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Origins of technical education 1881-1902

During the 1860s and 1870s, formal education in Queensland beyond primary level was conducted almost exclusively in grammar schools. These schools were expensive and thus available only to the wealthy. There were some individuals, however, who could not afford a grammar school education but were interested in further education which would provide a form of upward social mobility. The middle class liberals of the time encouraged such attitudes to education. In 1872 Charles Lilley, for example, urged that the North Brisbane School of Arts and Sciences should be used as a centre for teaching young mechanics and tradesmen the elements of the useful arts and sciences. Lilley believed that such an education would lead to greater industrial efficiency and productivity and would also further the careers of these young men. Technical classes were established in that year but failed to continue beyond 1872.

It was not until 1881 when J.A. Clarke and C. Waagepetersen took regular classes in mechanical art and freehand drawing that technical education proved successful. The students included some schoolboys and also men studying in such fields as architecture, carpentry, ship-building, surveying, photography and engineering. In 1882 the Brisbane Technical College began formally, as a result of efforts by the President of the North Brisbane School of Arts, the Hon. J. Douglas, formerly Premier of Queensland.

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A sub-committee of the North Brisbane School of Arts was formed to control the College and an annual grant of £600 was obtained from Parliament. In 1882 the college had nine teachers who gave instruction in 11 subjects to 80 students. There was no systematic approach to courses of instruction.

By 1889 the College's activities were made distinct from those of the School of Arts, and the work of instruction was placed under D.R. McConnel who systematised instruction and remained in control for 20 years. In 1892 a pound for pound subsidy was instituted, which meant that such classes as typewriting, shorthand and bookkeeping, which attracted large numbers of students and required little apparatus, were most profitable. Science classes attracted small numbers, were unremunerative, and often could be maintained only by the enthusiasm of the instructors. The Brisbane Technical College Incorporation Act of 1898 set up a council consisting of six Government representatives, three elected by the subscribers and three elected by certified students. This council controlled the College for the next 10 years.

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Crowd of people standing in front of a technical college building.

Photograph: Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Memorial Technical College, Ipswich, opened in 1901.

Outside Brisbane, the technical colleges were limited neither by statue nor by regulations. Classes of technical instruction were held in 15 centres, usually in conjunction with the School of Arts, and, as reports by district inspectors showed in 1901, the funds supplied were used in a variety of ways unconnected with technical education. One instance was where a violin teacher taught private pupils listed at a technical college and split the Government subsidy with the college. As students selected their own subjects, often with no clear objective in view, studies were often not co-ordinated towards preparation for a vocation. The first technical college which prepared students for a specific vocation was the Charters Towers School of Mines which opened its doors to 100 students in 1901, under the supervision of the Department of Mines.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Government wished to rationalise technical education in Queensland since it was considered that one of the reasons for the industrial and trade successes of Germany at Great Britain's expense had been efficient German technical education. The desire to integrate a more efficient technical education into the general education system, in the name of national efficiency and self-survival, led to a sequence of reforms.

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Last reviewed
10 January 2013
Last updated
10 January 2013