Tough times for Grayling

June 18, 2011 • 6:23 am

Anthony Grayling has had some rough sledding over the past few weeks. His new book, The Good Book: A Humanist Bible, failed to draw universal approbation. And his idea of founding The New College of the Humanities, an elite university that would bring in famous lecturers like Richard Dawkins and Steve Pinker, has met with a lot of scorn, mainly because the tuition would be £18,000 per year.

It also didn’t help that, as the Guardian revealed yesterday, the college is being underwritten to the tune of £200,000 by Peter Hall, a conservative who has donated nearly half a million pounds to the Tories.  Hall was approached for this donation by Grayling himself.

The rancor towards Grayling, whom I’ve always liked, is driven by charges of hypocrisy. As the Independent notes,

The author of more than 30 books has set himself up as a champion of fairness and equality. His humanist principles include the notion that religious groups “have no greater right than anybody else, any political party or Women’s Institute or trade union”. Writing in The Guardian in 2009, he complained of the “overweening privilege” accorded to religious lobbies and said it was easy to show that “the mindset which looks for and tests the facts rather than shores up ancient edifices of authority is likely to make the world a fairer one economically and in power relations too”. He is seen as a liberal and, until this week, a supporter of the public education system.

Just yesterday, the controversy impelled Grayling to resign as the incoming president of the British Humanist Association. He was due to take over on July 1, but issued this statement:

It was an honour to be named President of the British Humanist Association and I very much looked forward to working alongside the staff and trustees over the next two years to promote Humanism – a vitally important task in today’s world. Unfortunately, I believe that controversy generated by activities in another area of my public life will make it difficult in the next two years for me to be the sort of President that I would like to be for the BHA and all its members and supporters. In deciding to stand down and let the Trustees of the BHA appoint an alternative President, I wish them all the best in their important task.

I haven’t had strong feelings about New College, but I confess to some disappointment that champions of rationality and, presumably, of the “common man” would take part in such a high-priced venture.  I’d like to hear readers’ opinions.

But one thing is clear: Grayling, charismatic as he is, hasn’t handled public relations about New College at all well.  For one thing, he needs to put away the hairspray when the journalists visit:

Even his crowning glory is held in place only by “a bit of sticky stuff just to hold it up there”, he protested to interviewer Decca Aitkenhead in April. When another journalist visited the philosopher’s home last week, he discovered nine cans of hairspray in the toilet on the “his” side of the sink, mostly Pantene’s Ice Hold brand. Even for AC Grayling, some things are sacred.

And his hair was perfect

90 thoughts on “Tough times for Grayling

  1. Grayling has shown awful naivety, which is perceived as (and maybe is) arrogance. There are so many reasons why the NCH is the wrong answer, and isn’t even value for money, but the key thing is that it won’t even be a footnote when the obituary of English (not British) higher education comes to be written.

    There are massive – and potentially awful – changes taking place that will radically affect hundreds of thousands of young people and their attitude to learning. It may be that student numbers hold up when the fees triple to £9K p.a. next year, but even if they do, I presume there will be a sea-change in the way students see higher education, and in particular the arts and humanities.

    The problem there isn’t Grayling (I’ll be interested to see whether NCH still exists in 5 years time) but the Con-Dem coalition government which has set about destroying the system, following on the heels of the Labour government before it.

    1. I think Prof Grayling (and Prof Dawkins) are catching a lot of the anger that should be — and briefly was — directed at the current UK government. On the face of it, I don’t see anything wrong about offering a private university option, although obviously the timing makes it easily confused with being part of the general cutbacks of public education.

      Whether New College is a viable project is different question.

  2. Yes. The entire principle of free, therefore egalitarian, education in the UK – which has been under attack for some years through the introduction of fees (when I was a student, we not only did not pay fees, we got a government grant to live on) – is facing a full-on assault.

    The idea that the way to fight this is to have an even more expensive and elite university deserves all the opprobrium it has received, and then some.

    1. I was just trying to find the article I read a couple of weeks ago when New College was in all the papers. I’m not able to locate it but I remember Grayling said something about the sorry state of funding for universities, and whined about how if the issue wasn’t resolved, universities would go private. I read on expecting to see how Grayling proposed to engage with the problem. No such luck. Seems like exacerbation is the way forward. Clive, I too received a grant for my studies; now 30 years on my oldest son is working to get into Leicester Uni. He will be in the last of the 3 grand / year intake. If his younger brother attends the very same course two years later he gets triple the debt. Friends say he won’t have to pay it back until he’s earning. I say, how will he get a mortgage when he applies to the bank, and has to declare his £27,000 debt?
      On the positive side, Grayling is congratulated by Boris Johnson. Right.

      1. BigBob:
        > Friends say he won’t have to pay it back until he’s earning. I
        > say, how will he get a mortgage when he applies to the bank, and
        > has to declare his £27,000 debt?

        Well, it will probably be a larger debt than that, since the £27k is just for fees and there’s also the cost of living to take into account. But as for the student loans, the banks won’t consider it as a lump sum, they’ll consider it in terms of how much he has to pay back each month.

