Here’s an interesting development in higher education. The New College for the Humanities (NCH), an independent university college, was launched this weekend. Once opened, the NCH will be the UK’s third private university, the latest in a trend that began with the University of Buckingham in 1976.
The NCH will charge £18,000 in tuition, twice the top rate for public universities. Let the furore begin. University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt claims that the move will “entrench inequality within higher education” by serving only the “select few”.
Despite a quarrel over the title “university college”, the NCH will presumably go ahead. And so it should. Our current system respects a parent’s right to send his or her child to private school. It makes no sense to try to stop young adults from choosing private universities.
More than this, there are distinct benefits to private universities. They can launch innovative programmes and attract top talent in a way that their public competitors, reliant upon government funding and beholden to political climates, cannot. See to this effect the professorships of Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling, and Sir David Cannadine at the NCH.
Hunt says, “While many would love the opportunity to be taught by the likes of AC Grayling and Richard Dawkins, at £18,000 a go it seems it won't be the very brightest but those with the deepest pockets who are afforded the chance”. The charge that high tuition merely makes private universities bastions of social snobbery is a common one, but unfounded.
Universities trade on their reputations in academics. They have to take the best people, regardless of their ability to pay, to maintain the brand. At more established American universities, private financial aid is quite generous. Yale assists over half of its undergraduates, with an average grant of $34,400 toward tuition of $55,850. The NCH will offer assistance to 20% of its first cohort, with plans to expand this.
Also in the news recently was a BBC story on a tuition fees funding gap that will cost the government – meaning taxpayers – an additional £95m a year. Apparently a matter of getting their “sums completely wrong”. This makes the private sector look especially good, and the timing of the NHC launch is particularly auspicious.