Peter Hoskin

The vanguard of the universities revolution?

One new institution does not a revolution make. But there’s still something a little revolutionary about the New College of the Humanities that is set to open, in London, in September 2012. Perhaps it’s the idea behind it: a private university that charges fees of £18,000 a year (with bursaries available to those who can’t afford that). Or perhaps it’s the names who are fronting it: AC Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Niall Ferguson, etc. They will, apparently, be conducting tutorials themselves. The public academics, it seems, are pitching their tents on the private sector.

Mary Beard lists some reasons no to get too excited here. This is, she says, little more than a US-style liberal arts college that won’t offer science courses or post-graduate qualifications. It certainly shouldn’t be regarded as a rival to Oxford and Cambridge (yet) . But Oxford and Cambridge will no doubt be looking on with studious interest. As Ivor Roberts recently explained in a Spectator cover piece, the idea is catching that our best universities should go it alone and sever their connections with the state and its demands. If Grayling & Co can show how independence works, both financially and academically, then that idea could solidify into action.

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