Oh, the humanity
June 6, 2011 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Philosopher A C Grayling announces the establishment of a new force in Higher Education in England: the New College of the Humanities, with much trumpeting of its all-star line-up, and its promise to "inspire the next generation of lawyers, journalists, financiers, politicians, civil servants, writers and teachers" .

Undeterred by the controversy over the increase in tuition fees to £9,000 for the public university sector in England, this private institution will inspire those of the next generation who can afford the £18,000 a year fees, and hope to offer one in five places as a scholarship. In return students will be taught by the likes of Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Niall Ferguson, Ronald Dworkin, Steve Jones(no, not that one) and Steven Pinker, in an environment with a staff-student ratio of better than one to ten, and guaranteed 12-13 hours a week contact, including intensive one to one tuition.

The announcement has been tarnished by the small print though: the New College has no degree awarding powers, and so is simply teaching the syllabus for the University of London external programme, which is available for half that price - or less - at other institutions, and the one to one tuition and much of the teaching will not be with the star names. Accusations fly that the College has plagiarised those syllabuses, and statements are made disassociating existing universities and their facilities from the College. And all that aside, the business model that has seen Grayling joined as a shareholder by a number of private investors might be doomed to failure anyway.
posted by reynir (28 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't miss Terry Eagleton's excellent condemnation of the venture.
posted by RogerB at 12:22 PM on June 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Crooked Timber has an excellent post on this as well.
posted by a small part of the world at 12:25 PM on June 6, 2011

classic Boris: "London's mayor, Boris Johnson, backed Grayling's idea, saying "it fully deserves to succeed and to be imitated".

It prompted him, Johnson added, to recall his own idea of founding "Reject's College, Oxbridge", which would be "aimed squarely at the wrathful parents – many of them Oxbridge graduates – who simply could not understand how their own offspring could rack up three A-stars and grade 8 bassoon, and yet find themselves turned down"."

posted by Bwithh at 12:27 PM on June 6, 2011

Regarding who actually will be teaching, from the Crooked timber post:
Meanwhile, in terms of the educational experience, much has been made of the presence of Richard Dawkins, Niall Ferguson, Stephen Pinker, etc etc on the “professoriate” and indeed a lot of the press commentary appears to have inadvertently implied that these academic megastars will be doing the teaching. But, sharp cookies will have noted, none of them appear to have resigned from their existing posts or given any notice that they intend to do so, despite the fact that NCH is planning on getting the first bums on seats in Autumn 2012. In fact, close perusal of the fine print reveals that what the “Professoriate” are going to be providing is lecture courses, and the actual syllabus delivery will come from a staff “to be recruited”; given that the “Subject Convenors” seem to me to be fairly normal middle-ranking UK profs, I would guess that the teaching will also come from the middle ranks of the British academic proleteriat.
posted by Anything at 12:37 PM on June 6, 2011

That Crooked Timber post displays an all-too-common problem in UK higher-education debates:
And when I say “liberal arts college education”, the phrase “liberal arts college” is meant to convey the impression “eyeball-searingly overpriced”. Brian Weatherson pointed out to me on Twitter that Oberlin College in America has a schedule of fees that can rack up $200k (ie, the cost of slightly less than three world-class MBA courses) for an undergraduate tuition. This thing, if it has any chance of paying a return on the money invested, is going to be targeted at the seriously rich – probably the international rich – and it is not going to be made appreciably more egalitarian by the proposed scholarship grants.
It's in the service of an otherwise excellent discussion, but this totally misunderstands the meaning of tuition in the context of US private colleges. (The same distortion also appeared in Howard Hotson's "Don't Look to the Ivy League" a few weeks ago, a great piece about egalitarianism and higher education in the UK which so badly mangled its discussion of US higher education that it ended up needing very obvious corrections in multiple letters to the editor.) US private colleges have ramped up the sticker price of full tuition on the grounds that (ideally) only families who can truly afford it pay that price; the combination of entirely or mostly need-blind admission and significant financial aid are meant to place the cost of higher education on a progressive sliding scale in order better to serve poor students. While this rationale is obviously not executed perfectly by every institution in every case — far from it! — an annoyingly small number of UK commentators appear even to comprehend it in the first place. And of course only the rich institutions and hence the creamed-off best academic performers from poor families end up benefitting from this arrangement, which provides a far more sensible ground on which to critique it.
posted by RogerB at 12:39 PM on June 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Frankly, though, at this point the Ivy Leagues are also taking mostly the creamed-off best academic performers from *rich* families too. More of them, to be sure.

