New College of the Humanities at Northeastern
|Type||Private, undergraduate, postgraduate|
|Established||Incorporated 2010; announced 2011; offering tuition from September 2012|
|Endowment||£2.5 million (2014/15)|
Officer in charge
|Rob Farquharson (COO)|
|Master||A. C. Grayling|
New College of the Humanities (NCH), owned by NCH at Northeastern Ltd, is a primarily undergraduate and master's degree college in London, UK, founded by the philosopher A. C. Grayling, who became its first Master.
In February 2019 Northeastern University, based in Boston, Massachusetts, purchased the New College of the Humanities. In February 2020 NCH at Northeastern Ltd was awarded taught degree awarding powers for a period of six years.
The liberal arts college bases its pedagogy on the Oxbridge tutorial model. Initial reports said it aimed to offer an education to rival that of Oxford and Cambridge, but Grayling said this had been blown out of proportion by press hyperbole. He said he had the idea for the college years ago when he was admissions tutor for an Oxbridge college, and the university was turning down 12 good interviewees for every successful one.
Grayling himself completed his first degree in philosophy in the 1970s as a University of London external student. He argues that there is not enough elite university provision in the UK, leading thousands of British students to study in the United States instead. He told The Independent that the headmaster of Winchester College, an independent secondary school, had said many of his best students failed to get into Oxbridge because of government pressure to increase the number of students from state schools. Grayling has criticised English state examinations, arguing that A-levels do not measure ability adequately.
Grayling said David Willetts, the universities minister, was told of the project in 2010, and appeared enthusiastic. NCH Limited was first named Grayling Hall Limited (after A. C. Grayling and Peter Hall), incorporated in July 2010 and registered at an address in Peckham, south London. The name was changed to New College of the Humanities in February 2011. The warden of New College, Oxford, asked Grayling to change the name again to prevent confusion with the Oxford college.
From September 2012 to September 2015 it offered tuition in economics, English, history, law and philosophy and politics and international relations for undergraduate degrees with the University of London International Programme. From 2015 it ran its own degree programmes, validated by Southampton Solent University. Its "Diploma of New College of the Humanities" is earned alongside the various combined BA and BSc degrees by completion of courses in applied ethics, critical reasoning, science literacy and LAUNCH, its professional development programme. It continues to offer a law degree through the University of London.
In 2016 NCH announced that it would be offering its first postgraduate qualification, the Historical Research and Public History MA starting in September 2016. This Master’s programme has been designed by Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, Head of Faculty and Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History. It is validated by Swansea University. In 2017 the College launched three additional master's degrees, the MA Economic Policy & Communication, MSc Global Politics, and MA Philosophy.
The college uses its own building, The Registry, and some of the University of London's teaching and student facilities, including Senate House Library and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, all in the Bloomsbury district of London.
The College's foundation attracted a substantial response in the UK, where most higher education institutions are publicly funded, and a significant amount of adverse publicity. London's mayor, Boris Johnson, welcomed it as a bold experiment, while The Times argued that higher education has been a closed shop in the UK for too long. There was an angry reaction from sections of the academic community. Complaints included that NCH had copied the course descriptions of the University of London's international programmes on its website; was offering the same syllabus with a significantly higher price tag; and that the senior academics involved with the project would in fact do very little of the teaching.
Academics and Administrators within the British academic world have in recent years alluded to the College's for-profit agenda, highlight the College's high tuition fees, the corporate structure as a Limited company, and the membership of the College's board.
Funding and governance
£10 million in private equity funding was subsequently raised to cover costs for two years, with the expectation that NCH would break even by the third. Cavendish Corporate Finance LLP were the corporate financiers hired by NCH Ltd and raised this £10 million from a range of private investors including a number of prominent individuals from the world of business and finance.
The 14 academic partners, also referred to as The Professoriate, were announced as:
- philosophers A. C. Grayling, Simon Blackburn and Peter Singer
- historians David Cannadine and Niall Ferguson
- economist Partha Dasgupta
- scientists Richard Dawkins (will be Professor of Evolutionary Biology), Steve Jones (was to have been Professor of Biological Sciences), Steven Pinker
- legal scholars Ronald Dworkin and Adrian Zuckerman
- literary critic Christopher Ricks.
Since the launch of the college, professors Vernon Bogdanor, Daniel C Dennett, Rebecca Goldstein, Roger Halson, Howard Jacobson, Simon May, Barbara McDonald, Stephen Neal, Sir Trevor Nunn and Christopher Peacocke have also lectured at the college.
The college was registered on the UK register of charities in summer 2020.
The first cohort consisted of around 60 students, primarily from independent schools; one in five of the college's offers have gone to state-school students. College staff made 130 visits to schools (21 to state schools) to attract applications. They graduated in 2015.
Facilities and fees
The college has announced that it will move to Devon House in St Katharine Docks, London before the start of the 2021-22 academic year. In addition, the college's students have access to the University of London's facilities, including Senate House Library  and Student Central. It block-books rooms for its first-year students with student accommodation providers. NCH has offered classes since October 2012, its annual fees are £9,250.
