This morning I read about The New College of Humanities (NCH) ; or rather before I read about the New College of the Humanities, I read alot of RTs on Twitter about the BBC article on New College of the Humanities – many of these tweets which were pretty damning of the thing.
But as Mary Beard says in her blog A Don’s Life: .
…if there is to be a sustained assault on the humanities, then maybe someone has to get off their ass and take the teaching into their own hands
she then quickly goes on to remind us of why it isn’t Oxbridge (and it isn’t) and really more like a US 4-year school (which it is). I really like Mary Beard’s blog; I’d love to have a drink with the woman… but I digress.
If you go to the New College of Humanities website they are offering a Degree (undergraduate only) from the University of London and they are offering (at a more expensive price than HEFCE uni’s) a lower teacher to student ratio; more private tutorials; a 20% scholarship rate for those who can’t afford the eye-watering tuition – and in that sense it is almost identical to a 4-year US undergraduate private school – some of which give you an excellent undergraduate education; oh and they want the money up front.
This model I don’t think is necessarily bad. Higher education in the UK, like it or not, is changing or is going to have to change because there is an 80% cut in the HEFCE teaching budget to Universities; with no clear alternative to how to deal with this other than raise tuition fees. I for one am not even sure with an 80% cut the rise in fees are going to amount to enough money to educate all that want to be educated.
Around 43% of the UK population go to University (or is it higher, I couldn’t find a good source for this) and how to pay for this? This is a huge problem, even if there were no economic crisis.
Setting up private universities might indeed be the way to go (though we should remember the NCH is a private college not University (which in itself seems kind of weird to me; but safe on the organizers part), those that are outside the HEFCE model where a true free-market approach could be used. Similar to what happens in the US. Now there is not any kind of real free-market model; its looking like just about everyone is going to have to pay the same fees (yes I know some are slightly cheaper but £9K vs. £8.5K isn’t really a big difference). I am also biased about this I guess, I have a degree from a US university which I paid for, mostly myself. So in my pysche I think; of course you have to pay for it (or someone does).
I suppose the fear is that the NCH will only educate the ‘elite’ and the ‘rich’ – but there are so many other factors that decide whether or not you go to University in the UK it is difficult to assess whether this fear is actually justified, realtive to who already goes to University. Acceptance to the ‘top’ universities depends more on where you go to school; what your post-code is; what your socio-economic status is, etc., etc. And given that the NCH at least on paper say they will offer placements for 20 % of people who don’t pay, this may offer opportunties to some people that would not have had them otherwise.
Elitism bothers me, it bothers me alot, but I am not sure that is what this is. Who knows what their selection process will be in reality? The NCH seem to have a fairly liberal attitude toward admissions, eg they will tell you the grades you need to have to be accepted upon interview. It may be that they meet a potential student from a really bad school and say you’re good, as long as you make a C in blah you are in.
It also may turn out to be the opposite and it may turn out that the students that go to NCH have degrees which don’t allow them to go to a job, or to graduate school or law school or whatever else they aim to do.
I am not sure how to feel about this in total yet, but I think its all too easy to look at who is setting up the school, how much the fees are and think – oh dear its just elitist. But I think we need to be careful about any unconscious bias about this. And only time will tell if this is a workable model for the UK.