Monday, June 06, 2011


Taking a break from marking exam scripts, I am intrigued by this new story about the New College for the Humanities,, reported at the BBC: Academics launch £18,000 college in London, the Guardian: Richard Dawkins heads line-up at private £18,000-a-year university (with howls of dismay in the comments), discussed at Mary Beard's blog here (with some skepticism that I share), and see this new post at the Exquisite Life blog for some more sensible skepticism: “rushed and half-baked”.

I first spotted the story yesterday in a headline in the Sunday Times while at the supermarket, a clue that while this story has sprouted legs, it is not going to go the distance. Surely we should have had some preliminary reports in the Times Higher ages ago (they now highlight it: Top names, top whack: new humanities-focused institution to charge £18K fees".) A new venture of this nature is something that will be interesting to watch; I am not dismayed like the UCU (Launch of new private arts and humanities college is proof government is entrenching 'inequality'), but....

Various things don’t quite compute. For one thing, the numbers. 18k per student isn’t enough to bring in all these top academics, at least not with the sort of commitment from them that might be imagined by an uninformed reader. The USA has better options. Plus, the people who invested in this venture will want some return on investment. The name of the web site seems... poorly considered. “nchum” will get pronounced “en-chum”... also, why use the .org suffix as opposed to .edu, or Over at the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson is still enthusiastic:
The trouble with Britain today, he [A C Grayling, the new master of nchum] said, was that we simply didn’t have enough elite university provision – and especially not in the humanities subjects, where teaching budgets are under such pressure.
But, that’s got more to do with the definition of “elite” — the whole point of elite provision is that there shouldn’t be enough of it. If you create more elite provision, you end up killing the thing you love.

All right, back to the marking.

(Added 7.6.11: this article raises the above financial concern in more detail. This critique of the "money-grubbing dons" has attracted over 500 comments but doesn't address the concern about viability.)

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