Front Page Titles (by Subject) MR. LOWE ON THE OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY BILL. ( From The Economist, 24 th February, 1877.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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MR. LOWE ON THE OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY BILL. ( From “ The Economist, ” 24 th February, 1877.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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MR. LOWE ON THE OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY BILL.
Mr. Lowe, on one or two subjects, still retains his ancient Conservatism. On the subject of the franchise he is altogether Conservative, and on the subject of University policy he is, if very much of a reformer as regards the treatment of the degree-giving bodies, yet very much of a Tory as regards any proposal to touch the College endowments or to appropriate the revenues now devoted to fellowships to any object either of scholastic or of scientific research. Moreover, his exceeding Toryism in this respect makes him press an argument against the present Bill of the Government, which seems to us inapplicable and far-fetched. He points out that in preparing for the great reform measure of twenty-three years ago, the course taken was very different indeed from the course now adopted; that a very able Commission of Inquiry was first appointed which did its work exceedingly well, and that after it had reported, and its report had been well considered, the Government came forward with a measure in which it laid down all the main principles of legislation, and left only the details to be settled by the executive Commissions. The present course, as Mr. Lowe truly says, is a very different one. No Commission—except one of inquiring into the finances of the various colleges comprehended in the two elder Universities, and into the revenues of these Universities themselves—has recently been appointed. The Legislature is apparently quite ignorant of the present condition of the two Universities, and of their colleges. Parliament does not apparently know—probably does not know at all—what has recently been done in either University, still less what ought to be done. Obviously no one is more ignorant on this head than Mr. Lowe himself. And yet in complete ignorance of this condition of things Parliament is to appoint a Commission, with discretion to make certain changes, of the value of which Parliament knows little, and of the sufficiency of which it knows less. Surely, says Mr. Lowe, this is not as it should be. Adequate inquiry should precede legislation, and the legislation when it takes place, should be legislation passed by the two Houses themselves, and not by a delegated body invested by Parliament with discretion to do as it pleases. The argument would be exceedingly strong but for one or two considerations, but these are considerations which seem to us entirely to destroy its applicability. The first is this, that the proposed measure is not one of a drastic or even of a potent character. It is one which can at best accomplish the few moderate reforms on which all thinking parties in the Universities are pretty well agreed. It is, in fact, a measure empowering the moderates of the two Universities to effect such reasonable improvements as may be calculated rather to stave off than to hasten more revolutionary measures.
Mr. Lowe’s clients, the colleges, are especially well protected. They will each of them be able to defend themselves against anything like not merely confiscation, but nervous alarms, by the help of the three special Commissioners whom they are to place on the Commission, for the purpose of all statutes affecting the interest of that College. And besides this the character of the Commission itself is a guarantee against sensational measures. Neither the Oxford nor the Cambridge Commission contains a single reformer of extreme views, and each of them contains very many of well-known Conservatism. Indeed, if the Bill be worth anything, it is worth far more for the purpose of removing in good time admitted blots which, if allowed to continue, might lead to more thoroughgoing change, than for the purpose of any reform such as that carried out by the University Act of the last generation. In the next place, the discretion of Parliament is by no means so completely delegated to these Commissioners as Mr. Lowe’s argument seems to require. Unfortunately, as we think, in some cases,—fortunately perhaps in others,—there are stringent limitations on their discretion which reduces their power of anything like sensational innovation very nearly to zero. In some cases, the bodies which might be most seriously affected by these statutes have an absolute veto on them. In other cases there is an appeal to the Queen in Council, and if the Universities Committee of the Privy Council should disallow the statute after hearing such an appeal, the statute will have no effect. And, then, even if it is not vetoed or altered by this Committee of the Privy Council, it must be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and if either House dissents from it, it is to be of no effect. It is obvious, therefore, that the statutes of the Commissioners will have much more of an analogy to minutes of the Privy Council in relation to the regulations affecting primary education than to new principles of education, such as are supposed to require an Act to embody them in our Education law. Mr. Lowe would hardly ask that every modification of the Education code should be made by Act of Parliament, yet what he asks in relation to the Universities is very nearly of this nature.
As it seems to us, the true criticism on the Universities Bill is not that it does too much, but that it is but too likely to do too little—less even than might be expected from the Conservative Government which is now in power, and from the very moderate reforming spirit of which they boast. One very signal blot in the Bill was certainly hit by Mr. Goschen. He pointed out how very awkwardly the negotiation between the University Commission and the various colleges is likely to work. As regards, at least, the appropriation of surplus collegiate revenues to the purposes of the central body—the University in the narrower sense—what is really wanted is that the Commission should estimate the needs of the University, and then divide the burden amongst the colleges in proportion to their unused, or, it might be, in some cases, their misused, surplus wealth. But this is just the kind of procedure which the method of the Bill seems likely to exclude. The negotiation with each college must be carried on separately, through the collegiate delegation which for this purpose is to be put on to the Commission, unless the college previously and spontaneously decides to do what the Commission thinks sufficient. The effect of that must be that the various colleges must all be dealt with on individual terms, and not with relation to the requirements of the scheme as a whole, and to the relative magnitude of the disposable surpluses of the particular colleges. Nor do we see how this great blot is to be got rid of without a radical alteration of the whole principle of the Bill.
With the criticisms passed by Dr. Playfair and Sir John Lubbock on the Bill we are certainly less disposed to agree. What Dr. Playfair requires is that men who are not identified with either of our great Universities should be placed on the Commission in order to represent the interests of the public outside the Universities, while Sir John Lubbock wishes to see more conspicuous representatives of the natural sciences placed on the Commission. Now, if the Commissioners were Commissioners of Inquiry into the general principles and deficiencies of the two Universities, we should agree with both proposals and think them most reasonable. The interests of the general public, and the interests of natural science ought assuredly to be represented on any large Commission of that nature. But it is a very different thing in relation to a small executive Commission, not even intended, and still less adapted, to initiate any great change of policy, but chosen virtually in order to give effect to such few proposals as the good sense of both parties in the Universities has at length sanctioned. You might do much mischief by introducing an element of discord and of alien opinions into small bodies adapted for such a purpose as this, while it would hardly be possible to do any good. This is an essentially modest and humble proposal, and cannot be criticised to any advantage from the point of view which would be appropriate to a more ambitious measure. The means should be adapted to the end. And no such change as the member for Edinburgh University and the member for Maidstone recommend would be adapted to the end contemplated in this probably useful but certainly very unpretending Bill.