Can I Attend… and Get a Scholarship? June 5, 2011

Can I Attend… and Get a Scholarship?

Imagine a small university where your professors include Richard Dawkins (Evolutionary Biology), Niall Ferguson (Economics), Lawrence Krauss (Cosmology), and Stephen Pinker (Philosophy/Psychology), with the role of Dumbledore played by AC Grayling.

That school is being formed right now and it plans to open in a year:

The New College of the Humanities in central London will offer degrees in English, philosophy, history, economics and law starting from fall 2012.

“Our priorities at the college will be excellent teaching quality, excellent ratios of teachers to students, and a strongly supportive and responsive learning environment,” said Grayling.

Courses will be taught in a staff-student ratio of better than 1:10 and students will receive one-on-one tutorials.

I know I love math and all, but that’s the first time I’ve drooled over a ratio.

The downside: it’s a for-profit university (with professors among the shareholders) and the tuition’s ridiculous by UK standards (approximately $29,384 USD):

“At £18,000 a go, it seems it won’t be the very brightest but those with the deepest pockets who are afforded the chance,” said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the lecturers’ association, the University and Colleges Union.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said the move showed that “an education in humanities from some of the leading thinkers in the world will be restricted to the richest” and that academics would be removed from the public system.

The Guardian states that scholarships “will be granted to one in five of the first 200 students. An endowment fund is being established to try to increase that ratio to one in three.”

Either way, at least you know you’ll be getting a top notch education.

This is the new Ivy League, with the added bonus of being taught by masters in their respective fields and not just an assistant.

Edit: KerouacCat points this out in the comments: the faculty looks to be a bunch of older white guys. Is that accurate?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • KerouacCat

    I’m not sure if I’m surprised or if I should even be surprised, but from the list of professors that I’ve seen so far, it’s looking to be a very white, very male university.

    I haven’t seen the full list of professors, so I hope I’m wrong in this.

  • holeydood3

    Not to be racist, but a majority of the UK is white, and I know there is no way to say this in a way that isn’t offensive, but I would say the majority of college professors are male as well. So while it may be a white sausage-fest(a favorite term at our engineering college), it may not be with the intention of excluding others; it could just be a fact of who they have.

    Diversity is a good thing, but only if it isn’t done to specifically please people(jobs should be awarded on merit, not race). This reminds me of affirmative action, and what Shelby Steele said in that while it meant good, it was in itself inherently racist, because of the fact that the act was basically saying that non-white needed the help, and were therefore being looked down upon; opposite of what the act was trying to accomplish. I digress a lot, but when I get reminded of something, I really like to ramble on about it.

    obligatory reddit tl;dr:
    UK school probably not intentionally un-diverse(is that even a term?), diversity is good, and in a perfect world, all would be even, and everything could be based on merit alone.

  • Ibis

    This is a very sad development. Universities should be publicly subsidised, not private institutions available only to the rich and the odd token scholarship student.

    Shorter holeydood: The privileged are privileged, so suck it up.

  • Bradm

    I can’t take Krauss seriously anymore ever since his sex offender apologetics.

  • Romo2Austin

    Too bad Niall Ferguson is an awful economist.

  • Marissa

    I’m with Ibis. My feelings are expressed pretty well in this editorial.

  • Sean

    Damn, I was hoping to be the first to point out the ethnicity and age of the names I read, as if it were meaningful analysis!

  • Sean

    My guess is that they will try to expand the grants and scholarships hugely to be able to recruit the best of the best. You can’t plan for ratios that big and fill the seats with the rich but clueless. The professors would not want to waste everyone’s time with a silly exercise like that.

  • Richard Wade

    I hope that the quality of teaching can match the caliber of the work done by the famous names on the faculty list. Being at the top of your field does not necessarily mean being the best teacher of your field. The set of talents that makes a person the driving force in a discipline is a different set of talents that makes a teacher able to inform, guide and inspire students to surpass their own expectations. Few human beings possess both sets.

