Convocation Addresses of the Universities of Bombay and Madras/Part 1/Sir James Fergusson, Bart., K.C.M.G., D.C.L. (Twenty-Second Convocation)

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(By Sir James Fergusson, Bart., K.C.M.G., C.I.E.)

Mr. Vice-Chancellor and Gentlemen of the Senate,—It would have been impossible, I presume, that the report, necessarily voluminous, could have been heard by this great audience, but I hope that its circulation will place in all your hands the information conveyed. Yet there are some features in it to which I cannot but call your attention, though, on this occasion, more briefly than I could have desired. The history of this University now extends over a quarter of a century, and it is not to be expected that in each successive year there shall be changes and marks of progress so considerable as to call for special mention.

The year which has just closed has, on the whole, been uneventful; but the progress of the University has been continuous, although no such great change has taken place as to make, it memorable in our annals. In the report which has been presented, it is stated that the examinations have been generally satisfactory, particularly in the division of the chapter of Arts, in which there has been a marked increase in numbers. I note that whereas in 1879 there were 97 candidates for the B.A. Degree, of whom only 51 passed; in 1880, 100 candidates, of whom 34 passed; in 1881, 125 candidates, of whom 36 passed — a proportion certainly not satisfactory; in the present year, for the first time under the system of separating the examinations into two divisions, the result has been that at the first examination 53 of the 120 candidates passed, and at the second examination 23 of the 34 candidates passed.

