New College of the Humanities

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New College of the Humanities
Established Incorporated 2010; announced 2011; offering tuition from September 2012
Type Private, undergraduate
Endowment £2.5 million (2014/15)[1]
Officer in charge
Jeremy Gibbs (CEO)
Chairman Charles Watson
Master A. C. Grayling
Students First intake Sep. 2012
Undergraduates 170 students
Location London, UK
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Ownership New College of the Humanities Ltd (formerly Grayling Hall)
Affiliations Independent (Students registered as International Programme Students with the University of London, and some of its degrees to be validated by Southampton Solent University[2])

New College of the Humanities (NCH) (legally Tertiary Education Services Ltd)[3] is an independent, primarily undergraduate college in London, England, UK, founded by the philosopher A.C. Grayling, who became its first Master.[4] From September 2012 it offered tuition[5] in economics, English, history, law and philosophy and politics and international Relations for undergraduate degrees with the University of London International Programmes. It now runs its own degree programmes, modelled on American liberal arts college courses where students study a major and a minor subject, validated by Southampton Solent University. It continues to offer a law degree through the University of London,.[2][6] In addition, it requires all undergraduate students to work towards a "Diploma of New College of the Humanities" by completing courses drawn from applied ethics, critical reasoning, science literacy and LAUNCH, its professional development programme[7] 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 Masters programme has been designed by Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, Head of Faculty and Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History. It is validated by Swansea University.[8] 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.[9][10]

NCH charges students annual fees of £12,000,[8] with its NCH Trust providing students with means-tested bursaries of up to 100% of the annual fees, and scholarships awarded based on academic merit.[11]

The announcement attracted a substantial response in the UK, and a significant amount of adverse publicity, where most higher education institutions are publicly funded. 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.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14][15]



A.C. Grayling, professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College until June 2011, secured NCH's funding.

The college models itself on liberal arts colleges in the United States, such as Amherst College.[16] Initial reports said it aimed to offer an education to rival that of Oxford and Cambridge,[17] but Grayling said this had been blown out of proportion by press hyperbole.[18] He said he had the idea for the college years ago when he was admissions tutor for an Oxbridge college, and was turning down 12 good applicants for every successful one.[19] Grayling himself completed his first degree in philosophy in the 1970s as a University of London external student, after registering with the University of Sussex but finding them not specialist enough.[20] 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.[19] 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.[21] Grayling has criticised English state examinations, arguing that A-levels do not measure ability adequately.[22]

Grayling said David Willetts, the universities minister, was told of the project in 2010, and appeared enthusiastic.[23] NCH Limited was first named Grayling Hall Limited (after AC 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.[24] The warden of New College, Oxford, who asked Grayling to change the name again to prevent confusion with the Oxford college, said other names Grayling had previously considered were Bloomsbury College and Erasmus College.[4]

Funding and governance

Initial "seed capital" of £200,000 for the project was provided, according to British newspaper The Guardian, by the financier Peter Hall.[25]

£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.[9] One third of the enterprise is owned by 14 senior academics, including Grayling, and the rest by private investors, including a couple from Switzerland and three British businessmen—Jeremy Gibbs, Matthew Batstone and Roy W. Brown.[18] 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.[26]

Gibbs, former chairman of Futuretalk plc, deputy chairman of Scientific Digital Imaging plc and director of Cambridge Venture Management (2000) Ltd, was registered as the CEO,[27] while Charles Watson, chairman of the PR firm Financial Dynamics, was named as non-executive chairman. [28]

Batstone and Brown are non-executive directors; Batstone is the former marketing chief of the Economist Group and a trustee of Bedales, an independent secondary school, and Brown is the founder of Metier Management Systems.[28]

The 14 academic partners, also referred to as The Professoriate, were announced as:[29]

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 joined the professoriate and lectured at the college.[31]

A charitable trust was established, the New College of the Humanities Trust, consisting of Grayling, Gibbs, Batstone, Watson, and Brown.[32]

First cohort

The first cohort of students consists 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.[33][34]

College structure

Facilities and fees

The Registry, Bedford Square

The college has a building called The Registry in Bedford Square where the one-to-one and small group tutorials take place. The Registry also contains rooms for most lectures. In addition, as the college's students have access to the University's facilities, including Senate House Library [35] and Student Central[36][37] It block-books rooms for its first-year students with student accommodation providers in Bloomsbury, Westminster, St Pancras and Tufnell Park.[38]

