H M Macdonald criticises Educational Endowments Commission

Hector M Macdonald addressed the jubilee dinner of the Aberdeen University Edinburgh Association on Friday 2 February 1934. He took the opportunity to criticise the Educational Endowments Commission:

"Disastrous Result" of Diversion.

The activities of the Educational Endowments Commission were criticised at the jubilee dinner of the Aberdeen University Edinburgh Association last night by Professor Hector M Macdonald, F.R.S., LL.D., of the Chair of Mathematics in the University of Aberdeen, who was the principal guest. Benefactors, he said, expected their wishes to be respected as long as it was possible to do so. "If this natural desire is not to be gratified," he added, "they will devote their wealth to other purposes which are not educational, with the disastrous result that the provision of bursaries for the higher education of the youth of the country will come to be classed with Poor Law relief, or what is euphemistically called public assistance."

The Association was founded in Edinburgh in November 1883. The first dinner of the Association took place in the Waterloo Hotel early in 1834, and was presided over by Mr A T Clegg, advocate, Mr W R Burges being the croupier. Since then the Association has held a dinner in Edinburgh each year on the first Friday in February, the old Bursary Night, when the bursaries parable by the University used to be distributed in cash to the students. The only breaks have been in the year 1901, owing to the death of Queen Victoria, and from 1915 to 1919, during the period of the war.

Sir William Chree, K.C., LL.D., Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, and Mr W M Maclachlan, W.S., both of Edinburgh, were present at the inauguration of the Association in 1885, and have attended all the dinners since with the exception of one break in Sir William's case, and two breaks in Mr Maclachlan's case. At last night's jubilee dinner, held in the Caledonian Hotel, Edinburgh, Sir William was in the chair, and Mr Maclachlan was joint croupier.

Proposing "Our Guest," the Chairman said that Professor Macdonald was not only the senior Professor in the University of Aberdeen, but the occupant of one of the original Chairs there. Since going to Aberdeen he had done a great deal not only in promoting the study of mathematics, but in promoting the best interests of the University. Sir William Chree referred to Professor Macdonald's academic distinctions, and said that their guest became a Fellow of the Royal Society at a very early age, and at present he was president of the Mathematical Society in London.


Professor Macdonald said, in the course of his reply, that the Educational Endowments Commission had produced two draft schemes within the last few weeks, one for Banffshire and one for Aberdeenshire. He did not propose to examine these schemes in detail, but would confine himself to two proposals in the schemes which would affect students of the University adversely. The scheme for Banffshire proposed that the Redhyth Bursaries and other bursaries of the same trusts should be abolished and the scheme for Aberdeenshire proposed to alter the Milne Bequest. He knew that there were former Redhyth Bursars there that night, and probably also former Smith and Stuart Bursars; they knew what these foundations had done for education in Banffshire. They had helped many young men to get a University education, men who had became eminent in the Civil Service and is the professions. The Milne Bequest in Aberdeenshire had served much the same purpose, and had been used intelligently to help the youth of the county to get an education which it would have been impossible for them to get without that help.

Rumour had it the reason for such proposals was that the provision of bursaries should be a charge on the rates, as the County Councils had power to rate for them, but it was difficult, if not impossible, to name any purpose which could be called educational that they had not exactly the same power to levy rates for. It had indeed been suggested that it would be more reasonable to deprive the infirmaries and the hospitals of their endowments on the ground that the Local Authorities had power to levy rates for health purposes and to devote their funds to the provision of playing' fields and similar purposes to help to keen the community healthy and diminish the need for hospitals.


That the diversion of these endowments would have an influence on possible future benefactors was certain. One or the great incentives to benefactors was the feeling that through their benefactions they would be able to exert an influence on the community after they themselves were gone. They might be willing while they were alive to seek advice as to the objects they should endow, but if once they had made their decision, they expected their wishes to be respected as long as it was possible to do so. If that natural desire was not to be gratified they would devote their wealth to other purposes which were not educational with the disastrous result that the provision of bursaries for the higher education of the youth of the country would come to be classed with Poor Law relief, or what was euphemistically called public assistance.

These schemes of the Commission were draft schemes, and ii was possible that on reconsideration, endowments such as the two he had referred to would not be diverted from their present purposes, but if the matter was to obtain the consideration it deserved, it was the duty of those who were convinced of the usefulness of these Endowments for their present purposes, more especially of those who had benefited by them, to do what they could do to have them preserved for the benefit of the youth of these counties, that they also might have the same opportunity of getting a University education and entering the professions.


The giving of non-competitive bursaries by Local Authorities was criticised by Professor H J C Grierson, IXJD., when he proposed "Sister Universities." That practice had, he said, led to the sending to Edinburgh University of some of the worst people they had ever had. These bursaries ought to be given only to those who could make the best use of them, and some form of competition was essential if the country were to expend its money in the best way.

Principal J Cameron Smail, of the Heriot-Watt College, who replied, suggested that the question of bringing students from abroad was one of great importance to Scotland, as well as to England, they would, he thought, have to cement their academic relations a little more definitely and more closely with some of the foreign countries with which they were associated. He was surprised to find, for instance, that Aberdeen, which used to have connections with the Baltic and Denmark had nowadays little touch in that direction. It would be of great advantage to our country it more students from abroad came to understand our personality and to make those friendships which counted for so much in international relationships.

Last Updated November 2007