Toff-luck for Grayling’s private uni

National News News

Just one fifth of students offered provisional places at the New College of Humanities (NCH) are from state schools, figures show this week.

The £18,000 a year college is a private university set up by philosopher A. C. Grayling and will open this October.

The figures show that 22 percent of offers were made to students attending state schools, while 66 percent went to privately educated students. The rest of the places were offered to mature students or candidates from other universities.

355 applicants have been received for 180 places, with 91 offers made by last Friday.

Of the students who have already received places, seven have been offered full scholarships, while another 37 have had fees reduced to £7,200 a year.

A spokesperson for NCH commented on the fees: “This is not an arbitrary figure and, to set these fees in context, Oxford and Cambridge have both stated that it costs in the region of £17,000 to deliver an undergraduate degree with a tutorial system.

“NCH is having on-going discussions with the government regarding the matter of student loans, as it recognises that access to loans is a very important issue for any student considering higher education. As such, NCH is also in discussions with a high street bank to provide alternative funding sources for its students.”

Under the current system no students at NCH will be eligible to receive a student loan from the government.

Grayling has said: “It is our long-term ambition for the College to become needs-blind and to have as many of its student body as possible on financially assisted places. This is how the leading American universities do it, by building up a major endowment, and this is the model we are seeking to create here over time.”

He said that top US universities charge about $50,000 (£31,000) a year, and some UK independent schools charge about £30,000 a year.

The fees were “a fair reflection of what it costs to provide a very high quality, intensive education to students”, he added.

The university suffered a blow last week when a founding partner, geneticist Professor Steve Jones, pulled out.

Jones told The Daily Telegraph: “The fees that [Grayling] has been forced to apply mean that it can now no longer really claim to be about public education, and, for that reason, I have, amicably, withdrawn from it.”

NCH hopes to attract students with celebrity lecturers, including biologist Professor Richard Dawkins and historian Sir David Cannadine, and has claimed that it will rival Oxford.

It will share some facilities with Birkbeck College and the University of London Senate House and Students’ Union.

But the high fees and social makeup of the College have attracted some criticism.

Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Today’s figures do give the impression that only those prepared or able to pay top whack will be afforded the opportunity to study at NCH.

“Much needs to be done to help arts and humanities following the government’s punitive slashing of teaching budgets. However, few people are convinced that charging the highest fees in the land is the way to ensure courses are available to all.”

Anthony Breach, Co-Chair of Oxford University Labour Club, said: “OULC is worried about the implications that this has both for the already poor state of social mobility in our society, as well as more specifically higher education of the humanities.

“Given that the government has withdrawn all state funding for all non-science subjects, there is the very real possibility that our subjects will become economically segregated, with only those with the means to pay for private tuition in the arts being able to study them.

“The New College of the Humanities can only strengthen this trend, especially since it only provides financial assistance to a measly 20 percent of its students.”

But Nina Fischer, President of Oxford Conservative Association, said: “Attending a private school should have neither a positive nor a negative impact on applications and students should only be accepted on the basis of merit. The empirical fact that so many accepted students have attended a certain type of school is not necessarily sufficient to infer that this fact has had any influence on the application process.”

Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said: “We welcome competition and we are relaxed about the growth in private universities, like the New College of the Humanities, as long as such institutions do not put significantly increased pressure on the already high-cost student support system.”

John Clarke, Professor of History at the private University of Buckingham, supported the new college, saying: “We have been extolling the virtues of independence in Higher Education for thirty five years, so the New College of Humanities is a very welcome development.”

He added: “Things work better when the student and not the state (as in most universities) is the real customer. So we wish the New College of Humanities well.”

Last year, Grayling was forced to cancel a talk after someone threw a smoke bomb in protest against the new university.