Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 10 April 1957


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Freeth) - Order! The honorable member for Fremantle does not need any assistance from his colleague.


Mr BEAZLEY - The situation in Australian education generally is depressing for those of us who feel that the universities are not making a proper contribution to the community, and it is not just a question of money. There was a time when men like Murdoch and Shann in Western Australia, and men of equal status in other universities, meant more in the Australian community because of what they contributed to national thinking and national culture than seems to me to be the situation to-day. One notices this on every level of education. The New South Wales teachers' journal, which comes to most members of Parliament, is an instance. - Month after month I make a special study of it to see whether contributors will ever condescend in any article to show the slightest interest in the children the\ teach. But month after month assertions appear about the salaries and conditions of teachers. I do not blame them for that; that is quite important. But we would be very depressed if any of the medical journals that come to us from time to time contained nothing but articles on what fees should be charged and never had a dissertation which would help doctors to improve their professional efficiency.

I feel that there is something wrong in the Australian structure of education which stems from the universities; there is a lack of what one might call an inspirational quality. After all. there are two traditions of universities. There is the English tradition - university colleges, in which students are taken out of the community life and pursue studies more or less as recluses from the community. That has great advantages. Then there is the continental European tradition of universities in which students have been in the thick of the political life of their countries. Every tyrant from Metternich to Hitler and, most recently, to Janos Kadar in Hungary have had to smash the universities and the university students because of the part that they have played in resistance to tyranny. It should not be forgotten that the most significant happening in European history recently, as is quite plain from the universities of Poland, East Germany and Hungary, is that the Communists have lost the youth whom they themselves have conditioned. I think in the long-run that that will be found to be one of the most significant occurrences in the world to-day. However, it is in line with the tradition of continental European universities that students should have been in the thick of the resistance to tyranny.

In Australia to-day we are facing a situation in which the Commonwealth Government makes grants to existing universities. The Commonwealth is, rightly, inquiring into the structure of Australian university education. What that expert committee will recommend I do not know; but I hope that it recommends an end to the system of making universities, which are already three or four times too big in their enrolments, still bigger. What is most urgently needed to-day in almost every State is another university. The University of Western Australia, I should say, has already reached an adequate limit in respect of the enrolment of students, lt is a depressing experience to see universities becoming great barracks in which there is no atmosphere of intimacy. One of the greatest problems of the university campus which is beginning to develop is how many more acres will be taken out of it for parking space. Our universities are too big, and we need more of them. In this Australian Capital Territory we need not a Canberra university college but a university of Canberra, distinct from the Australian National University, which ought to remain a postgraduate university. The University of Canberra that I envisage would be a university for southern New South Wales as well as the Australian Capital Territory. It is true that the New South Wales Government has set about the provision of extra institutions. A purist might argue that the title " University of Technology " is inapt, because the word " university " implies all studies, while " technology " implies purely technical subjects. 1 fail to see, therefore, how we can have a university of technology. However, the University of Technology in Sydney is a second university institution in the State of New South Wales, and, if one includes the University of New England, it becomes a third. In Victoria and New South Wales, and even in the other States, we need more universities, and it would be a very good thing if the Commonwealth Government, perhaps as a result of the forthcoming report of the committee of inquiry, should decide to establish them. 1 am afraid that the time has come when we need not expect a flow of private endowments to Australian universities. There are many reasons for this. In the United States of America there is a very considerable flow of private endowments that are made for the purposes of establishing universities. That is because there are many individual fortunes in that country of which men may dispose as they will. However, the characteristic Australian business is a joint stock company, and a businessman is not in a position to dispose of the profits of the company in a way that he, individually, would think fit. In the second place, taxation has destroyed the large private incomes. If we go through our universities and see the institutions that have been established in them as a result of private endowments, we find that those endowments have almost all come from fortunes made before 1914. I think of Sir Winthrop Hackett, who heavily endowed the University of Western Australia, and whose fortune was made before 1914. I am reminded also of Mr. T. E. Barr-Smith and his contributions to the University of Adelaide. Wherever one sees in any of our universities institutions that bear private names, it will be found that they date back to the period before the imposition of heavy income tax. which destroyed private fortunes.

Because of the disappearance of private endowments, and despite the political risks' involved, the Commonwealth Government must take action to finance universities. I quite agree with the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) about the danger of political interference. I wish he wOUld carry through the logic of his thought, because' there are dangers of political interference wherever universities are dependent upon annual grants. It would be a very good thing if the Commonwealth Government itself were to endow universities, by making straight-out, single and adequate grants, with instructions that the universities were to invest the money in securities or in industry in order to produce incomes for themselves. I have been on the council of the Australian National University since its inception and I pay a tribute to the thoroughly enlightened way in which all Commonwealth governments have met many of the demands of the university. But there has always been some feeling of political control, some idea that the Government must not be offended. That is absolutely inevitable when a university is dependent each year upon State and Commonwealth grants.

The universities of Australia have not a great deal to expect from fees. One thing is quite certain: We have a deteriorating standard of university building in this country. Before 1914 university buildings were commonly made of stone. By and large, the cost of stone as a building material to-day is prohibitive. However important the work that is being done inside the University of Technology in Sydney, architecturally its buildings are a disgrace. Temporary buildings that look like ex-Royal Australian Air Force huts are to be found round the University of Western Australia. They are suitably tucked away in the back, but nevertheless they are not comparable with the standard of the building that was originally erected. After all, a university building should have to last for a thousand years, the atomic age sparing us. At least some universities have lasted longer than that. I am reminded of the reply to the Bishop of Liverpool to the criticism that was made, in about 1938, of his £6,000,000 cathedral. He said, "This cathedral cost £6,000,000 and we expect it to last for one thousand years. A battleship costs £12,000,000, and we expect it to last for fifteen years ". That is the way in which we should think to-day when we decide to put up a university building.

With university buildings as well as other buildings throughout Australia, we find the horrible tendency to erect temporary buildings faced with fibro cement. Some such buildings have been temporary for 50 years and threaten to remain temporary for another 50 years. I hope that the Commonwealth will realize the wisdom of making single adequate grants, so that really suitable buildings may be erected. In 1946 1 was on the interim council of the Australian National University at the time of its inception, and it was estimated that a certain set of buildings would cost £380,000. A start was not made on those buildings immediately, and by the time they were finished inflation and increased building charges resulted in the cost of those buildings being just under £1,000,000. If there is a slackness in the building trade to-day, it would be a very good thing for the Commonwealth Government to make one heavy set of grants to meet the necessary capital costs either for the construction of new universities or for expanding existing ones where expansion is inevitable.

The Commonwealth also has certain interests of its own. The State universities, generally speaking, resisted the establishment of the Australian National University, because they feared that the Commonwealth would endow certain specific interests of its own, and that it would concentrate all those endowments in the national university. As the administrator of native countries, the Commonwealth has a keen interest in the science of anthropology. For this reason, it set up a chair of anthropology in the Australian National University. But if our interest in anthropology is wholly concentrated in making grants for that department, then clearly the work of good scholars and inspired directors of research in the State universities will be jeopardized. If the Commonwealth is to regard the Australian National University as a special institution that will carry out researches into subjects in which the Commonwealth is interested, it would be very wise of the Commonwealth Government to buttress the basic studies and the basic teaching that are being undertaken at State levels, and which will, in due course, affect the standard of scholarship at the Australian National University. The truth is that we, in this national institution of Parliament, have become interested in the universities mainly because of the war. As part of its man-power responsibilities, the Commonwealth had to make decisions to allow certain persons to continue vital studies that were important to its war effort. In this way, the whole structure of Commonwealth intervention in tertiary education began to take shape.

It is the voracious demand for technicians that we feel in our competitive race with the countries behind the iron curtain which absolutely underlies the statement of Sir Anthony Eden that was cited by the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme). The honorable member was very satisfied with Sir Anthony Eden's statement. Objectively, it may lead to British intervention in speeding up the training of technicians; but it was a thoroughly inadequate statement on the part of the British Prime Minister from the point of view of what ought to be the approach of a government to universities, because universities basically are places which ought to produce a disposition of mind without which civilization perishes. That disposition of mind is for the honest, objective pursuit of truth, the honest study of reality.

Of course, in our universities we get many staff members who have what are basically propagandist motives. They are not honestly objective in their approach, and they use the freedoms of the institution to protect themselves in promulgating, whenever it suits them, ideologies which, as in the case of Lysenko, are against honest, objective research. It has been a characteristic of all the modern totalitarian ideologies that they interfere with the universities and distort scientific studies. Nazism did it, and communism did it in the clear case of Lysenko for many years, with actual execution of people who opposed him, until finally J. B. S. Haldane, a scientist who compromised his intellectual integrity for many years, could stand it no longer and left the British Communist party. But as well as that disposition of mind to pursue truth, the universities ought to produce a disposition of motive, a clear motive for advancing humanity. With that motive and that truth as the methodology, universities really begin to function in civilization as they ought to. and I hope that this Parliament will continue - or will commence, if it has not already done so - to think primarily of universities as instruments in the advance of civilization, and not merely as important cogs in the Australian economy.







Suggest corrections