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Top academic line-up and top fees for new private university in London

AC Grayling, professor of philosophy at the universities of London and Oxford, has launched his New College of the Humanities (NCH) today to much controversy in the national press. Together with a group of world-leading academics, the independent university college based in Bloomsbury, central London will offer “a new model of higher education for the humanities in the UK” inspired by the business model of American Ivy League universities.

With a glittering cast of famous academics who are to lecture at NCH including, Richard Dawkins, Sir David Cannadine and others from Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge – the private college will open its doors next year to its first students of degrees in English, philosophy, history, economics and law, awarded by the University of London.

The philosophy behind the college is “richer content” and “best in class education”. With 1:1 tutorials, 12-13 contact hours per week and a student/teacher ratio of better than 10:1, the college will rival the best Oxbridge University education. To mark the “richer content” of the course compared with standard degree courses, students will be awarded a Diploma from NCH in addition to their University of London degree.

But this top-flight education will come at a price. Under different regulations to state funded universities, the private institution will be exempt from the government’s £9,000 cap on fees. At £18,000 per year, NCH will be double the cost of most English degree courses.

University and College Union general secretary, Sally Hunt argues, “While many would love the opportunity to be taught by the likes of AC Grayling and Richard Dawkins, at £18,000 a year it seems it won't be the very brightest but those with the deepest pockets who are afforded the chance.

“The launch of this college highlights the government's failure to protect art and humanities and is further proof that its university funding plans will entrench inequality within higher education. Instead of looking to create a market within the university sector, the government should be focusing on providing opportunities for all not just a select few.”

Professor Grayling, who will be the college's first Master, argues that he is addressing this critical need to highlight the decline in humanities funding. He defended his plans on this morning’s Radio 4 Today Programme claiming that the college will offer over “30% financial support” to students and that the high fees for the rest of the students are justified due to the “gold standard education.”

“I believe we are in danger of losing sight of the importance to society of a higher education in the humanities. In an era of challenging budget cuts it is unclear what is going to happen to humanities provision.  But dwindling resources are likely to limit both quantity and quality of teaching, leaving the fabric of society poorer as a result.

“New College seeks to attract the highest-calibre students from the outset.  Students studying at NCH will have one-to-one tutorials, they will be taught by some of the world’s leading academics, and will graduate with practical professional skills. Our ambition is to prepare gifted young people for high-level careers and rich and satisfying lives.

“Society needs us to be thoughtful voters, good neighbours, loving parents and responsible citizens. If we are to discover and inspire the next generation of lawyers, journalists, financiers, politicians, civil servants, writers, artists and teachers, we need to educate to the highest standards and with imagination, breadth and depth.”

Gareth Thomas, Labour's universities spokesman, while commending the initiative also commented that, "It is a sad reflection of the scale of government cuts in higher education that it is taking a private initiative to drive new investment in arts, humanities and social sciences courses.”

But, in an interesting twist, the humanities degree will not be all the students will receive. In addition, all students will also be taught the practical professional skills to prepare them for the world of work including financial literacy, teamwork, presentation and strategy.

Last month, the CBI’s annual study of 566 UK employers highlighted a shortage of high-skilled employees and raised concerns over basic skills of college leavers suggesting that many employers (44%) have had to invest in remedial training for school and college leavers.

John Cridland, director general of the CBI, said, "It's alarming that a significant number of employers have concerns about the basic skills of school and college leavers. Companies do not expect schools and colleges to produce 'job-ready' young people, but having a solid foundation in basic skills such as literacy and numeracy is fundamental for work."

NCH is open to applications from prospective students immediately and will admit its first undergraduates in October 2012.

Read Smart Move Education blog about the NCH