NCH has offered classes since October 2012,[5] its annual fees are £12,000.[39]

  • For the U.S., see[40] Over 30% of the first cohort are paying either no fees or fees that are subsidised to substantially below £9,000.[41] The NCH Trust provides 100 per cent means-tested bursaries and scholarships awarded on academic merit.[11] The college plans eventually to recruit 375 students each year, with no more than one third from outside the UK.[42]


The college offers tuition for 23 undergraduate programmes featuring major and minor options in Economics, English, History, Philosophy and Politics and International Relations, as well as a single honours Law LLB, and a Philosophy, Politics and Economics BA. In addition, its undergraduate students complete courses in applied ethics, critical reasoning, science literacy, and a professional development programme.[43] The science literacy course includes as its teachers, Richard Dawkins teaching evolution, Lawrence Krauss teaching cosmology and particle physics, Steven Pinker lecturing about the brain, and Daniel C Dennett lecturing on consciousness.[44]


NCH offers a 10:1 student-teacher ratio.[17] Subject-area convenors—including historian Suzannah Lipscomb of the University of East Anglia, and philosophers Ken Gemes from Birkbeck and Naomi Goulder from Bristol University—will recruit and lead the teaching staff. Lipscomb wrote that the college offers students 12–13 contact hours a week, including two tutorials, one of them one-to-one.[45]

The 14 academics named as partners will do some teaching, though most hold full-time jobs elsewhere, several in the United States. The NCH website refers to them as its professoriate, which led to criticism that it will be a largely absent one.[46] Grayling responded that at least one well-known academic would deliver a lecture every day of the academic year, though most of the teaching will be done by others.[13] The Guardian wrote that Dawkins, Krauss, and Jones will deliver two lectures a week in scientific literacy between them, over two terms, and Blackburn 10–20 lectures a year.[47] Krauss, a physics professor at Arizona State University, said he would visit for a month during the first year, and would give 10-15 lectures.[23] Zuckerman will teach up to 20 hours; he said the pay was comparable to fees for visiting professors in the United States. Colley and Cannadine—married to each other and employed by Princeton University—will teach at NCH for one hour each in the first academic year.[47] Singer, already employed by both Princeton and the University of Melbourne, agreed to give one lecture in the first year, but told The Guardian he might do more.[4]

On 10 January 2013, the college announced that Sir Trevor Nunn had been appointed Visiting Professor of Drama in the English faculty.[48]

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.[49] 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.[50]


Grayling said he had received 900 expressions of interest from potential students and 80 job applications in the first week.[23] Britain's former prime minister, Tony Blair, endorsed it;[51] 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."[19] 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.[52] 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."[53] 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."[23]

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;[54] Grayling responded that Eagleton himself teaches a few weeks a year at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, a private - though non-profit - university.[18] 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."[46] 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.[55] 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.[56]

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.[57] 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."[58]

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."[47] In an 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."[59]

A dozen protesters heckled him at Foyles bookshop in London on 7 June 2011 during a debate about cuts to arts funding, one of them shouting that Grayling had "no right to speak." A protester let off a smoke bomb, and 100 people were evacuated from the store.[60] Later in the week police removed protesters from a British Humanist Association talk by Richard Dawkins at the Institute of Education.[23]

In January 2012, the UK's Intellectual Property Office objected to the college name being registered as a trademark because of possible confusion with New College, Oxford.[61]