        He’ll pay back at a rate of 9% of the portion of his salary above £21k, at base interest rate plus up to 3% based on how much about £21k he’s earning.

        I’m not belittling the debt in any way. I understand how worrying it is and debt is still debt. The hope is that it will prove less crippling in practice than it sounds when you consider it as one sum. Time will tell, I suppose :\

    2. Clive:
      > The idea that the way to fight this is to have an even more expensive
      > and elite university deserves all the opprobrium it has received, and
      > then some.

      It would be, if Grayling had suggested any such thing, but he hasn’t.

      Both he and Dawkins have said carefully and in public that the venture is a *reaction to the way things happen to be*. They would both prefer that education be free to all, but feel that since it isn’t, offering a world-class alternative educational establishment will at least give (some) people access to world class education. They feel they can’t do this given the restrictions placed on public universities, hence the decision to go private. It’s not *fighting* the fee increases and nor is it trying to. It’s reacting to them. Or to put it another way, the idea that *not* opening an even more expensive and elite university *is* a way to fight the problem holds even less water. And some people do seem to be making this claim.

      I don’t see the move as an inappropriate response, although I would personally also prefer that we could all have access to excellent free education. We’ve always had expensive private schools in the UK and it’s hard to see why these should be tolerated and private universities be regarded with such outrage. These things always sound desperately unfair until we ourselves can afford them.

      I can’t vouch for whether the fees are justified, but the existence of a new private university doesn’t take any opportunities for education away from anyone, especially as a scholarship scheme is planned: I think it’s expected that 20% of students will get free places.

      Does it take opportunities away from people in later life? Perhaps, on a minute scale, but this is already the case and has always been the case. While we might justifiably resent families with long-inherited wealth receiving privileges our children don’t, how would we feel if we’d worked hard, been successful and made a lot of money ourselves? Wouldn’t most of us want to use that wealth to help our children’s education?

      I have a small amount of sympathy for the argument that Grayling et al are selling out a little by becoming part of a system they claim to oppose. But then I remind myself that nobody is obliged to live up to my (perhaps unrealistic) expectations solely on the grounds that I happen to admire them. Besides, I buy the argument that *given the current climate*, a world with one more good educational establishment in it is better than one without it.

  3. I haven’t followed this much because I’m not British and don’t understand the cultural context of the attacks.

    But it sounds like most of the attacks are really, really stupid. What am I missing? Surely the existence of a private university has nothing to do with general cuts in education spending. It seems like criticizing someone for opening a restaurant at a time when soup kitchens are being closed. The connection seems tangential at best.

    And the stuff about getting money from… gasp! A conservative! So what? Are we actually supposed to believe that this guy’s donation means that the school will be some sort of secret conditioning center for reactionary ideology? What the heck? What inference is supposed to be drawn here?

    I felt like the whole school thing was silly from the start, because it just didn’t seem… necessary. Its not like its hard to get a good, secular education once you get to the higher levels of schooling, and I’ve never heard it said that this is different in Britain. I feel like the level of rancor is unjustified in comparison to the asserted wrongs of Grayling’s project. What gives?

    1. “But it sounds like most of the attacks are really, really stupid.”

      After having those yahoos repeatedly disrupt our BHA discussion by PZ and Dawkins, I decided I would support the New College initiative on the principle that such stupid protesters, who assumed the night was about them and that what the rest of us wanted meant nothing, were so abysmally stupid that they had to be wrong.

      1. I think it is really good that they are trying a crossover humanities/science degree. UCL is going to be doing the same however in the near future. It seems that a lot of the attacks are from academics for reasons that are beyond me.

        There was a lovely e-mail that came around with a picture of ACG as a spoof L’Oreal advert! He really WAS naieve as he is disliked in the same way that poor RD is by fellow atheists & agnostics.

        If I had £9,000 & a spare year of my life I would sign up! It is not as if there are not private Unis already out there. He was led up the garden path by the useless David Willetts who promised support!

          1. Sorry £18,000… well, there WILL be bursaries they say! Still, that is twice what is going to be the usual fee – for an English student. Non-EU students already pay a LOT but I know many can clearly afford it. I knew a Chinese student who bought a £2,000 Coco Chanel handbag 2 years ago before she went back to China!

  4. Clive,

    Maybe this is my American bias, but how does a private school hurt people?

    Does Stanford hurt Berkeley?

    Even if you find the school obnoxious, what does it matter.

    1. All universities in the UK, barring some that are obscure and only sound impressive to people who aren’t British, are part of the state education system. This would be the first significant break from that since at least the Second World War.

      Its proposed fees, for an all-star cast of teachers, are twice what is currently the highest allowed. So it would attract the most wealthy students. In principle, too, it would be likely, if it worked, to attract more ‘all star’ teachers.

      It therefore is a matter of principle, and most certainly would have a detrimental effect on other universities.

