22% of the first cohort for the New College of Humanities (NCH) will hail from state school backgrounds, a number far lower than any other UK university. The new private college offers degrees conferred by the University of London in English, history, philosophy, economics and law. All for the unreasonable price tag of £18,000. Per year.
NCH has been denigrated for the fact that 'only' one fifth of its intake are state schooled, a statistic that comes as no surprise when the total cost of tuition fees accrue to an exorbitant £54,000. Living costs in London approximate to £7,675 per year, meaning that the entire 'university' experience at NCH would accumulate to £77,025. The college is not able to bestow degrees and NCH students are enrolled on University of London international programmes and thus are not eligible for student loans.
As a previous state school student, I definitely didn't (and still don't) have £77,025 lying about (I might have the £25 though). Many have blasted NCH for not widening access to state school students, but would state school students even want to attend this college? A quick perusal of its website reveals that while the college does offer a tempting package (sadly no mention of Fresher's Week) its domestic and international credentials have yet to be established.
For some there has always been an inveterate bias against newer universities. However, with17 UK institutions in the top 1% of universities worldwide it would be remiss of students to overlook the prestige associated with some of Britain's best educational establishments. Especially when it has been alleged that NCH courses teach the same syllabus as those of the University of London, but charge double the fees.
The brightest students from state school backgrounds will always have the chance to study at many world-class institutions for half the price and what with the rise of tuition fees, many universities are making concerted efforts to improve the academic and social experience. Current universities will also have more experience in the higher education business and can offer unparalleled careers advice, societies, facilities and opportunities that NCH may find hard to emulate.
The college has currently made 91 offers to students, with 66% going to privately-educated students. Grayling, the founder of this college, has attempted to justify the cost of tuition arguing that "The fee is not arbitrary - put it in context of the fact that top American universities charge in the region of $50,000 a year."
In 2012-2013, "top American" university Harvard is charging $38,480 (£23,866) in tuition and costs to the student are scaled according to financial ability; 81% of Harvard's students are on some sort of financial aid compared to 30% of those who will be studying at NCH. The comparison is not one Grayling should have made. Additionally, Harvard and many other top-notch British universities will undoubtedly have better facilities on offer whilst NCH students will have to share resources allocated to University of London students, such as their libraries and other facilities.
NCH would be hard pushed to justify their fees, which are only £5,000 short of Harvard's. Terry Eagleton, Britain's most influential literary theorist, adds "Grayling and his friends are taking advantage of a crumbling university system to rake off money from the rich. As such, they are betraying all those academics that have been fighting the cuts for the sake of their students."
Eminent professors such as Richard Dawkins, Linda Colley and Christopher Ricks will be teaching at NCH, no doubt tempted by a salary that public sector universities could only dream of paying out. Eagleton criticises NCH's advertisement of its "star" professors, arguing that "it's hard to imagine these guys rolling in at 9am and teaching for 12 to 15 hours a week, which is what you do in the real Oxbridge. Prospective students should talk to these professors' travel agents and insist on obtaining photocopies of their diaries."
NCH has offered full scholarships to 8% of its incoming cohort, with a further 22% paying £7,200, "a net fee lower than most other UK universities," they boast. However, these partial scholarships will do little to assuage the financial burden on students, as even with discounted fees, £21,600 in living costs will still need to be paid upfront over the duration of the degree. All discounts are cross-subsidised, meaning that financial reductions derive directly from the fees pool; wealthier students will be offsetting tuition costs for others.
Many academics rightly pronounce the establishment of NCH as a betrayal of the principles of British higher education and it will only perpetuate what has been lauded as the gentrification of humanities degrees. With many students questioning the value of a degree in light of trebled university fees and a dire job market, NCH has become a gateway institution and will accelerate the privatisation of higher education.
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