I notice also that of the 15 candidates presented by the Elphinstone College, 13 passed. Results of the year. With reference to the lower examinations, we must again observe, as was done in past years, that the results of the Matriculation and Previous Examinations have been very unsatisfactory. The percentage of success in three years successively has been only 34, 28 and 36 for Matriculation, and for Previous Examinations 42, 25 and 38. This point, perhaps, is one more for the consideration of the schools which send candidates up, than for the University, but it cannot be a matter of indifference to those that wish well to the system that so large a proportion of candidates should be insufficiently prepared. We have to examine whether there be anything in the system that is at fault, and whether a too high standard be exacted. But while so large a proportion of failures would lead some to think the standard is too high, we know the Principals of the Elphinstone and Deccan Colleges have represented that the candidates are not sufficiently advanced in English to enable them to take the full benefit of the instruction given them; and when we observe that in some institutions the proportion passed is very large, it is evident that either the system of teaching in those institutions is better than in the generality, or they exercise a more wholesome discretion in the selection of candidates for presentation. Thus I find that whereas in the Elphinstone High School only 54 passed of 108 presented, at St. Mary's Institution, Bombay, 21 passed of 26 presented, at the New English School, Poona, 18 passed out of 22 presented, at the Rajaram High School, Kolhapur, 17 out of 22 passed. The number is small from the Bishop's High School at Poona, but 5 passed out of 6; from the Cathedral High School, also 5 out of 6; and from the Victoria High School, Poona, 3 were presented and 3 passed. I would call the attention of the Senate to a remarkable feature in the total percentage. Whereas out of 1,600 candidates 572 passed, it must be remembered that 1,051 candidates came from 65 different schools and 549 came from private tuition; the total percentage, taking the whole number of passes as compared with presentations, being in 1 in 2.79. Of candidates from schools alone 1 passed in every 2.09, which is nearly the proportion maintained in the Elphinstone High School; but of the candidates that came up from private tuition only 1 in 8 passed. That shows, in the first place, an inferiority of instruction under private tuition, and a want of discrimination in the selection of candidates. I think that, on the whole, it may be fairly concluded that the standard is too high and that what my learned friend, the Vice-Chancellor, last year described as "more rigorous kindness" is required. It has been argued by some that as the passing of the Matriculation Examination is taken as a test for Government employment, this examination might be separated from the University, and that governing bodies of Colleges might themselves be permitted to exact a test of the efficiency of their institutions. But I must say it seems to me that Matriculation would lose the reason of its being if it were not the primary test for entrance to the University. To lower the standard for any collateral purposes would generally reduce the status of the University, and would be a departure from that beneficial principle of a high standard of preliminary competency laid down and steadily maintained. Again, I have seen it stated that the reason of the failure of so many Native youths is that the system of education is too exclusively European. Now, were that so, it would indeed be a great misfortune; for the purpose of this University is not to discard the study of Native languages, but is rather directed to revive the interest of the students of India in their own antiquities, and at the same time to induce them to assimilate the culture of the West. English is necessarily an obligatory language for admission to the University, but the classical languages of the East—Sanskrit, Persian, &c.—occupy an equal place with English, which is of course the common medium of instruction in our colleges. It might be well if a different examination could be made applicable for admission to the subordinate Government service, without involving the whole Matriculation standard; and indeed to my mind there is much to be said in favour of such a change, inasmuch as the knowledge of English is not necessary for many of the subordinate employments in the public service. The University degree has wisely been made a leading qualification for appointment as subordinate judges and some others; but it is by no means a fact that degrees are only made use of for that purpose—in fact, of those who have taken degrees in this University since 1870 only about 43 per cent, are in the ranks of the Government service, or 296 out of a total number of 704 persons. It is true that there are also about 83 in the service of Native States, but there remain 290 others who are in other walks of life. I read with great interest the remarks made by our late valued Chief Justice when he traced the progress and improvements of the Native Bar during the long period of his services in this country in a great degree to the teaching given in the Elphinstone High School and the University of Bombay. It was, he said, the education given in these and other local institutions that had conduced chiefly to those results. As regards the failure in Previous Examinations, that is a matter for the colleges, and they will doubtless give it adequate consideration. I have to remark that the professional examinations have maintained their usual standard, and it is a matter for congratulation that the percentage of success in law is this year as high in numbers as that in medicine and civil engineering, although it has hitherto been lower, presumably owing to less perfect arrangements for teaching. I must refer, as I did two years ago, to the comparative failure of the provisions for teaching science. In 1879, on the motion of Sir Richard Temple, the University established a new degree for science and prescribed a complete course for that branch of study, physical and experimental. The results of the steps then taken have been disappointing, and this, I think, leads to the deduction that for the pursuit of this most valuable course the same assistance is wanted which proved so valuable in other branches; we must look to private benefactions for the means of study for poor students, and of a sufficient teaching staff. In other branches the liberality shown has been great, but much in this direction remains to be done. Only in one year in the history of the University has there been no addition to its endowments to be announced on this annual occasion. Liberality of the citizens of Bombay. This year I have some additions to make known, which testify afresh to the public spirit and liberality of the citizens of Bombay. We have received from the Naegaumvala family an endowment of Rs. 3,000 for an annual prize for Civil Engineering. Mr. Varjivandas Madhavadas, a Justice of the Peace for the City and a Fellow of the University, has given Rs. 6,000 for a scholarship open to Candidates passing the B.A. degree highest in Sanskrit. Rs.6,000 have been subscribed at Baroda for a scholarship in memory of Mr. Philip Melvill. And, gentlemen, I am most happy to announce that the Muhammedan National Association has promised and has paid the sum of Rs.13,630 for the foundation of three scholarships, to be called the Sir Frank Souter Scholarships, and to be held severally for Matriculation, Previous, and B.A. Examinations. Further, in the last few days it has been announced that an Ashburner Scholarship is to be founded in memory of our friend who has just left us. That is as satisfactory to us as it is honourble to the donors. Before closing I cannot but make one or two suggestions which I think must conduce not only to the advantage of this University, but to the advantage of the Universities all over India. All three Universities, Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, were instituted by simultaneous Legislative Acts in 1857. They have worked on their own system with little interference from above and with perfect mutual independence. Some differences in their system are due to local peculiarities, and such must ever be the case; but I cannot but think that it would be well for all were occasional conferences and discussions to be held. One instance of assimilation I will mention which can give no offence. It has been stated to me that in this last year, for the first time, this University has removed the restrictions as to admission before the age of 16, whereas in Madras that restriction has never obtained, and was removed in Calcutta some years since. Certainly, if it is right to do this in 1882 it might have been done with advantage in earlier years, and possibly it would, had there been such consultations as I have spoken of. I would remind you that great good has been done in the public schools in England by the annual conferences of head-masters, and thus, besides a friendly rivalry which takes place between those ancient institutions, an useful co-operation has also been the result. It would be better indeed that any changes and improvements in such an institution as this should take place from voluntary action and co-operation, rather than from any pressure from without. The consideration of University teaching is expressly excluded from the order of reference to the Education Commission. It may be that on some collateral points information has been given on the University course, but I think it impossible that recommendations could be made with regard to us by a body in which we are not represented. Native members of the Senate. In the history of this University we look back with just pride to the moderation which has ever been present in its councils and the friendly harmony and agreement which have always prevailed between the members of the governing body, of whatever denomination or sect. It would not be difficult, were such moderation not shown, for the Native members to outvote the European. At this moment I believe the number is as nearly as possible equal, but as the Europeans pass from this country, while the Natives remain, I think it highly probable that in future years the Natives will be in a majority. But there never, I am told, has been a question on which the Senate has been divided in which Europeans and Natives have not been found on either side in nearly equal proportions, nor has there been any division attributable to nationality or race. Such a condition of things is not only in itself a reason for just pride, but it augurs well for that system of local self-government which we are about to see among us so largely developed. There is one subject more upon which I would touch but lightly, but it is one, to my mind, so important that I cannot lose the opportunity I now possess of referring to it. Secular instruction. We have seen discussions, and I think we must many times have heard conversations, on the degree in which, not dogmatic professions, but the religious element, can be fairly introduced in the teaching of the University and Government schools. The absolute neutrality of the Government on such, subjects is too well established to be a matter of question, and I am not aware that any have demurred to that wholesome principle, or held that any demoralisation was likely to accrue from the secular character of the teaching. But the question has arisen whether the teaching may not only be secular but anti-religious; whether or not it be a breach of neutrality that instruction be given on lines which militate against all religion, disregarding all appeals to those higher principles having their origin in the supernatural and actuating all religious organizations. In Calcutta and here complaints of teaching said to be of that character have been made by the Natives of India. I cannot but refer to the public declaration made in a periodical, the recognized organ of an important section of the Native community in that direction. This is what I have to say upon the subject—that I hold it to be as great a breach of neutrality to teach in opposition to religion, as to import into professional teaching any dogmatic religious principle whatever. That I certainly think would be a matter in which Government would be bound to interfere; but it would be going as far wrong in the other direction were anti-religious teaching to be given, and I believe that nothing would be more distasteful to the Natives of the country. I have observed suggestions of the utmost liberality made by the heads of the Roman Catholic Church in regard to a possible common system of inculcating morality and virtue. That may not be found possible; but I hope that never, under the auspices of the British Government, will there be sanctioned or tolerated teaching which is opposed to those supernatural beliefs which actuate all religious organizations, and which give to morality the support of the reliance on a higher power, and the encouragement of immortal hopes. We have reason, gentlemen, to congratulate you, and the community which is proud of you, on the continued success of this great institution; and I earnestly hope that it will continue to call forth liberality on the part of the citizens, and train up thousands to be honoured subjects of the Queen and useful members of the community to which they belong.