‘A University embodies the principal of progress, and a College that of stability; the one is the sail, and the other the ballast; each is insufficient in itself for the pursuit, extension, and inculcation of knowledge; each is useful to the other. A University is the scene of enthusiasm, of pleasurable exertion, of brilliant display, of winning influence, of diffusive and potent sympathy; and a College is the scene of order, of obedience, of modest and persevering diligence, of conscientious fulfilment of duty, of mutual private services, and deep and lasting attachments. The University is for the world, and the College is for the nation. The University is for the Professor, and the College for the Tutor; the University is for the philosophical discourse, the eloquent sermon, or the well contested disputation; and the College for the catechetical lecture. The University is for theology, law, and medicine, for natural history, for physical science, and for the sciences generally and their promulgation; the College is for the formation of character, intellectual and moral, for the cultivation of the mind, for the improvement of the individual, for the study of literature, for the classics, and those rudimental sciences which strengthen and sharpen the intellect. The University being the element of advance, will fail in making good its ground as it goes; the College, from its Conservative tendencies, will be sure to go back, because it does not go forward. It would seem as if a University seated and living in Colleges, would be a perfect institution, as possessing excellences of opposite kinds.’ (Rise and progress of universities)
In an age when all that could be seen were ‘naked Universities and naked Colleges’, Newman saw clearly that the college–university principle answered a definite and pressing need. After the Oxbridge reforms of the 1850s and 1870s a clearer division of labour came about: in the new order, the university stood for the transmission of knowledge and intellectual competence, achieved by means of lectures, laboratory work and exams; the colleges, on the other hand, represented the higher idea of unity of knowledge and the formation of rounded personalities.
While there are many ways at looking at the complementary functions of college and university (and the different forms each can take), there are no indications that Newman ever had reason to alter his conviction that, ‘It would seem as if a University seated and living in Colleges, would be a perfect institution, as possessing excellences of opposite kinds.’ (Rise and progress of universities)
The consequences of the current-day neglect of the collegiate dimension of university education are evident in their effects: emphasis on technical training and a narrow, skills-based instruction to satisfy the needs of the labour market, at the expense of that more lofty formation which embraces the full measure of what it is to be human. In the long run, Newman’s higher vision helps to save us from a reductionist and curtailed vision of humanity.