New College of the Humanities enrolls its first class of 60 students this fall, but it has already attained notoriety in seeming disproportion to its small size and tender age. The London-based, quasi-for-profit college, which charges £18,000 (about $29,000) per year in tuition and fees, has been criticized as expensive and elitist, and decried as the embodiment of trends toward privatization and commercialization in British higher education.
A.C. Grayling, the master of the college and a philosopher whose more than 20 books include The Good Book: A Secular Bible, Liberty in the Age of Terror: A Defence of Civil Society and Enlightenment Values, and volumes on Wittgenstein and Descartes, maintains he is as angered by those trends as anyone. But he says that if the government refuses to fund humanities education – it has eliminated all subsidies for teaching in the humanities and social sciences – and if it insists on shifting the burden of paying for college from the tax base to the student, then a new model of higher education is needed. The fee cap for Britain’s public universities has nearly tripled, from £3,375 in 2011-12 to £9,000 this year.
“If we are no longer going to invest as a society in education, and if we are going to ask people who go to college to pay themselves, then we need a model to fund students who can’t pay,” Grayling says. “And I think you’ve got a model in the U.S.: it’s the endowment model” – in which charitable donors subsidize tuition fees for students who can’t pay, while those who can pay do so handsomely. Grayling says that about a third of the students in New College’s initial class are receiving either full scholarships or partial “exhibitions” (which reduce the cost of tuition to £7,200 per year – a rate that is less expensive than the public university maximum).
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