      It is inconceivable that Grayling, Dawkins, etc, are unaware that this is how very many British people would see it.

      1. One argument for private universities in England is that there is already in effect competition with private universities elsewhere, e.g. the U.S., and the UK might as well get some of that market. Although, probably, the state universities already charge plenty to foreign students, that’s how state universities stay afloat in the U.S., which out-of-state students.

        1. Nick,

          > One argument for private universities in
          > England is that there is already in effect
          > competition with private universities
          > elsewhere, e.g. the U.S., and the UK might
          > as well get some of that market.

          Public universities in the UK already compete directly with international universities. Fees aren’t capped for international students and we tend to charge quite a lot. Most major UK universities have recruitment offices in other countries.

          Universities don’t necessarily have to be private to compete overseas, providing they can actually provide a competitive education. I’m becoming less convinced every year that we can. Perhaps you’re right and we’ll eventually need private universities to be internationally competitive. I hope not, I don’t think so, and I don’t think the introduction of one particular private university (there are already others) will do the slightest thing to take us down that path.

          Perhaps more important is the fact that public universities already have to compete with each other and yet the funding is so structured that almost all the decent ones have to charge the full £9000pa tuition fee. I’m no economist, but this strikes me as a market where everyone must be competing for the wrong thing and nobody benefits. Or there just isn’t enough money to go around.

      2. The thing is the names of academics I have heard are all retired from their main posts pretty much, or near enough. But I think it would be great to have lectures from Dawkins, Steve Jones inter alia.

  5. I don’t even get why the college is needed and what it is supposed to be doing. Is it that there is a shortage of opportunities for rich people? I don’t think so. Is it that rich kids will benefit most from access to renowned thinkers? I don’t think so either.

    I think they’ve got the problem identified more or less correctly, but the solution doesn’t seem likely to be privileged access to some of our best thinkers, but, on the contrary, this intellectual wealth needs to be spread around more. The problem, in fact, isn’t so much that there are so few able tutors for an Oxbridge-style tutorial system, but that the very idea of a liberal and more personalised education is disparaged and systematically undermined. (Think stardardised testing, ever more detailed curricula, a perverse reliance on mostly meaningless grades, etc.)

    1. I kinda suspect the idea is to attract the scions of the super-rich, the Saif Qaddafi types, soak them for a load of money, and provide a little exposure to celebrity academic lecturers. I seriously doubt Pinker and the like will be doing much more than a few hours’ work. I think they’ll be more like featured guest speakers. They’re just bait. (I can’t see Pinker leaving Harvard for the NCH. I see David Hubel at Harvard Medical School all the time, and he’s thirty years older than Pinker.)

      Something about it reminds me of the ‘grown up rock star dream camp’ programs, where you pay $20,000 and spend a week learning your instrument, taught by a famous aging semi-retired rockstar, and the week culminates in an on-stage jam of the students and the stars.

      Only in this case, you get an actual degree (if I recall correctly, via UCL), but the name is a signal to everyone that you paid too much.

      I do wonder how much effort they intend to put into checking the qualifications of applicants. Will any mirror-fogger with the tuition be accepted?

    2. With funding in UK universities constantly under pressure – leading to increasingly deep cuts – the option appears to be either to develop a high standard university outside of the system, or watch helplessly while the UK’s university system crumbles under the weight of politically motivated cost cutting.

      The preferable route would be to increase funding to the public colleges.

      This route unfortunately goes against what people in general vote for. People are willing to pay more for quality – just not when it comes to taxes.

      All of this outrage at New College is essentially there because it is easier to attack Grayling than seriously consider the implications of recognising that auterity is not an economic policy.

  6. I have to wonder how many people from the UK understand just how puzzling their criticism of Grayling’s new school is to those in the US.

    We have to pay for our own educations, unless we’re lucky enough to get a scholarship. The notion that charging money for a service is scandalous, is, well, scandalous.

    1. Of course we understand you find it puzzling. But what a peculiar notion, that because you find it puzzling, we are somehow weird.

      Education is not, in my view – and in that of general UK public opinion for the last 70 years – a service. It is a right. Access to it should not, therefore, be dependent on you (or your mummy and daddy) having £18,000 a year at hand.

      1. Now that it’s been clarified for me, I agree with your contention that it is a step onto that slippery slope of rights versus the free market, which we in the US have long since lost. I would have done much better, education-wise, if the government paid for our education, based on exam scores and performance. Instead I had to pay my way through a State University to get a degree that means little.

        I suspect that most of the US readers of WEIT agree with you. Education should be a right, and it is to the benefit of the state to support that. As with health care, social services, a reasonable retirement income, etc, none of which I ever really expect to have.

      2. That was fine in the past when the ‘top’ 10% went to university, but it is nop longer so cheap when thge numbers are about 40%. Free at the point of issue (like the NHS) had been the case until Tony Blair got in…

        1. Dominic, this is very much the issue and I’m startled I didn’t make the point myself. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have much to do with students any more (yay!)

