inferior to no one. Three of theni are pre-Reformation foundations ; the fourth; Edinburgh; was established a few years after the Protestant' victory, to some extent with funds left for the prirPose by a bishop of the old Church. None of them can therefore be called modern- and, as a matter of fact, two of the three papal universities, Glasgow and St; Andiew'S; are older than- Upsala; It was in 1414 that the earliest of all, St. Andreies; was founded, with the famous scholar, Laurence Of Lindores, as its first rector. A' solemn and Magnificent celebration was held in the noble cathedral, and less solemn, but not less magnificent, bonfires kindled in the streets. Froin the beginning, 'then, the universities were a matter of Popular as well as ecclesiastical and academic interest. By seeking their model in Parii, the • founders of St.'Andrew's save the decisive form 'to Seittish university education. .There were four nations, as there are four nations to-day at Glasgow, and each nation elected a proctor; the four proctors chose the rector. The Reformation did not alter the character of the universities, though it brought them new life for a time.' Knox evolved an imposing scheme of university reform, but when the Scottish nobles had finished with the Church lands there was little left for piety or learning. The important formative influences which worked on the original Continental basis of the universities can be' briefly summarized. With the exception of St. Andrew's, they were situated in important cities which, as time went on, they had less and less hope of dominating and on which they could not set their stamp as the Uni- versities did on Oxford and Cambridge: The community retained the upper hand, and one good result of this can be seen to-day in the large civic share in the government of each university. Although the college system was established at St. Andrew's in the fifteenth century and has never been eradicated there, the absence of colleges and of residence has always been one of the chief facts distinguishing Scottish from English universities. The student has been left to make his own arrangements for lodging and has had a freedom from university discipline unknown to the more carefully shepherded English undergraduate. On the other hand, he has known nothing of the charm of communal life in an exquisite building, with its subtle moulding influence on taste and manners. In his often all-too-grim " digs " he has cherished uncouthness as well as independence. - To-day there is a definite movement to establish the college in Scotland as the unit of the university's social life, if not of its government and discipline. But, so far, it has made little headway. Out of the 10,847, Scottish students in the academic year 1927-28, the latest for which returns are available, only 651 resided in colleges or hostels as compared with 9,261 in 'England. When it is considered that of these 651 no fewer than 120 are attending the small university of St. Andrew's, with its 617 students, the relative insignificance of the resi- dential or collegiate system will be realized. The obvious explanation of this marked difference from English ways is the poverty of Scotland when compared with its southern neighbour, and the fact that it had four universities to support and not two: King James VI. and I. 'was the first to deplore the undue multiplication of the universities and many distinguished Scotsmen to-day h-ave echoed his regret. But there have been compensations. The' universities have used their revenues 'to endow Professorships and not colleges and the poor man has been able to make his own standard of living while attending university clasies. At Scottish universities the professor is a much more important person than in England -; 'he has a 'greater 'influence in the organization of the various departments and curricula. It is sometimes objected that the Scottish university is nothing but a maehine for the delivery of lectures. But possibly the Scots professor and his lectures have been too readily condemned by converts to the tutorial' system obtaining at Oxford and Cainbridge. There is this positive advantage in the Scottish way `+ it has made university echication cheap enough to be enjoyed by all but the very poorest, and it has given to the universities their peculiar character of popular, democratic institutions, close to the life of the people and the everyday realities of industrial Britain. On the other hand, one is inclined to' speak in 'terms of more -guarded praise of the working of the Carnegie Trust, that great organization for- giving aid to needy students. The' scope Of the' Trust's work nu& 'be esti- mated by the fact that out of the ten thousand students at Scots universities, no fewer than four thousand are financed to some extent by it. In all it has spent—or lent—a million and a quarter pounds, of which £25,000 has been repaid. But authorities like Professor Grierson of Edinburgh point out that one effect of the scheme has been to pour into the already crowded class-rooms students of very varying degrees of competence." • Conceivably it would be possible for the Trust to employ a larger portion of its funds to better advantage in improving university equipment or in giving a more gracious architectural setting to those institutions where the youth of Scotland. spends the critical formative years of its life: • Althoug• h.- social life is of necessity' not so highly developed in the Scottish universities as at Oxford or Cambridge, the various associations of students are both vigorous and attractive. The best Undergraduate dis- cussions to which I have listened were in- Edinburgh, not in the Oxford Union. As a very distinguished Scotsman assures me that Glisgoir is also superior to Oxford in this respect, there are grounds for supposing that the Scots universities are not merely the degree- factories that they are sometimes represented to be.

On the other • hand, literature, drama, and the arts generally do not seem to find a very congenial soil in the north, though it is possible that'the new spirit awake in Scottish intellectual life will in time touch the univer- sities. After all, nationalism in its political aspect has become almost the child of Glasgow University.

No account of the Scots universities would be complete without some mention of the two remarkable research institutes which have come into being in recent years. The Rowett Institute at Aberdeen, with Dr. John Orr at its head, is a great generating station for new ideas about agriculture and the fame of its work is spreading over the world. In the same way, the animal breeding research department at Edinburgh, whose chief is Professor Crew, is carrying on biological research of an importance which cannot be overestimated.

There is, no lack of signs of health about these univer- sities. The new critical and self-critical spirit awakening in them is one of the most encouraging things about them.