The New College of the Old Elite

Nice LRB blog post by Glen Newey.

The New College for the Humanities must have looked like a winner on paper. A higher education Britain’s Got Talent fronted by celebrity academics not just on the payroll, but taking a dividend. Financiers on board. Mayor BoJo’s blessing. Saudi princes by the tanker-load offering their custom. And then the project has seemingly shrivelled faster than a LibDem campaign rosette. Birkbeck swiftly distances itself from the NCH and parts company with its founder. The college’s financial, fiscal and institutional status prove foggy. It turns out that the Cannadine-Colleys are only showing up for one lecture each a year. Poor A.C. Grayling gets ambushed in Foyle’s and smoke-bombed when all he wanted to do was puff his college and shift a few copies of his rewrite of the Bible. Is nothing sacred?


The problem with the NCH is not that it is ‘elite’, or that several of the big names are getting on. The problem is that it epitomises the worst features of the 2012-spec UK higher education system: it amplifies rather than damping down inequalities inherited from UK schools’ state/fee-paying apartheid, and makes ability to pay a further necessary condition beyond academic ability for admission. It also doubles students’ indebtedness and it’s not yet clear – as became plain in an interview Grayling gave this week – that NCH students will be eligible for a loan. The big-ticket professoriate will exemplify trends in the HE sector generally, where salaried faculty’s research time is bought out with low-cost teaching by casual staff.