An Elite Education for the Elites: Profs Open New Private “Ivy League” College in UK

A group of prominent British professors and businessmen are starting a new private university that is directly modeled on the “elite US-style university system” of Ivy League universities, as the Guardian puts it. New College of the Humanities is to offer an “intense” three-year education for £54,000 — about $88,511.00 total; a single year is to cost £18,000 or about $29,503.00. Very big name academics including scientist Richard Dawkins, linguist Steven Pinker, philosopher Peter Singer (who’s a very controversial figure for his position about euthanizing infants with severe disabilities — but I digress) and others from the likes of Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge will teach classes in English, philosophy, history, economics and law.

AC Grayling, a professor of philosophy at the universities of London and Oxford, says the decision to set up New College is directly in response to the British government cutting subsidies to humanities and social science subjects, and to its allowing universities to charge tuition of up to £9,000 or about $14,753.00.

The past year saw massive student protests after British lawmakers approved those tuition increases; previously, undergraduate tuition was £3,290 or about $5,391.00. The new bill, which is to go into effect in the academic year beginning in the fall of 2012, will “transform many English universities into the most expensive public institutions in the world.” By comparison, average tuition and fees at public four-year universities in the US being about $7,020. As the Chronicle of Higher Education points out, those sharply higher fees in the UK are a “radical transformation for a system that did not even charge tuition until 1998.” University professors in the UK have also seen their salaries and pensions cut.

Further galling about this new university is that, not only is it creating a “those who can pay for knowledge shall have it” model, but the 14 founding professors and “a group of wealthy businessmen” stand to profit by the whole venture.

The new private university, New College of the Humanities, was indeed “inspired in part by the business model of American Ivy League universities” and is “set up to deliver a profit to its shareholders who include the professors and a team of wealthy businessmen who have bankrolled the plan.” Scholarships of an unspecified amount are to be given to one in five of the first 200 students and an endowment fund is being set up to “try to increase that ratio to one in three.”

Professors have been critical of the new private university which, no matter how you look at it, is sending the message that an elite education is only in the reach of… the elite. Says Sally Hunt, general secretary of the lecturers’ association, the University and Colleges Union:

“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 launch of this college highlights the government’s failure to protect art and humanities and is further proof that its university funding plans will entrench inequality within higher education.”

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students says simply that “an education in humanities from some of the leading thinkers in the world will be restricted to the richest.”

While the big-name academics will lecture at New College of the Humanities, they will not be doing the one-on-one teaching of students in tutorials. A “professional teaching staff” is currently being hired to do the grunt work of university teaching (i.e., actually meeting with and talking to the students, making sure they’ve done their reading, assigning and grading papers and exams).

Here in the US, there’s an ongoing debate about who has access to the Ivies. US universities talk about creating a student body that is racially, ethnically and economically diverse but the reality is that the likes of Harvard, Yale and Princeton “tend to accept students from wealthy families over less affluent students with the same credentials.” Schools that low-income students might attend, including community colleges and public universities — and, actually, my own college — see students choosing to major in professional tracks such as education, nursing, information technology and business. As a professor of Classics, I’m very much a teacher of the humanities — ancient Greek and Latin — but I know my students, many of whom work several hours a week, have loans to pay back. Often a student will express a wish to take a course like Classical Mythology but shake their head because there isn’t room in their schedule — and no extra money for extra courses — for anything besides requirements. The “life of the mind” is great to dialogue about endlessly, but rent, utility, medical and other bills must be paid.

I’m quite glad to keep fighting the good fight and infusing what lessons I can about humanities into the education of students who need professional credentials to pay bills and support their families and themselves. What New College of the Humanities teaches all too clearly is that education is as much a business as anything else, even the storied columns and corridors of the Ivy League, and the towers.

Related Care2 Coverage

Getting Low-Income Students into the Ivies


Photograph of All Souls College, Oxford University by Richard Gallagher via Wikimedia Commons.


caterina caligiuri


Ad Du
Ad Du6 years ago

My suspicion, Ms. Brennan, is that your foreign education happened at home, actually. I felt I recognized the system in Eastern Europe and I already commented on it too many times.

I was saying among other things, that I suspected it was not that much a system supported by the government of Russia (they rather got rid of it, gently, "naturally"), but rather the Soviet one. The Russian government simply did not dismantled it overnight, but rather let it die. And I'm not saying they could have done more, in the new system.

