Popular Posts

Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

New College of the Humanities: what's the fuss about?

The press is full of nasty stuff about Anthony Grayling and his associates, see here and here for some examples. Their crime is that they have set up the so called New College of the Humanities  (NCH) which will tutor students for what used to be called the University of London External Degree and is now called the University of London International Programmes (ULIP). The external degree is, in a sense, the original University of London degree. At its origin the university was little more than an examining institution with people preparing for its degrees by themselves or at crammers. Today there are a vast number of institutions throughout the world, many of them quality controlled by the University of London, that offer teaching to prepare students for the ULIP. So why the fuss about one more? 
First there is a red herring about plagiarism. A number of academics have made asses of themselves by making public accusations of plagiarism. What actually happened is that they wrote so called "subject guides" for ULIP courses - I wrote one myself almost 20 years ago, now thankfully long superceded! These subject guides define the syllabus that will be examined by ULIP. NCH has published these syllabuses so that its students will know what they will study. All reputable institutions that tutor for the ULIP  do the same thing. How else should students know what the course content is? The accusations of plagiarism are nonsense on stilts. It would make as much sense to accuse Open University tutors of plagiarism because they follow a course of instruction defined by OU Course Units or Oxford University PPE tutors of plagiarism because they teach to a syllabus and reading list written  by somebody else.
Secondly, there is the issue of fees. NCH will charge £18,000 a year, twice what it will cost to take roughly equivalent courses at regular University of London colleges. But what is the problem with that? Presumably anyone who can get into UCL, LSE, Kings or SOAS and pay £9,000 will do so - assuming that they are indifferent to the  charm of an occasional tutorial with Richard Dawkins. Ah, you say, so the less able but better heeled can buy a degree. Yes, exactly, provided they meet the not too exacting minimum entrance requirements of the University of London - which are by the way little different from the minimum entry requirements of most UK universities. But they can do that already whether or not NCH exists. Anyone, on the payment of a fee, who satisfies the minimum entrance requirements can register for the ULIP - in that sense it is much more democratically open than most conventional UK universities. There is then nothing to stop them paying as much as they like for private tuition to prepare themselves for the end of  year examinations. If they have the means they could enter into private bi-lateral contracts with Dawkins, Dworkin, Cannadine, Uncle Tom Cobley and all to provide them with weekly instruction which at University and College Union recommended consultancy rates would no doubt costs quite a bit more than £18,000 per annum.
Whether 2 tutorials a week, most of which will presumably not be provided by the headline professoriate, is actually worth £18,000 a year is an open question which the market will eventually pronounce on. If it turns out though that NCH have settled at somewhere near the right price it clearly implies that the Oxford students  who were so quick to get on their moral high horses are, even under the new fee regime, getting a bargain, though probably not one that is sustainable for very long. It also, of course,  confirms my skepticism about the pedagogical efficiency of tutorials. Two "tutes" a week and you still can't reason your way out of a paper bag let alone establish the basic facts of the matter? It's scarcely an advertisement for the system.

No comments: