… is a question that might be asked of Professor AC Grayling, the media don and pundit who has launched the “New College Of The Humanities, and who is proposing to charge undergraduates £18,000 per year for three years (by way of comparison, an MBA from the London Business School will set you back £49,900 for the full two year course). Further thoughts on whether this represents simple value-for-money, let alone a brand new direction for the world, below the fold.
The reporting, as always, has left quite a bit to be desired for detail-oriented financial types like me, but it is possible to piece things together. Although the “Who We Are” page mentions a registered charity number, this is actually only referring to the New College Of The Humanities Trust, a newly formed charity which has the object of providing scholarships to the NCH. The actual thing, per its Terms and Conditions page, is “New College of the Humanities Limited”, a company which was incorporated a year ago and which (in my opinion, slightly amusingly) was previously called “Grayling Hall Limited”. It’s a private limited company which has apparently raised £10m from a small group of investors. NCH Ltd (although it will always be “Grayling Hall” to me) hasn’t produced any accounts yet because it’s new, but if it’s raising ten million quid it is unlikely to qualify for any exemptions and so in the fullness of time it will be providing us with full accounts, including, excitingly, the salaries of its directors. What larks!
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. (Just by way of comparison, when I did my MSc at London Business School, I was actually taught by Paul Marsh, Dick Brealey, Paul Geroski et al; there were PhD students teaching mathematical “boot-camp” style classes but for the most part the research staff were right out in front of the paying punters).
It’s also somewhat opaque to me how NCH is going to go about awarding University of London degrees (although to be frank, this is not particular to Grayling Hall – lots of things to do with the governance of the University of London are difficult to understand and this has caused problems in the past). I haven’t seen any announcement that the NCH has become a college of the UoL, and so I don’t think it has or plans to (it is going to be awarding a “diploma” of its own in things like “business skills” and other such&such, which to me implies that it isn’t intending to seek degree-granting status in its own right). This earlier Wikipedia edit (from a newly created Wikipedia account) seems to suggest that it will be offering units of the “University of London International Programmes”, which seems possible, although in the absence of a specific statement from NCH it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on. Not being an academic, I’ve no real feel for how much of a task it might be to create five or six brand new undergraduate syllabi from scratch, but given that the teaching staff consists currently of three “Convenors” and a bunch of vacancies, it would seem reasonable to me to assume that considerable use might be made of off-the-peg material in the first few years at least.
So who would this appeal to? The answer “people with significantly more money than sense” comes to mind. The prospectus is all about “Oxford, Cambridge this, Ivy League that”, but the actual educational offering appears to be more like an attempt to recreate the American concept of the liberal arts college education. 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.
Of course, the proprietors don’t actually need there to be lots and lots of people prepared to pay that kind of money for the chance to touch the hem of a media don’s robe – they just need there to be enough such people to meet the running costs plus profit. Chris said, when the state sector tuition fees went up, that “ Personally, I’m appalled by the prospect of teaching the finer points of egalitarian justice in an elite institution to the children of the wealthy who will then go on to high-paid jobs in the financial sector, whilst higher education as a whole contracts and access to the arts and humanities is reduced in an increasingly unequal society“; apparently AC Grayling (and Ronald Dworkin, ye gods) have different tastes or stronger stomachs.
Update: What a way to make a living. Applications coaching for Grayling Hall?