AC Grayling’s inspired publicity campaign for the New College of Humanities is provoking a lot of debate. I’ve got marking to do so I am not going to offer an even partially reasoned treaty on the rights and wrongs, but it may be worth noting this:
1. It’s a bit showbiz: which is why they’ve got a lot of scientists and not many humanities stars (go on, name some and then think about what the problems are).
2. The law degree is very ordinary in its intent and design. Tying to the London LLB is a step which makes life easy initially but will inhibit genuine innovation. There’s not even a legal ethics course (do they know this is likely to become compulsory?) [makes subtle bid for job, which has already been ruined by point 1]
3. The idea of injecting some broader liberal education around ethics/science etc. IS an interesting one – though not entirely novel (lots of law schools do a bit of this integrated into courses for instance)- I’d like to see more of this kind of thinking around law courses in particular.
4. Contact time on the course is low, outside of lectures. One on one tutorials will play well (they appear to be only once a week). To me the value to cost ratio given the £9k hike is, erm, difficult to justify.
5. A lecture based course suggests the College does not have it’s eye on best educational practice. The teaching style is more about marketing than about what works.
6. Most of the teaching will not be by the ‘stars’. Indeed, they’ll struggle to get genuinely inspirational law stars that can also teach. Indeed (x2), who are they? I’d actually be really interested in readers’ thoughts on that: who do YOU think are the stars?
7. Law firms will like it. It looks feels and smells like Oxbridge, has a plausible – but conventional – approach to merit and may be even more socially selective.
8. Up to 80% will be paying the full fee. It remains to be seen how much further than 20% paying less they can go. I can’t speculate on this in an informed way.
9. They are emphasising teaching, but is there real substance behind this? Most universities have not, in my opinion, got the extent to which the fees shift will bring a real shift in emphasis away from research and back to teaching. This means NCH have an opportunity to carve out a reputation quickly.
10. We can expect more, not less of this. The government’s fee system is completely unsustainable. They may shrink the publicly supported sector by reducing student numbers (and help these kinds of colleges thrive) or they will take the cap off the fees and allow full-blooded competition. A retrograde but inevitable step. NCH, for all the complaints, have already had a good start on establishing a brand (even if it is one, I would argue, based on a rather slim version of what constitutes good education). I think they will thrive in spite of the eye watering fees.
11. Indeed, the fee may help them. Consumers are a bit daft. They take price as a signal of quality. Star dust, the whiff of Oxbridge and megabuck entry fees. And every switched on parent in the country knows about them. No wonder the venture capitalists are involved.