The New College of Humanities (NCH) is the logical reaction to the crisis in university funding. We should watch the experiment rather than attack its creator.
Earlier this month it was announced that a new university would be established in Bloomsbury, Central London, with an all star cast of academics, led by the celebrated philosopher A. C. Grayling. What really caught the headlines was that this institution would be entirely private and charge its undergraduates a whopping £18,000 a year.
From a self confessed “pinko academic” this move seemed shocking. Critics have pounced on what many see as an elitist cash-in, exposing degrees for what they are; “luxury consumables” aimed at a middle class market.
The new college will be a place where one-to-one tutorials will be the norm and students can study with world-leading academics, such as Sir David Cannadine, Richard Dawkins, and Grayling himself. NCH will offer degrees in history, law, economics, English literature and philosophy.
“We should watch the experiment rather than attack its creator”
He has stressed that one in five of NCH’s students will be financially assisted, enabling students to pay substantially less that the £9,000 fees elsewhere. Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, one of the academics who has made the jump to the private sector, has claimed this could be the only place in England where free university education is on offer. But this defence does not seem to have stemmed the torrent of criticism.
The NCH is the only institution created since the new fees system was announced. Universities are now dependant on students for funding, most obvious in humanities subjects where funding has essentially been removed. The creation of private universities is the logical reaction to a system in which institutions are required to comply with a set of regulations without any financial incentive.
Universities are right to ask what is in it for them. Pressure on the tutorial system and student numbers will force many to conclude that being part of the public sector is not a wise decision. In establishing NCH, Grayling is following the incentives offered by this new system but at the same time his NCH will test the government and the public’s taste for private universities.
The NCH will probably be the first of many. The greater risk will come when existing universities consider entering the private sector making caps on tuition fees meaningless.
If the Coalition really wanted to introduce market forces into higher education their policy has been a total success. The NCH is a fascinating experiment which will show just how sustainable a British higher education system based on parental wealth really is.