1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Polytechnic

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POLYTECHNIC (Gr. πολύς, many, and τέχνη, an art), a term which may be held to designate any institution formed with a view to encourage or to illustrate various arts and sciences. It has, however, been used with different applications in several European countries. In France the first école polytechnique was founded by the National Convention at the end of the 18th century, as a practical protest against the almost exclusive devotion to literary and abstract studies in the places of higher learning. The institution is described as one “où l'on instruit les jeunes gens, destinés à entrer dans les écoles spéciales d'artillerie, du génie, des mines, des ponts et chaussées, créé en 1794 sous le nom d'école centrale des travaux publiques, et en 1795 sous celui qu'elle porte aujourd'hui” (Littré). In Germany there are nine technical colleges which, in like manner, have a special and industrial rather than a general educational purpose. In Switzerland, the principal educational institution, which is not maintained or administered by the communal authorities, but is non-local and provided by the Federal government, is the Polytechnikum at Zurich. In all the important towns of the Federation there are trade and technical schools of a more or less special character, adapted to the local industries; e.g. schools for silk-weaving, wood-carving, watchmaking, or agriculture. But the Zurich Polytechnikum has a wider and more comprehensive range of work. It is a college designed to give instruction and practical training in those sciences which stand in the closest relation to manufactures and commerce and to skilled industry in general and its work is of university rank.

To the English public the word polytechnic has only recently become familiar, in connexion with some London institutions of The First Polytechnics in England. an exceptional character. In the reign of William IV. there was an institution in London called after the name of his consort—“The Adelaide Gallery”—and devoted rather to the display of new scientific inventions and curiosities than to research or to the teaching of science. It enjoyed an ephemeral popularity, and was soon imitated by an institution called the Polytechnic in Regent Street, with a somewhat more pretentious programme, a diving-bell, electrical and mechanical apparatus, besides occasional illustrated lectures of a popular and more or less recreative character. In the popular mind this institution is inseparably associated with “Professor” Pepper, the author of The Boy's Playbook of Science and of Pepper's Ghost. Both of these institutions, after a few years of success, failed financially; and in 1880 Mr Quintin Hogg, an active and generous philanthropist, purchased the disused building in Regent Street, and reopened it on an altered basis, though still retaining the name of Polytechnic, to which, however, he gave a new significance. He had during sixteen years been singularly successful in gathering together young shopmen and artisans in London in the evenings and on Sunday for religious and social intercourse, and in acquiring their confidence. But by rapid degrees his enterprise, which began as an evangelistic effort, developed into an educational institution of a novel and comprehensive character, with classes for the serious study of science, art, and literature, a gymnasium, library, reading circles, laboratories for physics and chemistry, conversation and debating clubs, organized country excursions, swimming, rowing, and natural history societies, a savings bank, and choral singing, besides religious services, open to all the members, though not obligatory for any. The founder, who from the first took the closest personal interest in the students, well describes his own aims: “What we wanted to develop our institute into was a place which should recognize that God had given man more than one side to his character, and where we could gratify any reasonable taste, whether athletic, intellectual, spiritual or social. The success of this effort was remarkable. In the first winter 6800 members joined, paying fees of 3s. per term, or 10s. 6d. per year; and the members steadily increased, until in 1900 they reached a total of 15,000. The average daily attendance is 4000; six hundred classes in different grades and subjects are held weekly; and upwards of forty clubs and societies have been formed in connexion with the recreative and social departments.

The precedent thus established by private initiative has since been followed in the formation of the public institutions which, Later Institutions of this Class. under the name of “Polytechnics,” have become so prominent and have exercised such beneficent influence among the working population of London. The principal resources for the foundation and maintenance of these institutions have been derived from two funds—that administered under the City Parochial Charities Act of 1883, and that furnished by the London County Council, at first under the terms of the Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Act of 1890, and the Technical Instruction Act 1889, but since the 1st of May 1904 under the Education Act 1902, as applied to London by the act of 1903. More detailed reference to these two acts seems to be necessary in this place.

