In his Evening Standard interview on his latest creation, the New College of Humanities (NCH), A.C. Grayling extensively discusses his motivation for founding the NCH. One quote in particular caught my eye.
[Grayling] claims that he is not setting up the NCH outside the public system to compete with Oxbridge. That's "press hyperbole". But there is excess demand at the top end of the education "market", and he does not believe we should continue to lose bright pupils to foreign universities, which are more than willing to court their minds and money.
Grayling also defends the fee of £18K per year.
The NCH fee "seems like a lot of money from one point of view, but if you're really committed, you'd do anything to provide your kids with a good start". Provided you have the means. "Well, you make the means."
So, let's put Grayling's assertion to the test. I have two small children, aged 5 and 3. If they are to be able to afford that high quality NCH education. I'd better start saving soon. But if I want the best possible university education for my children, should I aim for NCH?
The NCH offers standard University of London International Programme degrees, with an additional load of four courses on Logic and Critical Thought, Applied Ethics, Scientific Literacy, and Professional Skills.
If I were still working as a university lecturer, I would hope to teach most of the content of these courses within subject-specific classes - for the simple reason that these courses cover many skills which are best acquired while working through actual problems, and reflecting on one's own practice. (I hear problem-based and reflective learning are quite fashionable these days ...) This approach is hard to pull off when you have a large class of widely varying skills levels, but perfectly feasible if you have small groups, highly motivated, intelligent students, and plenty of 1-1 tutorials.
If I were a parent, I would be concerned about extracurricular time being taken up with additional modules when my children could be exploring other subjects, learning foreign languages, or simply immersing themselves in the subject of their choice. (Or, God forbid, having fun.) I would also like my children to be prepared for a connected workplace with international teams that telecommute from different locations with different cultures. This would require a strong cultural studies, area studies, and languages provision, none of which NCH offers.
So, let's see. I want to see my children well-prepared for a life which will require them to be flexible, work well across disciplines and cultures, and change careers as and when necessary. Surely there must be better options out there?
Let's look at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, a collaboration between Rice University, USA, and the German state-run University of Bremen. I presume that Jacobs University is one of the institutions Grayling wishes to outclass in his bid for the best and the brightest. I'm not picking it because it's particularly good - however, it's fairly typical for the level of innovation and interdisciplinarity that the best private foreign institutions offer.
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that Jacobs University is a full university, with undergraduate and graduate programmes and extensive science course provision, a quick look at the courses on offer shows two degrees that cover aspects of the Humanities proper, International Politics and History and Integrated Cultural Studies. Both degrees are highly innovative. Between them, they cover history, world literature, arts, aspects of philosophy such as ethics, and relevant social sciences. (His Grace may or may not be pleased to hear that the University even offers a course on comparative religion as part of cultural studies.)
What's more, the first year of all undergraduate programmes is designed to be interdisciplinary. Courses are often co-taught by instructors from different fields. Following the US model (and to a certain extent the model of classical German Humanities education), students are expected to take courses outside of their own subject area.What better way to acquire science literacy than to study an introductory science course with students who will make this their major?
Last, but not least, Jacobs takes pride in its multilingual and multicultural student body and perceives this as an asset, actively recruiting around the globe. Grayling, on the other hand, worries about "losing" UK students to foreign universities.
But what is the cost of all this high quality education? 18K Euros per year. That's Euros, not pounds. (For an additional 220 Euros per year, you get free public transport in Bremen and environs.)
To repeat - this is not an advertisement for Jacobs University. It's just an illustration of what £18K will get you elsewhere - more Humanities, more innovation, more interdisciplinarity, and, I believe, a much better preparation for the workplace of the future than the New College of Humanities in its current state offers.