Letter | Published:

The University of London

Nature volume 44, pages 102104 | Download Citation



I DO not wish to criticize in the least Prof. Lankester's valuable statement in your last issue, with which I entirely agree; but I desire to point out that unless some energetic action is taken very soon we are likely to be farther than ever from the ideal which he has in view—namely, the establishment of a strong professorial University in London. The only scheme at present in the field is that put forward by the Councils of University and King's Colleges in the proposed charter for an Albert University. This scheme has never met with the cordial support of a large section at least of the teaching staff of University College, and for the very obvious reason that it does not constitute a professorial University, but creates a new examining body on which the two Colleges will be, in the beginning at any rate, largely represented. The Albert University charter would create a second Victoria University in London. Now, both Mr. Dyer and Prof. Lankester are agreed that we do not want a federal University like Victoria in London ; but they seem to forget that this pettifogging excuse for a University—a scheme drafted by bureaucratic rather than academic minds—is the only scheme in the field, and that, further, the Lord President of the Council has determined to hear by counsel, on an early day in June, what can be said for and against this scheme. It is further rumoured that the Burlington House Senate intends, after its recent discomfiture, to remain absolutely neutral. The danger, then, that we shall have a repetition in London of the difficulties of Manchester is a very immediate one. Let me point out exactly the anomalies of the Albert scheme. In the first place, it does not create a teaching University, but a new examining body. The University as such will have no control over the appointment of the professoriate either at University or King's Colleges, it will have no funds to dispose of and there will be nothing to prevent rival second-rate teachers and teaching equipment instead of first-rate central teaching and central laboratories. For example, at the present time, putting aside the Central Institute, we have some half-dozen second-rate physical laboratories in London, but not a really first-class one worthy of a modern University among them. So long as there is competition between the Colleges, so long as they possess a double staff competing at every turn with each other for students' fees, this is unlikely to be remedied. Prof. Lankester speaks of a union of King's and University, and talks about their combined resources. The fusion of these two Colleges would certainly be the first stage to a true professorial University in London, but there is nothing in the Albert charter to bring this about: it unites the two Colleges not for teaching but for examining purposes. But what is still worse, while these two Colleges will remain autonomous, the Albert charter proposes to admit any further autonomous bodies, the teaching of which can be shown to have reached a certain academic standard. These bodies will not be absorbed, but their independent staffs will be represented on the Faculties and Senate. Here we have in fact the University of London over again,—at first composed almost entirely of the two Colleges, afterwards embracing all sorts and conditions of institutions in London, and ultimately open to every isolated text-book reader in the universe. It cannot be therefore too strongly insisted upon that the Albert charter, if granted, will not call into existence a professorial University, but federate a group, and an ever-widening group, of competing institutions for the purposes of examination. If it sheds for a time any additional lustre on the teaching staffs of the two Colleges—which I am much inclined to doubt—it will not achieve, what most of us have at heart, the establishment in London, at any rate in the germ, of a great University in the Scottish or German sense. A University, on the scale we hope for, would absorb the plant of University and King's Colleges, of the Royal College of Science, and of the Central Institute without the least difficulty. With the death or transference of existing teachers, whose pecuniary interests would have of course to be carefully safeguarded, special branches of higher teaching and research might be localized at these various centres,1 and we thus might reach in the future an efficient University organization in London. This may indeed be considered a merely ideal future, but any scheme like the proposed Albert University, which will only impede its ultimate realization, ought to meet with strenuous opposition from those who believe that a great professorial University must sooner or later be established in London.

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