The royal commission of inquiry into the parochial charities of London was appointed in 1878, mainly at the instance The City Parochial Charities Act. of Mr James Bryce, and under the presidency of the Duke of Northumberland. Its report appeared in 1880, giving particulars of the income of the parishes, and revealing the fact that the funds had largely outgrown the original purposes of the endowments, which were ill adapted to the modern needs of the class for whose benefit they were intended. The act of parliament of 1883 was designed to give effect to the recommendations of the commissioners. It provided that while five of the largest parishes were to retain the management of their own charitable funds, the endowments of the remaining 107 parishes in the city should be administered by a corporate body, to be entitled “the Trustees of the London Parochial Charities” (otherwise known in relation to the polytechnics as “the Central Governing Body”), this body to include five nominees of the Crown and four of the corporation of London. The remaining members were to be chosen under a subsequent scheme of the charity commission, which added four nominees of the London County Council, two of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and one each appointed by the university of London, University College, King's College, the City and Guilds institute, and the governing bodies of the Bishopsgate and the Cripplegate foundations. For the purpose of framing the scheme, a special commissioner, Mr James Anstie, Q.C., was temporarily attached to the charity commission, and it thus became the duty of the commission to prepare a statement of the charity property possessed by the 107 parishes, distinguishing between the secular and the ecclesiastical parts of the endowments. The annual income derived from the ecclesiastical fund was £35,000, and that from the secular portion of the fund £50,000. The scheme assigned capital grants amounting to £155,000 to the provision of open spaces, and £149,500 to various institutions, including free libraries in Bishopsgate and Cripplegate, the People's Palace, the Regent Street and Northampton Institutes, and the Victoria Hall. A capital sum of £49,355 out of the ecclesiastical fund was devoted to the repair of city churches; and the balance of the annual income of this fund, after allowances for certain vested interests, was directed to be paid to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. This balance has varied by slight increases from year to year, and amounted in 1906 to £20,875. The remaining fund thus set free for secular purposes was by the scheme largely devoted to the erection and maintenance of polytechnic institutions, or “industrial institutes,” as they were at first called. It was the opinion of Mr Anstie and his fellow-commissioners that in this way it would be possible to meet one of the most urgent of the intellectual needs of the metropolis, and to render service nearly akin to the original purposes of the obsolete charitable endowments. For the year 1906-1907 the grants made to the polytechnics and kindred institutions (the Working Men's College, College for Working Women, &c.) by the Central Governing Body amounted to £39,140, and the total amount contributed by the Central Governing Body since its creation amounts to £543,000.

The general scope and aims of the institutions thus A Typical Scheme under the Act. contemplated by the commissioners are defined in the “general regulations for the management of an industrial institute,” which are appended as a schedule to the several schemes, and which run as follows:—

The object of this institution is the promotion of the industrial skill, general knowledge, health and well-being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes by the following means:—

i. Instruction in—
a. The general rules and principles of the arts and sciences applicable to any handicraft, trade or business.
b. The practical application of such general rules and principles in any handicraft, trade or business.
c. Branches or details of any handicraft, trade or business, facilities for acquiring the knowledge of which cannot usually be obtained in the workshop or other place of business.

The classes and lectures shall not be designed or arranged so as to be in substitution for the practical experience of the workshop or place of business, but so as to be supplementary thereto.

ii. Instruction suitable for persons intending to emigrate.
iii. Instruction in such other branches and subjects of art, science, language, literature and general knowledge as may be approved by the governing body.
iv. Public lectures or courses of lectures, musical and other entertainments and exhibitions.
v. Instruction and practice in gymnastics, drill, swimming and other bodily exercises.
vi. Facilities for the formation and meeting of clubs and societies.
vii. A library, museum and reading room or rooms.

Within the limits prescribed, the governing body may from time to time, out of the funds at their disposal, provide and maintain buildings and grounds, including workshops and laboratories suitable for all the purposes herein specified, and the necessary furniture, fittings, apparatus, models and books, and may provide or receive by gift or on loan works of art or scientific construction, or objects of interest and curiosity, for the purpose of the institute, and for the purpose of temporary exhibition.

Other provisions in the scheme require: (1) that the educational benefits of the institute shall be available for both sexes equally, but that common rooms, refreshment rooms, gymnasia and swimming-baths may be established separately, under such suitable arrangements as may be approved by the governing body; (2) that the fees and subscriptions shall be so fixed as to place the benefits of the institute within the reach of the poorer classes; (3) that no intoxicating liquors, smoking or gambling shall be allowed in any part of the building; (4) that the buildings, ground and premises shall not be used for any political, denominational or sectarian purpose, although this rule shall not be deemed to prohibit the discussion of political subjects in any debating society approved by the governing body; (5) that no person under the age of sixteen or above twenty-five shall be admitted to membership except on special grounds, and that the number thus specially admitted shall not exceed 5% of the total number of members.