          I think the rot really began when the previous government decided that an arbitrary percentage of young people should go to university. Why? Nobody knows. Why that arbitrary percentage? Nobody knows. But universities had to change quite a lot to accomodate this whim and not for the better. Schools had to change too. Nobody was allowed to fail their exams.

          There’s only one way policies like this could lead. We’ve dumbed down across the board, from infant to adult education. We get worse every year and we pretend we don’t because we don’t want to admit that we’re getting a bit shit.

    2. I have to wonder how many people in the US understand just how parochial their insistence to monetize and competitionify every aspect of society seems to the rest of the world.

      Some things actually do not have to turn an immediate dollar profit. And that’s because they hold a society together, like police, fire, and health services—and of course education. Making them into for-profit “services” is not scandalous: it’s perverse.

      1. I wonder how many people in the US realise the degree to which their country is held up as an awful warning to the rest of the English speaking democracies, as what you don’t want to do. It certainly is in Australia amongst the ordinary folks, doesn’t stop the politicians privatising everything they can get their hands on though. I see the US as a crime ridden, poverty stricken hell hole that no sensible person would wish to emulate. A socialist president would do the place a world of good!

      2. I must have missed the part where all other schools are being closed, and everyone has to go to the new one which requires cash out of pocket.

        Just because something is paid for by the government from taxes doesn’t mean it’s not a service, one which costs money to provide.

        And if everyone is entitled to government-paid education (which I believe should be the case, so don’t project your misconceptions on me), that does not mean someone with means must not be allowed to pay for it directly.

        Following the reasoning on display from the anti-Grayling-school crowd, if the government handed out apples, anyone who dared to open a fruit stand where apples were (gasp!) sold would be crucified.

        Absolute socialism is a proven failure. What works is a mix of socialism and capitalism.

        1. Properly-funded public higher education is ‘absolute socialism’? I often wonder if Americans understand how parochial and narrow-minded their political prejudices sound to most of the rest of the world.

          The introduction of high fee-paying private universities might not have an effect on state education in your head. In the real world, it most certainly will.

          1. Clive:
            > The introduction of high fee-paying private
            > universities might not have an effect on
            > state education in your head. In the real
            > world, it most certainly will.

            Awesome. Finally some certainty on this debate, phew. Exactly what effects will it have? How do you know?

          2. I often wonder if Americans understand how parochial and narrow-minded their political prejudices sound to most of the rest of the world.

            Uh, please make that some Americans, pretty please?

      3. Peter,

        I’m not sure there’s a need to be quite so priggish as that. I suspect US citizens already understand the concept of public good. They organise things a little differently to the way we do and amazingly some of the results are better, some are worse. We can probably learn something if we can clamber down from our high horses.

    3. “We have to pay for our own educations, unless we’re lucky enough to get a scholarship.”

      This is a drastic over-simplification. Much of a private school’s operating budget comes from research grants, donations, and interest on its endowment. Student fees are only a part of the equation. So even without a scholarship, somebody else paid for a big chunk of your education.

      There is a category of strictly for-profit schools in which students pay the entire cost, but these are the sorts of narrowly focused career-training schools you see advertised on late-night TV, not major liberal-arts universities.

  7. I am generally a supporter of most of the things that Dawkins and Graying have done but this New College venture is a disaster – mainly for reasons of the timing and costs involved.
    If the environment was different – say there was well subsidized good quality university education available to all who were qualified for it – then the story would be different.
    What you need to be aware of is that university education in the UK is undergoing a major change in terms of government support. Fees are increasing rapidly to levels far beyond what the average student could afford. The government has capped fees at a certain level but that has resulted in many colleges simply setting their fees at the maximum amount (as a way of demonstrating that they are a ‘quality’ college rather than a ‘cheap’ college).
    Graying, in particular, has shown incredible tone deafness to the situation faced by thousands of students by setting fees so high. The problem is not directly to do with the New College (they are not going to have that many students) – it is that this high fee may have the unintended consequence of encouraging OTHER universities to set their fees at similar levels so that they are not seen as cut price or cheap options. This is where a lot of justified criticism is coming from.

  8. ” . . . when the journalists visit . . . .”

    Yes, an “oversight” on the homeowner’s part in inviting someone into his house, perhaps at a moment’s notice with no chance to squirrel items away from prying eyes, and a reminder to anyone that journalism and decency are not necessarily synonymous. Who was this bloody noble journalist who was afforded the privilege of using anothers privy? Did s/he have the decency to spray the Lysol upon making a deposit? The very idea that one has to make an exhaustive round of ones house to stow away anything about which some third-rate Philistine hack might theoretically make an egregious and embarrassing dig.

    Let’s see photos of these journalists so as to similarly give them the white glove and sandpaper treatment.

    1. Really. The sheer vulgarity of that “journalist” was startling. “Huh huh huh I demanded to use the loo and while I was there I snooped around and here’s what’s in there.”

      1. Eh. The reporter didn’t writer “ACG has hemorrhoids” after spotting a tube of Preparation H in there.

        Arguably the observation is at least marginally relevant given Grayling’s public persona and evident vanity.