Degrees and teaching
The college offers tuition for 56 undergraduate programmes featuring major and minor options in Art History, Creative Writing, Data Science, Economics, English, History, Law, Philosophy, Politics and International Relations, and Psychology as well as a single honours Law LLB, as well as the Philosophy, Politics and Economics BA and Philosophy, Politics & History BA. In addition, its undergraduate students complete courses in applied ethics, critical reasoning, science literacy, and a professional development programme. The science literacy course includes as its teachers, Richard Dawkins teaching evolution, Steven Pinker lecturing about the brain, and Daniel C Dennett lecturing on consciousness. It also offers master's degrees; MA Philosophy & Artificial Intelligence, MA Philosophy, MSc Computer Science.
Students experience more than 11 contact hours per week, including regular one-to-one and small group tutorials. In the 2017 National Student Survey, NCH achieved student satisfaction scores above Russell Group universities and London universities, beating London members of the elite Russell Group in 26 out of 27 categories.
In May 2014 it was reported that independent research that replicated the annual HEPI academic experience survey showed that the College's academic experience had exceeded the expectations of 63% of its students. This was more than twice the comparative statistic (28%) for Russell Group university students of humanities and social sciences in the HEPI 2014 annual student experience survey. The same research also showed that NCH students experienced 40% more contact time than their peers at Russell Group universities, that they completed twice as many assignments, and that they received feedback on their assignments in person more than twice as often.
Grayling said he had received 900 expressions of interest from potential students and 80 job applications in the first week. Britain's former prime minister, Tony Blair, endorsed it; and London's mayor, Boris Johnson, called it the boldest experiment in higher education in the UK since the foundation in 1983 of the University of Buckingham, the UK's first private university; he wrote that it showed the way ahead for academics demoralized by government interference with admissions procedures and "scapegoated for the weaknesses of the schools." The Times argued that higher education has been a closed shop in the UK for too long, that all over the world there are excellent universities run independently of the state, and that in its conception NCH is teaching by example. The Economist wrote that there is a market for the idea because of the increasing number of qualified British students who fail to get into their university of choice, in part because of pressure on the top universities from the Office for Fair Access to increase the number of students from state schools; they added that "a 'toffs’ college' of well-heeled Oxbridge near-misses is a provocative concept." The Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, one of the college's partners, said he had read the criticism of NCH with incredulity: "Anyone who cares about the humanities will be cheering Anthony Grayling."
The news triggered accusations of elitism. Literary critic Terry Eagleton called the college "odious", arguing that it was taking advantage of a crumbling university system to make money; Grayling responded that Eagleton himself teaches a few weeks a year at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA, a private - though non-profit - university. Lawyer David Allen Green, writing in the New Statesman, described NCH as a "sham" and a "branding exercise with purchased celebrity endorsements and a PR-driven website." Several academics complained in a letter to The Guardian that its creation was a setback for the campaign against the current government's policy of commercializing education, and were joined by 34 of Grayling's former colleagues at Birkbeck, who questioned how much teaching the college's 14 academic partners would actually do. Terence Kealey, then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, suggested it was dangerous to have a university funded by private equity, citing the possible collapse in 2011 of Southern Cross private nursing homes.
Toby Young argued in The Daily Telegraph that the reaction was part of a left-wing campaign to retain state control over education, involving, he wrote, public sector unions, university lecturers, and the Socialist Workers Party. Simon Jenkins wrote that the country's professors, lecturers and student trade unionists were "united in arms against what they most hate and fear: academic celebrity, student fees, profit and loss, one-to-one tutorials and America."
Grayling responded to the criticism by arguing that NCH is trying to keep humanities teaching alive. He said he felt persecuted by the negative reaction: "My whole record, everything I have written, is turned on its head. Now I am a bastard capitalist. It is really upsetting. ... Education is a public good and we should be spending more on it and it shouldn't be necessary to do this, but standing on the sidelines moaning and wailing is not an option." In a 2012 interview, Grayling also responded to claims that the college was "elitist": "There is nothing wrong with being elite as long as you are not exclusive. You want your surgeon or airline pilot to have been trained at an elite institution."
A dozen protesters heckled Grayling at Foyles bookshop in London on 7 June 2011 during a debate about cuts to arts funding, one of them shouting that he had "no right to speak." A protester let off a smoke bomb, and 100 people were evacuated from the store. Later in the week police removed protesters from a British Humanist Association talk by Richard Dawkins at the Institute of Education.
- BPP University College of Professional Studies
- Education in England
- Higher Education Act 2004
- Regent's University London
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- The NCH Diploma
- nchlondon.ac.uk LAUNCH
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- Jones was reported in The Telegraph, 16 April 2012, as having had a change of heart and has "amicably" withdrawn. He did not "rule out giving the odd talk" at the NCH. Walker, Tim (2012) A. C. Grayling puts a brave face on Steve Jones's withdrawal from his university: A. C. Grayling's controversial New College of the Humanities suffers a setback as Professor Steve Jones withdraws as a founding partner, The Telegraph, 16 Apr 2012 (Accessed 20 April 2012).
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- Official website
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