These and the like provisions have formed the common basis for all the metropolitan polytechnics. In 1890 a large sum The Technical Board of the London County Council. was placed by the Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Act at the disposal of the county and county borough councils for the general purposes of technical education, and in 1893 the London County Council determined to devote a considerable portion of this revenue to the further development and sustentation of polytechnics. While the funds granted by the Central Governing Body may be employed in aid of the social and recreative as well as the educational purposes of the various institutes, it is a statutory obligation that the sums contributed by the London County Council should be applied to educational work only.

Dr William Garnett, the educational adviser of the London County Council, has, in a published lecture delivered before the international congress on, technical education in June 1897, thus described the conditions under which the Council offers financial help to the London polytechnics:—

The objects which the technical education board has had in view in its dealings with the polytechnics have been:—

1. To allow to the several governing bodies the greatest possible freedom in the conduct of social, recreative and even religious work within the provisions of the schemes of the Charity Commissioners.

2. To secure to each polytechnic the services of an educational principal, who should be responsible to his governing body for the organization and conduct of the whole of the work of the institution.

3. To provide in each polytechnic a permanent staff of teachers, who should be heads of their respective departments and give their whole time to the work of the institution, and thus to establish a corporate or collegiate life in the polytechnic.

4. To ensure that all branches of experimental science are taught experimentally, and that the students have the opportunity of carrying out practical laboratory work, at an inclusive fee not exceeding ten shillings for any one subject.

5. To provide efficient workshop instruction in all practical trade subjects.

6. To secure that the number of students under the charge of any one teacher in laboratory or workshop classes, or in other classes in which personal supervision is of paramount importance, shall not exceed a stated limit (fifteen in the workshop, or twenty in the laboratory).

7. To exclude from classes students who, for want of preliminary training, are incapable of profiting by the instruction provided; and to this end to restrict the attendance at workshop classes to those who are actually engaged in the trades concerned, and have thus opportunities of acquiring the necessary manual dexterity in the performance of their daily duties.

8. To furnish an adequate fixed stipend for all teachers, in place of a contingent interest in fees and grants.

9. To encourage private subscriptions and donations.

10. To establish an efficient system of inspection.

11. To facilitate the advertisement of polytechnic classes, and especially to invite the co-operation of trade societies in supporting their respective classes.

12. To encourage the higher development of some special branch of study in each polytechnic.

13. To utilize the polytechnic buildings as far as possible in the daytime by the establishment of technical day schools, or otherwise.

14. To secure uniformity in the keeping of accounts.

The regulations under which the council has attempted to secure its objects by means of grants have been changed from time to time as the work of the polytechnics has developed, but they provide that the council's aid should be partly in the form of a. fixed grant to each institution, partly a share of the salaries of the principal and the permanent teachers, partly a grant on attendance, the scale depending on the subject and character of the instruction, and partly a subsidy (15%) on voluntary contributions. In addition to the annual grants for maintenance, substantial grants for building and equipment are made from time to time.

The scale of grants adopted by the council for the session 1907-1908 was the following:—

i. A fixed grant assigned to each polytechnic.

ii. Three-fourths of the salary of the principal (subject to certain conditions).

iii. Fifty per cent. of the salaries of heads of approved departments.

iv. Ten per cent. of the salaries of other teachers.

v. Fifteen per cent. on (voluntary) annual subscriptions or donations.

vi. Attendance grants on evening classes varying from 1d. to 6d. per student-hour (subject to certain conditions of minimum attendance, eligibility, &c.).

vii. Special grants not exceeding £50 for courses of lectures on particular subjects required or approved by the council.

viii. Special grants towards any departments which the council may desire to see established or maintained.

ix. Equipment grants and building grants in accordance with the special requirements of the institutions.

The above grants are independent of any contributions which the council may make towards secondary day schools or day schools of domestic economy or training colleges of domestic economy in the polytechnics.

With a view to a due division of labour, and also to the co-operation of the public bodies concerned, the “London Polytechnic Council” was created in 1894. It was composed of representatives of the Central Governing Body, the technical education board of the London County Council, and the City and Guilds of London Institute, and its duty was to consult London Polytechnic Council. as to the appropriation of funds, the organization of teaching, the holding of needful examinations, and the supervision of the work generally. After ten years of work the London polytechnic council was dissolved in the summer of 1904 in consequence of the abolition of the technical education board of the London County Council, when the council became responsible for all grades of education. A statement below shows the number and names of the several institutions, and the extent to which they have been severally aided by the Central Governing Body and the London County Council.

The “People's Palace” owes its origin in part to the popularity of a novel by Sir Walter Besant, entitled All Sorts and The People's Palace. Conditions of Men, in which the writer pointed out the sore need of the inhabitants of East London for social improvement and healthy recreation, and set forth an imaginary picture of a “Palace of Delight,” wherein this need might be partly satisfied. Much public interest was awakened, large subscriptions were given, and the Central Governing Body aided the project; but the munificence of the drapers' company in setting aside £7000 a year for its permanent maintenance released the London County Council from any obligation to make a grant. Apart from the social and recreative side of this popular institution, the educational section, under the name of the East London Technical College, steadily increased in numbers and influence under the fostering care of the drapers' company and has now been recognized as a “school” of the university of London under the title of “The East London College” and is being utilized by the London County Council in the same way as other “schools of the university.”

Grants to the London Polytechnics during the Session 1906-1907.

   Central Governing Body. London County Council. 


 Battersea Polytechnic 2,500  1,701  1,545  4,760 
 Birkbeck College 1,000  1,005  445  3,450 
 Borough Road Polytechnic 2,500  1,563  820  5,285 
 City of London College 1,000  901  515  3,725 
 East London College 3,500  224  nil nil
 Northampton Institute 3,350  1,555  3,415  4,525 
 Northern Polytechnic 1,500  2,183  2,660  4,145 
 Regent Street Polytechnic 3,500  3,916  965  7,665 
 South-Western Polytechnic  1,500  2,091  1,275  6,265 
 Woolwich Polytechnic nil 1,000  2,525  5,495 
 Sir John Cass's Institute nil 50  510  2,400 

Total£  20,350  16,189  14,675  47,715 

In the above table the grants are given to the nearest pound. Up to July 1907 the total expenditure of the council upon the polytechnics, apart from the day schools, training colleges, &c., conducted in them, was about £525,000, almost exactly the same as that of the Central Governing Body. The voluntary grants from the central governing body include a contribution towards a compassionate fund, and a pension fund based on endowment assurances for all permanent officers of the polytechnics in receipt of salaries of not less than £100 a year.

The grants received from the board of education amount to about £30,000 a year, while the fees of students and members produce about £45,000. Voluntary subscriptions, including those from city companies and other sources of income, produce about £30,000 in addition, so that out of a total expenditure of about £200,000 a year the council now contributes 30%, the Central Governing Body 18%, fees 22½%, the board of education 15% and city companies and other subscribers 15%.

The Goldsmiths' Institute at New Cross owed its existence and its annual maintenance to the generous initiative of the ancient city gild whose name it bore. It was therefore entirely independent of pecuniary subsidy from any other public body. In the year 1900 the number of class entries to this institute was 7574. In 1904 the goldsmiths' company presented the premises, together with an annual subsidy, to the university of London for the purposes of a training college for teachers, so that from that date it ceased to be one of the London polytechnics, although, pending the provision of other premises, many of the technical evening classes have been continued under the London County Council by permission of the university with the approval of the company. The cloth workers' company has also contributed £18,000 to the Northern Polytechnic at Holloway.

In all these institutions the general aims have been practically the same, although special features have been differentiated Aims and Methods. in order to meet the local needs and the wishes of the inhabitants. In all there are laboratories and lecture rooms, trade classes, art studios, gymnasia, provision for manual training and domestic economy and applied science. In nearly all, at first, mechanical and manual instruction were the prominent objects in view, partly owing to the conditions under which grants were made by the science and art department. But of late increased attention has been paid year by year to literary and humaner studies, and to general mental cultivation, pursued pari passu with technical and scientific training. The aid of the London organization for university extension, now a department of the university, has been especially serviceable in providing courses of lectures and classes in literary subjects at nearly all the polytechnics. As subsidiary to their main work, some of them have established junior continuation schools, with a view to provide suitable instruction for scholars who have left the public elementary schools and are not yet prepared to enter the technical and trade classes. Although the workshops and the classes for artisans are used chiefly in the evenings, there is an increasing number of day students: e.g. at the Northampton Polytechnic Institute in Clerkenwell there is a very important day school of engineering conducted on the “sandwich system,” the students entering engineering works for the summer months and returning to the polytechnic for the winter session; at the Battersea Polytechnic there is a very important training college for teachers of domestic economy; at Regent Street there are day schools in engineering, architecture, photo-process and carriage-building; at the South-Western Polytechnic there are important schools of mechanical and electrical engineering and a training college for women teachers of physical exercises; at the Northern Polytechnic, as at Battersea, there is a training college for teachers of domestic economy, and there are departments of commerce and of physics and chemistry, while the Woolwich Polytechnic receives in the daytime, by special arrangement with the war office, a large number of engineering apprentices employed in the arsenal. In short, the schemes of the several institutions are so elastic that the governing bodies are at liberty to open any classes or to try any educational or recreative experiment for which they can find a genuine local demand. The total number of scholars in the polytechnics and their branch institutions is variously estimated at from 40,000 to 50,000, and the total number of regular scholars in the evening schools of the council does not exceed 100,000. These figures may be usefully compared with the census returns, which show that within the metropolitan area there are 704,414 persons between the ages of thirteen and twenty one. It is a noteworthy fact that, whereas in the population statistics for the whole of England and Wales the number at each year of age is regularly diminished by death from eight years onwards, there is a steady increase in London, year by year, from fourteen up to the age of thirty. This fact is owing to the constant immigration of young men and women from the provinces to the metropolis. The census commissioners in their report for 1901 (p. 15) computed that more than one-third of the population of London were not natives. They show also that, if all England and Wales be taken together, the number of persons between twenty and twenty-one is less by 12.8% than the number between thirteen and fourteen; but that, taking London alone, the number of persons between twenty and twenty-one is greater by 14.4% than the number between thirteen and fourteen. Hence, the proportion of the inhabitants who are of an age to benefit by polytechnics and continuation schools is in London exceptionally large. It would not be right for Londoners to complain that there is thus cast upon them the duty of providing suitable instruction for so many immigrants, for if the great city drains the rural districts of some of their best brain and muscle, she gains much from their industry and productive power. The figures, however, point to the necessity for taking every means possible to raise the standard, both physical and intellectual, of the London boy. The immigration into London of youths and young men means to a great extent the substitution of the provincially trained improver or artisan for the less fit London boy, who consequently falls into the ranks of the unskilled, then of the unemployed and ultimately of the unemployable.

But it follows from the particulars thus given that neither the supply of suitable provision for mental improvement and rational recreation for the wage-earning classes, nor the demand for such provision on the part of the workers themselves is commensurate with the moral and intellectual needs of a community of nearly seven millions of people (four and a half millions within the administrative county). The provision in evening schools, institutes, classes and polytechnics is still in some respects far inferior to that which is to be found in most German and Swiss towns, and needs to be greatly increased. In matters relating to the higher life, demand does not always precede supply; it is simply which is needed not only to satisfy the public demand, but to create it. As new and well-devised opportunities for mental culture are placed within reach, they will be more and more appreciated, new and healthier appetites will be stimulated, the art of employing leisure wisely and happily will be more systematically studied, and the polytechnics will become still more important centres of civilizing and educating influence than they have hitherto been.

In particular, the reconstituted university of London has been placed in new and most helpful relation to the best of the polytechnics. By the statutes the senate of the university is empowered to include in the list of “schools of the university” all institutions which are duly equipped and able to furnish suitable instruction of an advanced and scholarly type; and also to recognize all thoroughly qualified professors in their several faculties and subjects as “teachers of the university,” although some of their classes may meet in the evening only, and no student is to be prevented from taking a degree as an internal student of the university solely because he can attend classes only in the evening. There is thus a way open for the due recognition of the polytechnics as part of the teaching machinery of the university, and for the admission of the best students as undergraduates, with all the rights of internal students. The great possibilities of the metropolitan university under its new conditions were at first hardly revealed or accurately foreseen. But there were during the session 1906-1907 no less than eighty-six recognized “teachers of the university” on the staffs of the London polytechnics and more than 750 students who were working for London University degrees in the polytechnic classes. There is no reason to fear that the recreative, social, manual and industrial training, to which at first the special attention of the founder of the Regent Street Polytechnic was directed, will suffer from a fuller expansion of the academic and literary side of “polytechnic” life. Rather it may be hoped that the due co-ordination of the practical with the purely intellectual purposes of these institutions will serve to give to all the students, whatever their future destination may be, a truer and broader conception of the value of mental culture for its own sake.

See also a paper by Mr Sidney Webb, The London Polytechnic Institutes, in the second volume of special reports on educational subjects (1898) issued by the Education Department; the Report of the Central Governing Body of the London Parochial Charities; the Annual Reports of the London County Council; the Polytechnic Magazine, published from time to time at the institute in Regent Street; and various memoirs and papers contained in the Proceedings of the International Congress on Technical Education (1897), especially two—that by Mr Quintin Hogg, detailing his own early experience in founding the first polytechnic, and that of Dr William Garnett, then secretary of the Technical Education Board.

(J. G. F.; W. G.)