        1. > Arguably the observation is at least marginally relevant
          > given Grayling’s public persona and evident vanity.

          Argument it is then. ‘Evident vanity’? He likes his flicky hair. Vain, is it? And why should you or anyone else give a fuck if it is? Do you wear your trousers round your arse? Is it ok as long as you don’t have what some idiot decides is a ‘public persona’ and not alright otherwise?

  9. The protesters were, at best misguided.

    They chose their target poorly.

    Grayling is not closing departments or pulling funding. He’s not even dipping into the public purse. And as an answer to the high fees he has a plan in place for a decent proportion of the students to attend for free.

    The knee jerk, sour grapes reaction is shameful.

  10. I’m not against high tuition, coupled with financial aid, but that is beside the point in this case.

    Grayling isn’t forcing anyone to attend his school. If they don’t want to pay the tuition, they don’t have to go.

    A conservative donor! Gasp! Seriously, a university shouldn’t have to pass a financial purity test. Presumably the university is open to students of all ideological stripes.

    How does opening a private college contradict his support for public education? The two systems can clearly coexist. I liked reader Patrick’s analogy the best “It seems like criticizing someone for opening a restaurant at a time when soup kitchens are being closed. The connection seems tangential at best.”

    Dr. Coyne – what criticisms of Grayling’s NCH (high tuition, conservative donors, private v. public) would not apply in spades to University of Chicago and similar private institutions in the US?

    1. U of C is private non-profit. Pretty much any American university of any repute that isn’t public is private and non-profit.

      NCH is private, for profit. Which means education isn’t necessarily their highest priority. Maximizing profit is. Money that could have been reinvested in faculty or facilities, or used for financial aid, will be skimmed off for the shareholders.

      Profits can be increased by admitting sub-standard students, admitting too many students, cutting corners on teaching staff or facilities, cutting financial aid, or hitting students with new, additional fees over time. (Yes, ‘normal’ universities raise fees and tuition as well, but it’s not because some investor needs to make a boat payment and is clamoring for higher returns.)

      The investors aren’t necessarily going to be academically-minded fellows interested in the educational project. They might start out that way, but eventually new shareholders might be more interested in squeezing out every penny of profit, and less interested in maintaining educational standards. Who knows, if the NCH is successful and profitable, a private equity fund like Blackrock might come in, buy it up, and raise heck with the finances in order to extract short-term profits. (Blackrock did exactly that with a large chain of assisted living homes. They enacted some financial chicanery for short term profit, and left the company in dire shape, loaded with debt, which means thousands of elderly and disabled people might be left homeless.)

      1. Just because something is “for profit” doesn’t mean *maximizing* profit is the primary goal. It means performing some service/selling some good for a profit is the goal.

    2. “Grayling isn’t forcing anyone to attend his school. If they don’t want to pay the tuition, they don’t have to go.”

      Oh, absolutely. If I don’t want to buy, let’s say, some real estate in Manhattan worth $350 million, nobody is forcing me to.

    1. If there has been any opposition to this because Grayling is an atheist in the UK, it has been so muted I haven’t heard it.

      Certainly, for me, the issue is at least partly the opposite. There has been a significant move in schools (ie pre-university) for some years towards handing them over to religious institutions.

      If private universities like this one become accepted, for sure some, if not most, of them will be religiously run.

    2. Many attackers are (sweeping statement) non-religious agnostic/atheist but also the wishy-washy ‘let’s not be nasty about god’ NOMA academics.

    3. I think part of the opposition is like when the Louvre announced they were going to build a branch museum in the UAE.

      Basically, it’s taking something that many think should be held above mere commerce, and diminishing it for filthy lucre.

      In the Louvre’s case, it’s prostituting a French national treasure for oil money. In NCH’s case, it’s taking academia and selling it to the highest bidder.

  11. the college is being underwritten to the tune of £200,000 by Peter Hall, a conservative who has donated nearly half a million pounds to the Tories

    This is sad for one reason: because it is doubtful that Hall won’t have some sway or at least special privileges with things at Grayling’s college just like major donors at any university. Hopefully it goes nowhere near the level of control that Koch (a comparable right-winger in the USA education system) enjoys at some of his funding projects. Otherwise, better that Hall’s money funds an institution of education run by Grayling than that it goes to a right-wing party in the UK.

  12. I think there is a difference between poor people getting the same opportunities as rich people, and everyone getting stuff for free. Socialism in Europe seems more about the latter, and if it isn’t for free, then it must come tumbling down into government ownership.

    I think equal opportunity is a wonderful idea, I think free stuff for everyone is hopelessly impractical and stupid.

    Even very rich people are able to claim free healthcare or a state pension in the UK. Because that’s justice you see, it’s not fair unless everyone gets free stuff.

    I am all for Grayling and his cronies having the freedom to set up a private school, because that’s liberalism see. I don’t view Grayling as some big fat Dickensian workhouse owner because he won’t hand out gruel for free.

