ENGLAND is but just beginning to feel the wave of progress in the question of University organisation that has been sweeping over the rest of the world. University reform as understood in England means a rather fitful movement from within to lift the teaching and methods of the older Universities a little out of the mediævalism that has been settling down upon them. The true University reform has meantime been going on outside in the spread of scientific teaching far away from the quiet collegiate quadrangles, in the establishment of new Universities and University Colleges in the centres of provincial life. It is very hard to make an Englishman believe that there is any subject in which he is not leading the progress of the world. Yet let him look at Germany, at France, at America, and consider what is being done abroad, before he passes his complacent comment on the feeble reforms at home. Let him look at the City of Berlin with its 1,123,000 inhabitants, its teaching University with 6000 students; and then turn to the City of London with its 4,000,000 inhabitants, without a teaching University at all, and having some 2000 students in all under training at its two best educational establishments. The contrast does not stop here, as any person acquainted with the University systems of Europe knows only too well. The fact is that England is wofully behind the rest of the world in the organisation of the higher scientific education. Its Government is absolutely indifferent to the most crying needs in this direction. What does the British Government do for the higher scientific teaching, or for the promotion of the reorganisation of our existing Universities on the modern scientific basis? An annual grant of a few thousands to the South Kensington Normal School, a subsidy of about 25,000l. a year to the Scottish Universities, and one of about 12,500l. a year;to the Welsh University Colleges, whereof perhaps one-half goes to the promotion of science, represent the net result. True a Government some fifty years ago founded the Examining Board, miscalled the University of London, and another Government, some fifteen years ago, gave 90,000l. to help the University of Glasgow to complete its buildings. But for the University movement throughout England, such as it is to-day, England owes nothing to one single statesman or Government; it is due to individual and local effort, aided it is true, but on the most minute scale, by the action of one or two of the more liberal corporate bodies. It is well, then, that Englishmen should have the opportunity of reading, as they may do in the present number of NATURE, what has been done in a single small province of Europe, in a city of only 104,000 inhabitants, in the equipment of a great University on modern lines. The completeness of the equipment, and the magnificence of the buildings of the new University of Strasburg are truly startling. It is to the divine right of learning knowledge, not to the divine right of ruling wrong that these modern palaces are erected. The Zeit Geist has indeed wrought revenges in the honour thus rendered to science and to philosophy, to literature and to art. Imperial Germany unites with her own province of Alsace-Lorraine to bestow 640,000l. upon the new University buildings, and to increase its existing endowments by a sum of 42,000l. per annum. Nor is this a solitary fact. During the last nine years France has spent nearly 1,000,000l. per annum on increasing and reorganising her University institutions. What has England to show against this? The Imperial Government has with the exception of the little Scotch and Welsh grants named above, done literally nothing. All else that has been done has been done mainly by a few individuals with great difficulty, on a very limited scale, in the teeth of all sorts of unintelligent opposition. Oxford Convocation consents, amid fierce debate, to spend 10,000l. on a physiological laboratory. Strasburg, in the meantime, has quietly spent 13,500l. for the same purpose; and this (Fig. 15, p. 561) is the smallest of the splendid group of institutes and laboratories in the new University. The Corporation of Nottingham—the only Corporation that has shown public spirit in this direction—has spent some 70,000l. upon an institution which includes a Natural History Museum and a Public Library, and a University College. Nottingham, has a population of 186,000 souls. At Strasburg, with a population of 104,000, a sum equal to this has been spent on institutes of chemistry arid anatomy alone (Figs. 5 and 9, pp. 559–60), and nine times as much on the rest of the University buildings and fittings. The Corporation of Liverpool very generously contrived to accommodate its new University College in a disused lunatic asylum. But the whole of the buildings of Liverpool University College would go twice over into the Strasburg Institute of Chemistry (Fig. 5, p. 559). At Cardiff, the Town Council, after an attempt to thrust its University College into a still less suitable site, agreed to rent to it an old infirmary for its various scientific laboratories and lecture-rooms; but the Strasburg University possesses twelve buildings, every one of which is as large as the Cardiff building, and infinitely better adapted to the purpose. Owens College, the Mason College, the Firth College, owe nothing to corporate help: they are sustained by private benefactions. The Yorkshire College is also innocent of any municipal support. At Bristol, with a population of about 200,000 souls—nearly double Strasburg-funds privately subscribed to about 11,000l. have resulted in a ragged fragment of ill-assorted rooms to accommodate the local University College; the entire buildings for literature, science, and medicine being less than half the size of the Institute of Physics (Fig. 6, p. 559) at Strasburg. Lastly, the city of Newcastle-on-Tyne, with a population of 150,000, relegates its Science College to the cellars of a Mining Institution, where it is effectually buried from public notice. There is nothing at Strasburg comparable to this.
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A Scientific University . Nature 31, 549–550 (1885). https://doi.org/10.1038/031549a0