My university has something like 12 applicants for every position, and this an already highly self-selected pool. The truly idle (non-mega) rich aren't getting in either.

They have other schools though.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:44 PM on June 6, 2011

Interesting exchanges on Dawkins' own web site.

He harrumphs at someone describing him as a founder of the college, and says that he's basically just helping out a mate: 'I simply responded favourably to an invitation from my friend Anthony Grayling'.

Then someone points out that the NCH website says "14 Highly distinguished academics have founded New College" on its front page, and links to a list of 14 professors...including Dawkins.
posted by reynir at 12:55 PM on June 6, 2011

Don't miss Terry Eagleton's excellent condemnation of the venture.
posted by RogerB at 8:22 PM on June 6

Is it as "excellent" as his petulant, nakedly envious, hypocrisy-strewn, bitter, fallacy-riddled, self-blind review of Dawkins' God Delusion was? I'm going to go right ahead and assume so and save myself the futile irritation of reading that, I think.

Eagleton is a sad old failed Marxist twat, an embarrassingly bad thinker, and by Christ, he sure loves to show it these days.
posted by Decani at 1:09 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

By contrast, what if there was a logical explanation? What if, hypothetically, free higher education had existed in 1980 — thereby both lowering the average price of tuition at four year colleges and serving as a brake on prices at competing private schools — and what if we have watched for a generation as that public option was destroyed by right-wing antipathy for any kind of public service provided by government? What if, in short, prices are rising across the board because the free public option in education has been eliminated?
This zunguzungu post helps provide some context as to why both this development and RogerB's assertion as to the function of staggering tuitions are problematic at best.
posted by kipmanley at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2011

What? I didn't assert anything at all about the function of raising tuition at public institutions, which is obviously regressive and inegalitarian.
posted by RogerB at 1:24 PM on June 6, 2011

This has come far too soon after that twat Jamie Oliver's dream school for my liking. Why, all of a sudden, is it fashionable to think a rock-star line-up of teachers with a bottomless pit of money will reinvent modern education?
posted by londonmark at 1:29 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Eh. This is just Oxbridge Revisited.
posted by jaduncan at 1:32 PM on June 6, 2011

It's more complicated than that, RogerB: I took your point to be that such staggeringly high prices were offset (in America) by "significant" financial aid, and only those able to pay that price actually paid it; but those prices used to face significant market pressures from essentially free public higher education, which no longer exists, and anyway that significant financial aid all-too-often takes the form of indentured servitude to a crippling debt load: those students whose families couldn't afford the full price frequently end up having paid more when the dust finally settles.
posted by kipmanley at 1:42 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Terry Eagleton himself gets paid a not-insignificant sum for an extremely low amount of teaching and campus presence, just so the university can boast his name on a door somewhere, so part of me's all "snerk, he'd know." But he's absolutely right about this idea. It's not just bad; it's foul.
posted by Catseye at 1:49 PM on June 6, 2011

Since Decani didn't post a link, here's Terry Eagleton's Dawkins takedown. I don't agree with everything Eagleton writes or says or does, but as a piece of writing, his Dawkins review is an absolutely brilliant performance (and gets to the heart of several of the major problems with The God Delusion).
posted by oliverburkeman at 1:55 PM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Eagleton is a sad old failed Marxist twat [...]

Even if he were, he's forgotten more about the Humanities than Dawkins ever knew, and demonstrated it by ripping Dawkins a new one with his review, linked by oliverburkeman above.

And if this august new institution can't grant a degree, who but a rich, bored dilletante would bother with it?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:04 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the fun part is that they propose doubling the maximum tuition of the existing max tuition for next year.