    1. Healthcare and state pensions in the UK come out of taxation. In that sense they are not free. Theoretically the rich make a bigger contribution through their tax than the poor.

    2. “because he won’t hand out gruel for free.”

      I’m sure Grayling has been handsomely paid for his work in academia.

  13. I understand the desire for free or low-cost secondary education, but I would have loved if Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker had lectured at my $35,000/year college in the states.

    Universities should focus on the education, and if you want to build an “elite” university, it’s going to cost money. Government, charity and scholarship committees should focus on opening the opportunities to the less advantaged.

    And what’s wrong with taking money from a Tory, if it’s going to a good cause? Do British citizens reject taxes paid by those with whom they disagree politically?

  14. There’s an excellent piece on the Grayling travesty here:


    “A venture set up by a younger generation of academics, with Grayling et. al discreetly in the background acting as godfathers might have received a warmer reception, and might have been demonstrably stable institutionally. But it is not a characteristic of many of the founders to shun the limelight.

    And that, perhaps, is the final, and greatest problem with the new venture. Professor Grayling is acting because he considers the battle within the national university system to be lost. But in some ways it has only just started, after long delays.

    It was the duty of his generation to fight that battle, but it did not. Had serious opposition been mounted 10 or 20 years back then there might have been some chance of success. But his generation was extraordinarily supine.”

  15. I understand the anger at the government for chiseling away at rights of the citizens. I can completely understand protests of the government to fix what they are breaking.

    I’m not sure why what Grayling is doing is seen as endorsing what the government is doing, however. If the schools are giving mediocre education, and the rich aren’t willing to settle for that, why would anyone find it surprising that schools suddenly are created to accommodate them?

    1. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the quality of education at UK universities. It looks more like Grayling wanting to cash in on the George W. Bush types who have more money than sense.

  16. I think the biggest problem with the New School is that opponents of universal education will be able to point to it and exclaim, “See? There’s a successful private school! There’s no need for the public to fund education; the Invisible Hand will magically provide for it.”

    Grayling (and Dawkins) have become hapless yet very powerful enablers of the willful destruction of Britain’s wonderful educational system. I know they think they’re doing a public service, but it saddens me that their intentions are exactly the sort which pave the road to Hell.

    AC and Richard, if you’re reading this, please take some time to familiarize yourself with Karl Rove. The opposition to public education is using his playbook. It’s the same one the Koch Brothers are using. They are not good and honest people with the public welfare at heart who simply disagree about the best means to further it; they are sociopathic parasites with no thought for the morrow who will do whatever it takes to support their lives of power and luxury. If you are to succeed in fighting off the infection, you must first understand its nature.



  17. I’m giving Grayling the benefit of the doubt here. I really have to wait to see how things play out before I criticize him.
    I’m from California where schools are having a terrible time right now, I’m just glad I finished before departments were cut. I’ve tried to keep up with the story, but I don’t really understand why the criticism is so harsh at this point. Just does not compute for me.
    I do hope that his intentions are genuine and he has been advised properly, as well as wish him success with this.

  18. But Jerry…

    I confess to some disappointment that champions of rationality and, presumably, of the “common man” would take part in such a high-priced venture.

    U of Chicago tuition…

    Full Time 3 or 4 Courses

    5 Courses

    which I thought at first was significantly cheaper than NCH…but then I looked again and realized – that’s per quarter.

    So why is NCH different?

    1. Because it’s in Britain? Our higher education is, to put it politely, not as fucked up fees wise as the US, at least not yet. So the fact that it’s twice the going rate IS significant, at least in this side of the pond. Over in the US of A the amount charged is very much within the mainstream, even (considering the UC rates you have given) somewhat cheaper.

      1. Right – I just meant from Jerry’s point of view. But I think I figured out why: it’s the difference between teaching at an expensive university or college, and setting one up.

        I think the central idea was about doing a certain kind of intensive teaching, which is expensive. I don’t think it was about trying to make higher education more expensive (well I know it wasn’t).

        1. London is an expensive place to live but – believe me – there are plenty of rich students (I know one whose parents bought her a flat) as well as poor struggling single mother students (I know one). I know who I would give the higher marks to – moralat least.

    2. NCH is private *for profit*, which means it’s closer to outfits like Phoenix University in the US, which have been caught doing decidedly sketchy things, like enrolling barely-functional people and keeping them in classes until the Federal loan check clears, then dumping the student and keeping the money.

      University of Chicago is private, but non-profit.

      1. Well it’s structurally more similar to Phoenix (which I’d never so much as heard of until the recent Frontline program on it and the rest of them, which made my hair stand on end), but not in reason for being. Phoenix wasn’t set up by a Grayling-equivalent, and Grayling obviously isn’t doing it as a way to get rich. He’s doing it to offer and model a certain kind of education, which is expensive.