  • Alice

    The prospect sounds amazing, but the execution seems a bit half baked and impractical. Will these people make good teachers? Are the students that can afford to attend really the kind of students they want to attract? Is there any practical use for such an education as it is presented other than bragging rights? These questions seem to be overlooked in favor of lofty ideals and big names.

  • Greg

    Hate to say it, but complaining about the race and gender of the professors is just ignorant.

    Not only is the UK predominantly white, and university professors a set of people that are predominantly white males, but also when you look at the experts at the very top of their fields that might take on a role such as this at a new university which is determined to have only the very best names…

    Guess what they all have in common?

    Hell! Maybe the reason they are all doing this is because they are good friends with one another, and want to try a shared ambition, or find a solution to a shared fear of declining standards!?

    Whilst I long for a world where the word ‘diversity’ is obsolete, you get there by fixing the system so that people are able to achieve the same standard of education regardless of skin colour, gender, or creed. What you don’t do is enforce discrimination which makes a mockery of the very goal you want to achieve.

    And you certainly don’t complain if a group of friends want to do something together simply because said group of friends have things like gender and skin colour in common.

    Anyway my concerns about this would tend to be along the same lines as some of the people above. How good will the experts be at teaching rather than research? (Someone like Dawkins should be great, but the others?) And also, how accessible will it end up being?

    However, as Sean pointed out, these people would hardly waste their time, so I’ll wait and see before criticising them.

  • ewan

    If you’re going to look for people that are senior professor types now, then you’re inevitably looking for people in their sixties (or thereabouts). The racial and gender mixture that you’d expect to get from a completely unbiased selection process reflects the racial and gender mix of students and junior staff 40-50 years ago.

    If you get anything other than mostly white men under those circumstances, then you’re doing it wrong.

  • Ruf

    To be more accurate on holeydood3 and Greg’s response, going by the UK census for 2001, the population of the UK is split thus:

    85.67% White British
    1.20% White Irish
    5.27% White Other

    92.14% White Total

    So, if you were to pluck five people off of the street at random there’d be a 66% chance of them all being white anyway.

    As for being old, regrettably it takes a long time working in any one field before you can become a “name” in it, otherwise we’d all be doing it (I know I’d quite to be a revered expert in a field more appreciated than goofing off and cooking Malay fried rice).

  • Sean

    There might be a “visible minority or woman” Dawkins out there right now. Problem is, she is probably working, doing important research, and making a name for herself, not preparing to teach in a small college for undergrads.

  • The first thing I thought of when I heard AC Grayling was going to be the schools Head Master was Dumbledore, too. Must be because it’s in England.

  • Scott

    “. . . with the added bonus of being taught by masters in their respective fields and not just an assistant.”

    What kind of flippant dismissal is that? Surely you’re above such a lousy straw-man argument. In the sciences, IME, instructors that would qualify as “assistants” are few and far between.

    Further more, the NCH website itself says that they are going to “train and develop teaching staff.” Are these teaching staff going to be “masters in their respective fields” or “assistants”?

  • Colin

    Maybe it’s just my US bias speaking, but the tuition doesn’t bother me that much. I could think of a bunch of places where you could pay $30K/year and not get near the quality of education.

  • I’ve seen Richard Dawkins present The Royal Institute of Christmas Lectures and he certainly manages to educate and entertain at the same time. Some of these are available on YouTube. The quality of teaching is certainly high in his case though I can’t speak for the others. AC Grayling is always engaging and interesting in interview so I would imagine that these skills are transferable to the classroom.

    In the UK we unfortunately suffer from no separation of church and state and a great many schools are church affiliated. This is in that very British way where the pupils probably don’t notice the fact in most cases but there are some loony bins around. Dawkins has written before about setting up a secular school and accessing the same kind of funding that is available for church schools and perhaps affiliating with the New College will be a way for this to become fact. It is certainly an interesting idea.

  • You can find my response to this here:

    Essentially I disagree with the knee-jerk criticism from many quarters and it’s unthinking illiberalism.

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