20/04/2012 09:41 BST

Majority Of AC Grayling's University Students From Private Schools

The majority of the first students accepted at a new university set up by a group of leading academics are from private schools, it was revealed on Friday.

Around a fifth of those due to attend the New College of the Humanities (NCH) when it opens its doors this autumn are from the state sector.

NCH is a new private university headed by philosopher AC Grayling.

Its founders have said the £18,000-a-year institution will offer the "highest-quality" education to "gifted" undergraduates, and hope it will rival Oxford and Cambridge.

Grayling announced on Wednesday that NCH has received 355 applications so far from students aiming to start this September, and 91 offers have been made.

Of these offers, 22% have been made to youngsters attending state schools (around 20 students).

Two-thirds (66%) of offers are to private school pupils, 8% are not coming directly from school, and 4% are classed as mature students.

Grayling rejected concerns that NCH will be mainly for rich students from private schools.

"Anything that's high quality, very demanding, can be described as elite," he said.

"I personally don't have any difficulty with the word elite.

"You would like your surgeon or airline pilot taught at an elite institution. Elite doesn't mean exclusive."

Prof Grayling said the university has been been making efforts to look for "very bright people across the board".

Jane Phelps, NCH's director of external relations, said the institution had faced problems making contact with state school students.

"We're very, very keen to talk to state schools, it's been extraordinarily difficult to get in, to find the right people to talk to and get an invitation to go."

NCH professors and staff have been holding talks at private and state schools throughout England, she said, and there has been interest from students in some academies and grammar schools.

"Generally speaking it's easier to get to the right person to talk to in academies," Ms Phelps said.

Prof Grayling said that of the offers made, seven students have been awarded scholarships, which means they will not pay fees, while 37 have been granted "exhibitions" and will pay reduced fees of £7,200 a year.

It is understood that NCH students are not eligible for Government loans to help with fee costs.

Prof Grayling insisted that NCH's £18,000-a-year price tag was appropriate.

Top US universities charge around 50,000 dollars (£31,000) per year for four years, he said, and some UK independent schools charge around £30,000 a year for five years. The cost of teaching a humanities student also needs to be taken into account.

Taking these factors into consideration, NCH's fees are "a fair reflection of what it costs to provide a very high quality, intensive education to students", Prof Grayling said. "That's the fact of the matter."

He added that as the college grows in the future, it hopes to attract more funding and alumni support which they can use to support students.