Private University in UK Aims to Breathe Life into Humanities

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Ben Cohen
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Richard Dawkins giving a lecture based on his ...

In response to the Conservative government's slashing of funding for the humanities, a group of British academics are creating a privately funded university to breathe life back into the disciplines they believe have been overshadowed by science and technical based degrees. From the Guardian:

AC Grayling, a professor of philosophy at the universities of London and Oxford, will welcome next year the first students to the New College of the Humanities to study for degrees in English, philosophy, history, economics and law taught by academics from Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge.

There is a starry lineup of professorial talent: Richard Dawkins will teach evolutionary biology and science literacy; Niall Ferguson will lecture on economics and economic history; and Steven Pinker will teach philosophy and psychology.....

The professors at New College are promising an intense, three-year education in exchange for £54,000. Before they have even got to the library or started writing an essay, students will be expected to attend at least 13 hours a week of lectures, one-to-one tutorials and seminars.

It is easy to see why so many in the higher education system are unhappy about this new project. Private institutions usually churn out students who reflect the views of the system that got them there in the first place. Most of the students I know who went to my private high school are a fan of fee paying education, and few question its legitimacy in British society. However, those of my friends who went through the state system are acutely aware of how privileged private educated kids were and how easily it translated into better universities and better paying jobs later on in life. While a state school student may be willing to tear down the system that creates a two tiered education system, a private school student would be far less likely to bite the hand that fed them.

However, while I'm not sure whether a more expensive, private project is the best solution to the tragic loss of funding for the humanities (most UK universities charge under £9,000/year for tuition), it is absolutely crucial that a new generation of students grow up understanding Britain within its historical and cultural context. Yes, these students may be far more privileged than others in higher education, but with a proper grounding in the humanities, they could well lay the intellectual foundations for serious change in British society. And that, I believe, is worth the risk.

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