Middle East Comment from a Traveling Journo

New College of the Humanities: A Biased ‘Dream School’ for Oxbridge Rejects

I have to admit, when I heard about AC Grayling’s new private university initiative, I was immediately intrigued. The New College of the Humanities has a kind of spellbinding magic about it; my head filled with fantastical images of a kind of modern Hogwarts, where the world’s greatest wizards assemble to lecture young minds – cosmology from the castle turrets, philosophy in the grand library, logic, classics and literacy from specially designed rooms bursting with bewitched and enchanted trinkets and gadgets. Each wizard would occupy his own wing, and in his chamber he’d be surrounded by strange and wonderful contraptions that pop, fizz and purr softly as he conducts his lessons, whilst great sage-like wizards of bygone ages look on from their faded canvases.

But then I came back to reality (and realised I’d read a little too much Harry Potter.). It’s a little less Hogwarts, and a little more Jamie Oliver’s Dream School. Many have already quite rightly pointed out the faults with this school – that £18,000 is a vastly inflated sum that perhaps only matches the egos of those teaching; that this goes against every principle those self-professed leftist academics purport to represent; and that whilst it might be billed as a response to the government’s cuts in Humanities funding, making education more expensive doesn’t actually help anyone – other than the board of the university.

Jamie’s Dream School was a one-off event. It was a great initiative – to highlight the benefits of learning to kids on whom some had given up. And it was a fun idea. But it was made for TV, and was not exactly long-term. David Starkey was hardly going to spend 40 hours a week making lewd double entendres about Henry VIII’s codpiece to Leondre and Chantelle from Dagenham. Alistair Campbell wasn’t going to give up lucrative speaking engagements to explain the art of political spin to a class of 12 year olds. And Cherie Blair can’t waste that great legal mind on school kids – she’s got money to make on Ebay.

In much the same way, Dawkins and the like are not going to be able to devote the time they should to their students. During my masters at LSE – for which a similar fee is payable – quite a few of my ‘star lecturers’ had all sorts of other commitments. With their own work to complete, or special government assignments to take care of, or perhaps most importantly for them, appearing on Sky News every thirty seconds, teaching could at times take a back seat.

But more importantly, I went to LSE in the hope of getting a subjective-free education, where facts were presented and I was left to make up my own mind. This has mostly been the case. I don’t see Dawkins making objectivity a priority, or many of the other names that have circulated. It’s also a very narrow selection of academics – not one from outside Europe or America. I had people from all over the world teach me. Oxbridge has a similar international setup. It is anything but a superior balanced education if you are being fed the ideas of an opinionated few.

It’s too expensive, it’s not international, and its teachers will be in class about 20% of the time. Wealthy Oxbridge rejects might be tempted, but then the degree will be synonymous with second class-scholarship. Perhaps its a bit like Hogwarts without the magic – essentially a drafty old castle where you’re taught by a bunch of old white men who have their faces in the paper a little too much. And who’d want to go there?

Frankly, I’d pay £18,000 to not be taught by Richard bloody Dawkins.


Filed under: British Politics

Middle East Comment from a Travelling Journo