Finally, I was saying that people here are extremely polite, they will never bother foreigners with questions. Never know Atlantida existed in Eastern Europe.

Marina Brennan
Marina Brennan6 years ago

@Ad Du. You are right, I didn't specify when I finished college. It was in 2007 to be exact.
In my post I just shared my experience getting high education in a foreign country. I'm not sure what point you are making in your response to my post.

Melanie K.
Mel;anie K6 years ago

Louise D, haven't you noticed that what you say is happening in the UK, reduction of social mobility, is also happening in the US? When they continue to give tax cuts to the wealthy and lay the deficit on the middle class and poor, then they prevent those who are not already wealthy from getting that elite education. Did you know that the wealthiest people get a tax break of over $3,000,000, and the next level is in the hundres of thousands?

And this GOP party has the nerve to denigrate Pres. Obama as being "elite"!!

Ad Du
Ad Du6 years ago

@ Marina Brennan

Preaching in the desert (in my opinion!), Ms. Brennan! Eastern Europe had competition in schools, just as you described. Entrance exams - not interviews, letters of recommendation, personality estimations and ... money.

Back then there were more candidates than places; now ... the same!

Solution: the no-competition economies instituted the competition among students. The economies of competition solved the problem democratically: he, who can pay, can accede ... There are scholarships too, plus student loans etc., so ... all is well!

It's a matter of policy. What governing people think they could/should do.

You did not specify: was it after 1985 ? Before 1991 ? Most likely afterwards. The policy you (and others) are thankful for was the one before 1991, most likely. After that, the overall academic level decreased "naturally", hence the pressure
eased on the free section (on its way to "natural" extinction, now) and increased on the "commercial" one; that, together with the rise of other costs led to increasing tuition.

Transformation achieved.

Rest assured, nobody here will be pressing for details.

Marina Brennan
Marina Brennan6 years ago

Unfortunately, high education is becoming a privilege, not a right.
When I attended my university in Russia, my law department was separated into two subdivisons: free of charge for students and a "commercial" department. It was close to impossible to get into the free department: you needed to pass four entrance exams - oral and written, compete against six other people for a spot, and score higher than your competition to be accepted.
I spent my last year of high school preparing for the entrance exams.
The commercial department cost only $700/year when i started college. Competition was laughable - they needed to pass an interview and they were in! When I finished college, free department shrunk, commercial department expanded, and the tuition rose to $3,000 a year.
US, Russia, and now England, are experiencing tuition climbs.It is really sad. I thank the Russian government for funding my university and allowing me to receive free law education. Starting next year, Russian students will no longer have that opportunity.

Ernie Miller
william Miller6 years ago

the wealthy have always had the best of everything. I dont understand if the author is saying this is a good or a bad thing? at least the suposidly britest teachers are out teaching. with out a decent wage they just as well may stop teaching and do something entirely different letting their knowlage go totaly unshared.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Robert V.

It is part of a two caste system, for the upper caste, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, for the lower caste, American Idol, CW and rap music, for the upper caste, Shakespeare, Goethe, Moliere, for the lower caste, National Enquirer, People Magazine and true romance novels, for the upper caste, theology, for the lower caste, religious fundamentalism, for the upper caste, mathematics, physics, biology, for the lower caste, scientific creationism, voodoo, space alien conspiracies with the New World Order from the Bermuda triangle, for the upper caste, architecture, for the lower caste, trailer parks, for the upper caste, a beautifully healthy body with organic whole grains, fruits, vegetables, for the lower caste, obesity, a beer belly, McDonald's and tobacco products.

Terence Nelson
Terence Nelson6 years ago

What the article does not say is whether the 'degree' will be a recognised educational diploma or just a piece of paper saying that you did your 3 years (and paid yer money).

On a broader front, it is disheartening to see how the English education system in particular (and elsewhere in general) continues it's nosedive into the abyss. When I was at school (I am a product of boarding school with a scholarship and endowment fund at a Public School) not all was rosy and wonderful but compared to nowadays, it was! We actually learned things, were not subject to idiotic pie-in-the-sky theories that changed every three months and shall I go on?

I am certainly glad that I do not have to go to school today and sorry for those that do. If we could see a return to common sense and what school is supposed to be about, it would be a good start (end of rant).