Sunday, June 05, 2011

New College of the Humanities

. . . is launched in the UK. Details here. The BBC reports:

"[. . .]  A new British college aiming to rival Oxford and Cambridge has been launched by leading academics. New College of the Humanities will give a high-quality education to "gifted" undergraduates and a degree from the University of London, creators say. The privately-owned London-based college will open in September 2012 and is planning to charge fees of £18,000. The 14 professors involved include biologist Richard Dawkins and historian Sir David Cannadine. Professor Dawkins is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, as well as being the author of The God Delusion, and Sir David is a professor at Princeton University in the United States.

Based in Bloomsbury, central London, the new college will offer eight undergraduate humanities degrees taught by some of the world's most prominent intellectuals, officials said. Degrees cover five subject areas - law, economics, history, English literature and philosophy. Students will also take three "intellectual skills" modules in science literacy, logic and critical thinking and applied ethics - which will result in them being awarded a Diploma of New College in addition to a University of London degree, making a combined award of BA Hons (London) DNC. [. . .]"

This is the first I have heard about this college. Have others heard about it previously?

UPDATE: A look at the "professoriate" of the "14 highly distinguished academics" that have established the NCH has only one woman member. See here.


Sembou said...

I first read about the New College of the Humanities yesterday evening through a link on the Facebook page of the Oxford University Campaign for Higher Education (OUCHE). Today the Facebook page of the OUCHE has a link to another Facebook page titled "Emergency meeting to oppose the New College of the Humanities".

For my part, I don't understand how the New College of the Humanities can be a private institution and still award University of London degrees; how it can be a private institution and use the facilities of the University of London (e.g. the Senate House Library). And how, given that it will award University of London degrees and use the facilities of the University of London, can it charge 18,000 pounds sterling for its courses?

Brian O'Connor said...

I would suggest that many of us who work in European universities that like to designate themselves 'research intensive' will concede that, sadly, the needs of undergraduate students are no longer the main priority of policy makers. School leavers and/or their parents are keenly aware of this and it is hardly much wonder that some enterprising individuals in the UK have seen a major gap in educational provision beyond Oxbridge.

The politics of this are difficult to read at such an early stage. Not surprisingly, though, Conservative Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson (and former Conservative Party Spokesperson on Higher Education) endorses Prof. Grayling's endeavour (Daily Telegraph, 6 June 2011). But either naively or deviously Johnson sees it as 'a new and different model for university education, side by side with the existing system.' Naively, because it is patently clear that even if NCH -- already an astonishing feat of marketing -- is only moderately successful (my estimation) it will have implications for how the existing provision is conceived: the degree to which the state should subsidise the cost of tuition -- now a mess -- will be unsettled further by NCH's eye-watering fees. And in which direction will it send University fees? That's (possibly) the devious motivation behind the conservative-minded welcome for NCH.

And there is Prof. Grayling's beguiling but wholly untestable claim that 'it might turn out that NCH is the only institution educating some of the brightest school-leavers from the state sector for free.' The power of the market to achieve what the state no longer can or wishes to?

What is troubling is that the current profiles of the UK's best Universities have been achieved as a result of their orientation towards the RAE and away from intensive tuition. If, as I fear, NCH’s old-style tutorial system becomes a stick with which to beat them -- i.e. play with their funding -- that will a great and damaging injustice.

Thom Brooks said...

Many thanks for these comments -- and I agree with much of what you say, Brian.

Much talk is taking place about what "extras" will be made available to students once fees can reach £9,000. Most of such talk is being directed at contact hours -- and Grayling's NCH is meant to help address this. While one could spend less studying elsewhere for a degree, the idea is that the NCH will offer extra tuition that students outside Oxbridge allegedly won't receive. So students will get a tangible something: a broad educational experience with extra tuition alongside some better known academics.

However, much can happen that may raise new concerns. Students outside Oxbridge may not receive one-on-one tuition from 2012, but they will presumably receive much more and so the gap between them may shrink. If so, then £18,000 per year may "buy" less than it may appear to get now.

We also still await further information about NCH. The attention it has received has been great, but the launch could have probably been handled much better. Perhaps the problem was a rush to announce -- this would at least explain why I hadn't heard a peep about this until after its formal announcement.

Brian O'Connor said...

You are completely right about the launch Thom.

The future of NCH depends on its ability to retain the services of celebrity visitors. That's the hook, is it not? However, the exaggerated centrality of those celebrities to the academic experience of the students has been somewhat exposed over the past few days.

I should imagine NCH will, ultimately, be an efficient tutorial centre, with good quality teaching.

The line up of tutors is awaited. Faculty recruitment will be a challenge: an accomplished academic who can teach well will be difficult to prise from her/his current position in order to take a job in a speculative venture. NCH will need permanent staff for credibility. A company of temporary tutors -- no matter how talented -- are unlikely to help persuade anyone to hand over £18,000.

As things stand there are not even the beginnings of a case for preferring NCH over, for instance, its Bloomsbury neighbours.