Monday, 6 June 2011

New College of the Humanities Again

Looking at my last post I find that I am really unsatisfied with it. Too much instant reaction and not enough fact - let alone analysis. The only good thing in it is the link to Crooked Timber - and that was an afterthought. Next time I need to think harder before posting.

So here is a more considered post with some actually useful information in it. Firstly I want to emphasise the lack of novelty about what NCH is doing. Whatever Terry Eagleton may say, this is hardly the thin end of any wedge. Regents College and the University of Buckingham already cater for a home/EU Undergraduate intake at substantially higher fees than the public sector. Profit-making institutions like Kaplan offer the University of London International Programme - and it makes sense to do that because the University of London is a recognised brand to have on your degree certificate. The cohort (say 200 students) is supposed to be split across five degrees, none of which will be a very large programme, so at the teaching and learning level I can't see much to get excited about.

So there is only very limited novelty here, in that the other high-fee private providers are non-profit-making, and the other profit-making UoL International resellers choose a lower price-point. The rest is marketing - and not all of the Professors being used in the marketing seem to feel entirely happy about it. (and just to be clear - the College is profit-making New College of the Humanities Trust is a separate charity which exists to give scholarships and prizes to the College's students)

Given the level of the fee, there is really nothing in current Government policy which has made this project either more or less possible than it was two years ago. Private providers can access loans up to the £6k level if the Secretary of State chooses to let them, but not beyond. Again, to emphasise that Regents and Buckingham have been on this territory for years.

Birkbeck have not welcomed this development, and you can see why. Other commentators seem to me to have over-reacted. It just isn't the case that

Although the New College will award degrees through existing UoL structures, the private nature of the institution presumably indicates that degree-awarding powers are to be deregulated, allowing any private university to offer whatever they like at whatever cost

The College operates under rules and regulations as they have existed for years. Even if it meets its growth targets, it will be smaller than many existing for-profits. The only thing that is new about it is the level of coverage in the Guardian.

There may be enough demand to sustain this as a very small institution catering to those well-off students too proud to go to any but the most prestigious institutions, and not quite able (or lucky) enough to get into those. If it does that, it will be by building up a brand during the (probably quite limited) period in which FTUG places are capped at those Universities. Following the rule that there's no such thing as bad publicity, my recommendation to all those opposing the College at the moment would be to make sure you never talk about it again.

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