Monday, 6 June 2011

'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, says the preacher..."

This time though the vain preacher is an atheist:

Gifted students will be able to apply to the New College of the Humanities in central London to take degrees in a range of subjects such as law, economics and philosophy. The college – which will open next year – will become only the second fully private university to be established in Britain after Buckingham. Prof AC Grayling, the philosopher and famed atheist, will be the college's first Master. 

The announcement has brought a torrent of negative comment from the world of academia and in the pages of their house journal, The Guardian:

What would prevent most of us from doing so is the nausea which wells to the throat at the thought of this disgustingly elitist outfit. British universities, plundered of resources by the bankers and financiers they educated, are not best served by a bunch of prima donnas jumping ship and creaming off the bright and loaded.
Now part of me hopes - even expects - the project, with its self-importance, inflated fees and expensive faculty to fail but not because it is a private initiative.  Indeed, the option of becoming private should be a consideration for our elite universities - rather than passing pointless motions of no confidence in government ministers, academics at Oxford and Cambridge would be better served forcing that minister's hand by threatening to go private, to break away from the state's clammy, controlling hand.

No, what is wrong with this project is, as one observer points out, its vanity:

This is not a College but a branding exercise: the use of big academic names to gloss straightforward London University degrees and charge the courses out at five times the cost using the same facilities.

Almost all the contentions made on the College’s website are misconceived, or do not seem to be substantiated. All this is clear with the application of the critical thinking and an evidence-based approach which the humanities should actually promote and celebrate.

This College is not any academic breakthrough. This College does nothing real to help the humanities in this country.

It is instead AC Grayling’s Folly.

Maybe the college has a substantive, worked through business plan that will show how an institution can charge twice what Britain's only other private university charges. However, I suspect that they've merely added up the cost of Professor Grayling's expensive friends, divided it by the number of students these friends will deign to tutor and arrived at the figure of £18,000.

My personal view is that Britain needs private universities - I would cheer if most of the Russell Group of "elite" universities escaped from the State's clutches and set their sights on competing with the top American academic institutions. But Grayling's little scheme seems to be an indulgent, formless vanity project. And that's why it will fail.


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