Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Intense first days for new College

Creating student life. First New England University College rugby union team, 1939. Back Row: Lewis Border, Consett Davis, Max Hartwell, John Rafferty, Jim Belshaw (Coach), Alf Maiden, Les Titterton, Frank Rickwood, Ken James Middle Row: Ralph Crossley, Paul Barratt, Pat Thompson, Alan Sutherland, Peter Durie Front Row: Ed Scalley, Harry Savage. For more detail on the players see Paul Barrat's New England University Rugby Team 1939

This post is the eighth in the story of the Pacific Belshaws, the third on the early days of the New England University College, University of New England 

The early days of the New England University College have been well described in memoirs including Keith Leopold’s Came to Booloominbah and Paul Barratt’s Psychology at New England.

From the student perspective, two things stand out: the first was the intensity of life in the small College, the second the standard of the education received. The staff perspective is a little different, more concerned with the practical difficulties of institution building and of teaching with limited resources.

The College’s academic staff necessarily came from elsewhere. They saw a university as a collegiate community of scholars, themselves as belonging to an international and especially British and Commonwealth academic tradition. They also saw teaching as a key role.

With the exception of local students who were allowed to live at home, the new institution was to be a fully residential. This was partly a matter of necessity, but it also reflected a belief that a true university was a residential university. Here many contrasted New England with the mother University, Sydney, where some students had little connection with the place apart from attendance at lectures.

During the early periods, limited accommodation on campus meant that many students had to live in town houses, but they were still expected to eat on campus and to be there for the day, to be full time students.

The students who came from across the North were generally young. For most, this was the first family connection with a University. Both the College as an institution and its staff saw part of their role as introducing the students to the academic community, to giving them the knowledge and life skills required to fit into their new world, to contribute and advance.

This was not just the required course knowledge, but a total university immersion. There was also a strong competitive ethos, of pride in institution. The early staff were well aware that their new institution was the subject of suspicion; they had to be better.

Student results were remarkable. On average, New England students had lower entry level qualifications than those going to Sydney. On average, they had better examination results. During the period 1938-1953, the life of the University College, 441 students took their degrees. Of these, 88 graduated with honours, 27 with firsts of whom more than half took out university medals.

In addition to their other duties, staff had to manage the sometimes fractious relations with a remote mother university. This strengthened a growing desire for autonomy, a desire shared by the new College’s Advisory Council whose members had been carefully selected to ensure broad representation from across the North.

This would prove to be a long battle.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 8 March 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017, here 2018 


Johnb said...

When I see pictures such as this one Jim dated 1939 my first thoughts are always what happened to them in the tumultuous events that quickly followed. Their original hopes and ambitions must have needed to be put aside and you hoped that they simply survived to pick up the threads of life once Peace returned.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi John. If you click through on the Paul Barratt link, you will find some details of this group. Consett Davis seems to have been the only one killed, but they were all affected.