  19. I think this article just highlights one of the elephants in the room as progressives try to unite around their lobbying/activist potential. That is, beyond the divide of belief, largely overcome, lies the divide along economic policy lines. It is easy to imagine that many non-believers support a neo-liberal economic agenda while others support progressive policy choices. This will be an emerging theme in the ongoing harmonisation process. Let us hope it does not lead to internal woes.

  20. Cost of German universities: 0-750€/semester.
    France: Something between 300-600€/year

    We might not have any Oxbridge like university here but atleast everybody has the option to study if his school grades were good enough.

    1. The UK is still open for students who have good grades. One problem is that a lot of the good students with good grades are not British. Schools have changed the way they teach here as they have targets & quotas. I am sure other UK readers will broadly agree – schools teach to pass exams NOT to learn stuff or how to DO stuff. So when pupils become stude3nts they can struggle as they are used to being spoon fed. I know about the situation in Norway – there the education is free at Uni but you get a student loan which people are often still paying off well into their middle age.This helps pay for the system. Because of Welsh & Scottish devolution in education the UK system is a confusion. The point is SOMEONE has to pay at SOME point, & surely that should be the wealthy students who get to earn higher wages rather than the poor folk who did not go to uni for three years…???

      1. IIRC, in Norway the grant is not for the tuition, which is free to the student (i.e. funded out of taxes), but rather for living costs. In Scandinavia, parents are not obliged to support their children when they are at university.

  21. I went to a discussion panel on Wednesday at UCL that he was supposed to attend about Faith Schools & sadly he had to drop out.
    I think the discussion will go up on the UCL web pages somewhere…
    This new college is not a bad idea but was always bound to be a prime target for jibes & satire, it is just a pity that he did not seem to realizer this.

    Andrew Copson who did represent the BHA was very good & all the BHA people there weree very approachabloe. Wish I had gone to the pub with them all after! I am not sure I am a humanist myself but they are a worthy group.

  22. Back in the 70’s the UK government paid my university tuition fees and a maintenance grant to live off. Because of this I was, unlike my parents and their parents, able to attend and graduate from university. I regarded this situation as a new right established in the post-war period. I expected subsequent generations to benefit from this right which we as students fought hard to maintain.

    I am horrified that these chances to obtain a higher education have been denied to the current generation of potential students. I find Grayling’s new college a morally offensive pandering to the rich. It does not surprise me, as I have always suspected Grayling of being a closet conservative. However I am surprised that Richard Dawkins would lend his support to this enterprise. He is most certainly not a closet conservative. Perhaps he is more naive than I believed. Furthermore why should he help some glorified expensive liberal arts college with no hard science. He should concentrate his public efforts in challenging the government to support the sciences and arguing on the basis their social an economic importance.

  23. Grayling has a point

    When a school is part of the government sponsored system, it becomes bound up in the government’s rules and policies.

    As a separate institution, it has far more flexibility to manage itself. It’s not like the presence of this school is somehow depriving people of information they need to be fruitful members of society.

    Why should the government have its fingers in every single project, especially involving analysis of philosophical and ideological questions?

  24. Grayling has every right to set up whatever business he wishes. After all, he lives in a capitalist democracy. Those who criticize him would do well to reflect on their own income source: inevitably, they’ll find their income comes from somebody else’s pocket. If that’s wrong, then they should stop cashing their pay cheques.

    Free education is a myth. Nothing is ever free. When education appears to be free, it is in fact an indirect subsidy of the rich by the poor: wealthy kids are more likely to score better in their exams (SAT, A-levels or what have you); to offer them a free education is to add insult to injury.

    1. I suspect that if Graying decided to set up this college in the US there would be little debate about it in the UK – as it wouldn’t have much bearing on domestic educational policies.
      The problem arises because he has involved himself in the UK political dispute over whether government should support higher education or whether it should be left to private funding. The conservative/lapdogeral UK government are looking to move towards a US model where there is much less public funding of education and they are looking for support for this idea from those in education.
      Until now there has been little such support but Grayling then comes out with the statement about the govenments plans for a £9,000 fee cap:

      “The £9,000 cap is completely unsustainable. Our belief is that, in probably three to five years, what we are charging is going to be pretty standard unfortunately. We are biting the bullet first.”

      That is a political point. There is no inevitability here – it requires a political decision that government support for higher education should be reduced – and Graying, by stating that point is implicitly supporting a reduction in public funding.
      It’s not a question of capitalism – Grayling can make all the money he wants from private tutoring (as Eagleton does with his US course) but he needs to be aware that promoting the idea that £18,000 per year should be the norm in a few short years is essentially telling the majority of the UK population that they will soon have no hope of going to University.

      1. Essentially your argument seems to be that by opening this school he is ‘legitimizing’ private funding of education. I don’t think that is a valid objection. It’s a variant of the slippery slope argument, that just the existence of this school will change everything.

        Of course, if lots of schools successfully take up this model, it might also demonstrate that there is a lot of support for it.

        You Brits have a very oppressive tax burden, and, governments being what they are, are unlikely to reduce that if they remove a benefit … but perhaps a tax credit might even be a better way of helping people get an education.

