The controversial New College of the Humanities is a new private university-style college set up in London by famous academics AC Grayling, Richard Dawkins and others. Amidst the tuition fees controversy last year they announced plans to create a “new model of higher education” that would hopefully one day rival Oxford and Cambridge. So far they certainly seem on course to match the elitism of the private school-biased Oxbridge set, as they have just announced the allocation of places for their first year’s intake, with only 22% of offers going to state school students.
This isn’t the first time the College has caused controversy, with an initial chorus of protest to the announcement of their sky-high fees quickly followed by a legal challenge from New College, Oxford over their use of the same name. They also hit the headlines when the Department for Business, Education and Skills said the New College did not have the right to bill itself as a “university college”.
Many prominent academics and members of the education sector have voiced concerns that the decision of the college to charge such high fees (double the maximum rate for mainstream university tuition fees) will contribute to the privatisation of higher education. They fear it will lead to a class-driven university system where the richest will be able to pay for the best degrees from the most prestigious institutions, whilst those from more disadvantaged backgrounds will risk earning less-highly respected qualifications, or being forced out of higher education altogether. Many are sceptical about Professor Grayling’s claim that the college presents a response to the under-funding of universities in England, since it will charge students double the fees they would pay to go to a state sector university.
The BBC News website reported that academics represented by the University and Colleges Union claimed the figures suggest that the New College has taken the lowest percentage of state school pupils of any university this year. This news is unlikely to reassure those who fear the university represents an elitist, wealth-focused opportunity for the most fortunate students whilst excluding those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But those who fear the impact the New College might have on the higher education system as a whole needn’t start to panic just yet – compared to over 15,000 applications to Cambridge University, the college received a rather embarrassing 350 applications, suggesting that it is not only other universities that it has yet to convince.