This when the UK university system is going to seriously implode due to LibDem/Conservative mismanagement.

UK science is going to show a drastic plunge in output in the next few years because the number of graduate studentships has been slashed up to 90% in some departments. Watch the top notch faculty fly out of the country as they face having to do their own lab work. Even the middling UK academics being derided as the inferior actual teachers at this new university probably won't stay in the UK if they can get out (and the US is hiring!)

Universities receive per student funding from the government based on them enrolling a certain amount of students but with 9K tuition enrollment is going to dive and nobody is going to meet their numbers except school that feature clubs of obnoxious toffs engaging in diner vandalism and rudeness with morning after restitution. So already cash critical situations are going to be made even worse by funding penalties imposed by the people who made hitting the targets impossible in the first place.

UK post-secondary education is being made small enough to drown in a tub after being stabbed and run over by a car because it wasn't starving fast enough. Given that it seems perfectly reasonable for a private institution to arise and offer essentially the same thing or even less for twice the amount while piggybacking on the efforts of others who did the actual work before they were eliminated to make way for a more efficient process.

Progress! Get out of it's way!
posted by srboisvert at 2:18 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

"inspire the next generation of lawyers, journalists, financiers, politicians, civil servants, writers and teachers"

Mostly parasites, in other words.
posted by TSOL at 2:25 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll just be the tiny, hated minority voice saying I like this. I am US educated but a long-time ex-pat; I lived in the UK for 10 years before moving to Ireland, which has a similar education system. One of my rare, constant complaints is that higher education in the UK is treated like vocational training. I, conversely, place enormous value on a broad liberal arts education. I would like my surgeon to know who Kant is. I would like my accountant to have read some Shakespeare. Whatever; I can't always get what I want, but funding for humanities has been very literally devalued in UK higher education.

A bunch of really smart people have basically got together and said "If you won't place a value on the humanities, fine: we will. It's £18,000 a year." I'm OK with that.

I understand all of the criticisms. I think they are totally valid. My husband insists this is a regressive step. I understand that, too. But I still value this kind of education and I can't help that it currently and almost exclusively comes with a price tag.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:10 PM on June 6, 2011

DarlingBri: that's like arguing that theatre tickets should be more expensive, as anything cheaper would be 'devaluing Shakespeare'.
posted by verstegan at 3:54 PM on June 6, 2011

No, it isn't. It is more akin to arguing that there is currently no Shakespeare at all, and the only way to bring it back into production is through a private consortium that will charge £180 a ticket.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:17 PM on June 6, 2011

In the US, getting yourself a decent education depends in part on the whims of the well-heeled. It is they who decide whether to obtain their tax breaks by donating a new theatre or lab to your college, or whether to find some more devious way of avoiding the inland revenue

From Mr Eagleton. I'd like to think he was joking. Or just having a real bad day.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:32 PM on June 6, 2011

OT, just in case anyone's interested, the author pf the Crooked Timber piece, dsquared, is the former jsm from Adequacy.org aka Streetlawyer from Slashdot.
posted by claudius at 2:20 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stupid stupid stupid stupid.
posted by monocot at 6:43 AM on June 7, 2011

OT, just in case anyone's interested, the author pf the Crooked Timber piece, dsquared, is the former jsm from Adequacy.org aka Streetlawyer from Slashdot.

Is that the same streetlawyer on Kuro5hin? Of umpteen-million "STREETLAWYER CHECK YOUR EMAIL" diaries?
posted by grouse at 11:03 AM on June 7, 2011

grouse: Yep, the very same streetlawyer.

His name is Daniel Davies, blog here: http://d-squareddigest.blogspot.com/. Also writes for the guardian occasionally. Also, predictably, redheaded.

Some of the other trolls are on Crooked Timber as well. I've certainly seen Robotslave.
posted by claudius at 5:33 PM on June 7, 2011

Why doesn't he ever check his e-mail?
posted by grouse at 6:27 PM on June 7, 2011

Too busy lawyerin' on the street one supposes.
posted by claudius at 8:01 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

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