        1. “Essentially your argument seems to be that by opening this school he is ‘legitimizing’ private funding of education”
          No, private funding of education is currently legitimate.
          The objection is that he is promoting the idea that high level governement support for public education is unsustainable. Hell, he even describes moderate level goverment support (with fees at £9,000 per year) as “completely unsustainable”.
          It is only “completely unsustainable” if you make the political choice to channel the current funding to different areas (or legislate for large tax cuts such that the money is no longer available).
          There are alternative ways that Grayling could approach the matter.
          For instance he could advocate the continuance of high level public support for higher education but stress that his college is a small private venture designed purely for the very rich who want their children tutored by some famous teachers (that IS what the New College is about, isn’t it?).
          Why on earth does he need to stress that £18,000 per year is soon going to be the standard fee in all UK Universities?

          1. I think, based on the stuff I read at the beginning, that he did that to point out that it is expensive rather than that it is inevitable that the government will stop paying for it. But I see your point: the second is coming across more than the first.

            I think I know and can attest, from the couple of hours I spent talking to Anthony, that he’s a real and passionate enthusiast of intensive and broad education. Part of the scheme is to offer discount tickets to theatre and ballet and the like; he’s very seriously keen on that; he edited an online arts review for years, just for the love of the thing.

  25. The problem is that the New College of the Humanities will *not* be a college or school in the way that the name suggests. NCH will not have a library, academic infrastructure (unique degree programs, etc.), or any physical infrastructure (like residence halls). Currently, anyone (anywhere in the world) can sign up to take University of London exams (as opposed to formal degree programs at UCL, Kings, and all the other UL colleges). A number of third-party companies exist to help people prepare for the UL exams, from one-room outfits above a chip shop in the local high street, to larger and organized companies offering tutorials and essay grading etc. NCH would be just another third-party institution — students would still have to access libraries (for which they’d have to pay), would have *no* student activities/community, etc.

    Also, look at the disciplines planned to be offer: how can you have a college in the “humanities” without languages and most of the social sciences?

    I have no problem with the concept of a private university in the UK. If Grayling et al. were seeking to create an actual university, then fine. But they’re not: they’re seeking to parley the fame of 18 highly visible academics to serve as intellectual figureheads while a cadre of lesser mortals do the scut work of tutorials to con students out of twice the tuition & fees of other UK universities for what promises to be a below-standard education.

    This is not a step forward for UK or global education in the humanities.

    1. You make a lot of claims. They might turn out to be true, of course, but still I sorely miss some evidence for them. Have you any?

      1. The argument is based on the way in which the University of London functions. Start with

        The University has 19 colleges, schools, and institutes which are essentially autonomous universities (UCL, Kings, SOAS, etc.) with degree programs, residences, libraries, etc. (although the degrees are issued by the University of London — something that confused grad school auditors at the University of Wisconsin no end, when I went to grad school there!). There are also 10 research institutes.

        In addition, the University also offers what in the US would be called “a university extension” which provides some student services, library, etc. It also has an “International Programme” for students who do not enroll in individual colleges but who sit exams set and graded by the University. When Grayling says that NCH students will receive “University of London degrees” these are the degrees he means; anything else would mean that the students would be enrolling in one of the established colleges! For the International Programme, see

        The International Programme has generated a market, filled by a wide variety of companies, that help students prepare for the University of London exams. Some are small outfits that do everything by mail correspondence; others are more complex. Google UL international programme and once you get past the official website of the program, you’ll find companies like ILEX Tutorial College, London East Bank College, Kaplan, etc. Some are reputable and provide excellent service, others less so: caveat emptor. NCH can only be just another one of these … offering help and advice to students but mimicking the full panoply of a real college and charging an astronomical sum!

        As for the failure to deal with languages and most of the social sciences, the labor division between the high-flying, media-loving professoriate and the guys who’ll be doing the actual work, check out NCH’s own web site.

        1. I’m sorry. When I asked you for evidence, I meant evidence. What you’ve provided is reasonable doubt.

          I have no reason to think Grayling is a saint, but I have no reason to think he’s trying to rip students off either.

  26. Although I currently sport the same hairstyle as Grayling, I see this as a bad move.

    “And his idea of founding The New College of the Humanities, an elite university that would bring in famous lecturers like Richard Dawkins and Steve Pinker, has met with a lot of scorn, mainly because the tuition would be £18,000 per year.”

    However, what does a full year’s tuition cost at the University of Chicago?

    I also have to chide Pinker, Krauss, Dawkins etc for lending their name (and not much else) to this (and presumably collecting a nice chunk of that expensive tuition).

    1. Come on, Phillip. Do you really believe that Dawkins, Krauss and Pinker are in such dire straits that they would risk a lifetime’s reputation for a chunk of the loot?

      1. No; I think that they didn’t think through what signing up actually means. Even smart people make goofs, such as James Randi getting in with climate-change deniers and Dawkins backing one of the worst PR moves in history, the Brights.

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