Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/55

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
41
POLYTECHNIC

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.