Grayling’s New College will only aggravate the UK’s educational divide
June 27, 2011
The announcement that A C Grayling’s New College for the Humanities will be open for business in September has been met by an uproar on the left. With annual fees at £18,000, and having a plush spot in a central London location, it is easy to see why such an elitist notion has turned many people right off the idea.
The college boasts it has a staff to student ratio better than 1:10 and that it is ‘education in excellence’ in an ‘outstanding environment‘. Set in Bloomsbury, one of London’s more prestigious locations, it does have a favourable staff to student ratio, especially in a time of far reaching government cuts to higher education.
The founding of the college has been a collective effort, with Grayling leading the way but by no means independently. Other notable founders include Richard Dawkins, Niall Ferguson, Steven Pinker and Simon Blackburn, all respected and established in their individual disciplines. The college boasts that you will receive tuition from these stars, as well as other leading academics from Princeton to Cambridge.
But how good are these academics? Are they just TV personalities who are playing to the egos of middle class children and their parents? Well, this is one point I must concede in support of the college – the standard of the staff is very good. Dawkins’ books include the ‘God Delusion’ and ‘The Selfish Gene’ among others, and Ferguson, even though he portrays a very conservative view of history, still manages to captivate and inspire with his work. The college is also drafting in leading academics from Princeton, Cambridge, University College London and more to give lectures and guidance. A C Grayling is a thinker who can transform even the most complex philosophical issues in to manageable and understandable theories, and he will be the cherry on top.
But £18,000 is still a lot of money and value must be seen in all areas of the college. What about the syllabus? Whilst the academics are all good in their fields, could they really not be bothered to come up with ideas and subject matters on their own? No, this has been left to the University of London, who the college has stolen off. Justin Champion, a historian at Royal Holloway, noticed his modules had been put up on the New College website. This is almost laughable, and not just because there is continual emphasis on students to abstain from plagiarism themselves. Champion rightly points out that tax payers are actually helping create the syllabus, and for an independent college to take the content is actually ripping off the average tax payer.
The most ridiculous thing about the whole concept is that this college is supposedly set up by left leaning academics, with the obvious exception of Ferguson. Who does A C Grayling seriously think will apply to the college? The government only provide loans of up to £6,000 a year for students enrolled at the university, so how are they supposed to make up a shortfall of £12,000 on top of the usual living expenses incurred by all who attend university? This will fall to the upper middle class parents, upset that their children have failed to gain a place at a respectable university like Oxford or Cambridge. This should not be entirely surprising though, as Grayling’s two children both attend private schools, and obviously he has no qualms about the startling divisions in education that exist today in the UK
This has all been possible because of the rise in tuition fees due to come in next September. The Conservative/Lib Dem coalition have laid fertile ground for schemes like this to be allowed to develop as they have changed the way education is consumed and viewed in the UK. Young adults in a few years will come out with loans of around £45,000, a colossal figure for someone at the tender age of 21. Why not extend that to £60,000, or £70,000, because what difference does it make? How are you going to pay it back anyway?
The college is also set because of students rising interest in their education. They want to know what they are getting for all the money they have to pay. Complaints were up by one third on last year and are only set to increase even more with the introduction of the new top up fees. Holding a university to account is never a bad thing, but what a lot of people fail to realize is that universities are no better off than they were before. With the slashes to the teaching budget, they are struggling to break even and will continue to do so long in to the future. This will only add to the allure of New College.