See also


  2. 2.0 2.1 Morgan, John (2015) Southampton Solent to validate £18K New College of the Humanities degrees: A. C. Grayling’s ‘Oxbridge-style’ private college strikes agreement with post-92 institution, Times Higher Education, 30 July (Accessed 21 August 2015)
  3. "Tertiary Education Services Limited". Register of HE Providers. HEFCE. Retrieved 23 March 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Booth, Robert. "Oxford tries to throw book at new arts college set up by AC Grayling", The Guardian, 8 June 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "British academics launch £18,000 college in London", BBC News, 5 June 2011.
  6. "About Us". New College of the Humanities. Retrieved 24 March 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1
  9. 9.0 9.1 Vasagar, Jeevan. "Doubts raised over the financial model of AC Grayling's private university", The Guardian, 6 June 2011.
  10. Booth, Richard. "AC Grayling's private university accused of copying syllabuses", The Guardian, 6 June 2011.
  11. 11.0 11.1
  12. Johnson, Boris. "At last, an Oxbridge for those who can’t get into Oxbridge", The Daily Telegraph, 6 June 2011.
    • "Experiments in Teaching," The Times, 8 June 2011.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Baker, Simon. "Grayling's plans for tutorials with the stars receive poor notices from disgruntled critics", Times Higher Education, 9 June 2011.
  14. Gentleman, Amelia. "The £54,000 degree: how well is AC Grayling's college doing?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-10-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "NCH Board - New College of the Humanities". New College of the Humanities. Retrieved 2015-10-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Grimston, Jack. "Top dons create new Oxbridge," The Sunday Times, 5 June 2011.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "New university to rival Oxbridge will charge £18,000 a year", The Sunday Telegraph, 5 June 2011.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Malik, Shiv. "AC Grayling complains of abuse over creation of elite New College", The Guardian, 9 June 2011: "All these people are partners in the enterprise. ... They are people whose advice and expertise and experience will be provided to us because they are actual shareholders in the institution."
    • For the list of partners and staff, see "Who we are", New College of the Humanities, accessed 10 June 2011.[dead link]
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Johnson, Boris. "At last, an Oxbridge for those who can’t get into Oxbridge", The Daily Telegraph, 6 June 2011.
  20. Lacey, Hester. "The Inventory: Anthony Grayling", The Financial Times, 10 June 2011.
  21. Lawson, Dominic. "A private sector Oxbridge? Not exactly", The Independent, 7 June 2011.
  22. Hurst, Greg; Sugden, Joanna; Sylvester, Rachel; and Thomson, Alice. "New university founder condemns A levels," The Sunday Times, 11 June 2011.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 Grimston, Jack. "Minister encouraged launch of elite college," The Sunday Times, 12 June 2011.
  24. For registration and change of name, see "New College of the Humanities Limited", Jordan's Business Information Services, accessed 8 June 2011.
  25. Hughes, Solomon., Evans, Robert and Shepherd, Jessica. Tory party donor Peter Hall funded Anthony Grayling's university: Financier with radical Conservative libertarian views says he provided £200,000 to 'breathe life into the idea' The Guardian, Thursday, 16 June 2011, accessed Nov 2011.
  26. Cavendish Corporate Finance: Cavendish Corporate Finance successfully leads the start-up capital fundraising to create the New College of the Humanities, published 12 June 2011 (Accessed November 2011)
  27. "Jeremy Stephen Gibbs", LevelBusiness, accessed 8 June 2011.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Booth, Robert. "New university gathers top academics to teach £18,000-a-year degrees", The Guardian, 5 June 2011.
  29. "Faculty and Staff", New College of the Humanities, accessed 10 June 2011.
  30. Jones has been reported in The Telegraph, 16 April, 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).
  32. "New College of the Humanities Trust", New College of the Humanities, accessed 5 May 2016.
  33. Jeevan Vasagar, "Private-school pupils will dominate elite college set up by AC Grayling", The Guardian, 20 April 2012
  34. Robert Booth, "AC Grayling's private university to open with just 60 students", The Guardian, 18 September 2012
  37. "University of London's independent stance", letter from the dean of University of London International Programmes, The Guardian, 8 June 2011.
  40. "U.K. profs to launch university to challenge Oxford, Cambridge", MSNBC, 6 June 2011.
  41., The Guardian, accessed 6 January 2014
  42. "Grayling's plans for tutorials with the stars receive poor notices from disgruntled critics", Times Higher Education, 9 June 2011.
  45. Lipscomb, Suzannah. "Why I chose to join AC Grayling's private university", The Guardian, 9 June 2011.
  46. 46.0 46.1 Green, David Allen. "Grayling's Folly is falling down", New Statesman, 7 June 2011.
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 Vasagar, Jeevan and Booth, Robert. "AC Grayling's private university accused of copying syllabuses", The Guardian, 7 June 2011.
  48. ["Trevor Nunn joins New College of the Humanities as Visiting Professor of Drama"], accessed 13 January 2013
  49. "HEPI/HEA 2014 Student Experience Survey: "vital questions for universities, students and Government"". Higher Education Policy Institute. 21 May 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  50. "Why NCH?". New College of the Humanities. Retrieved 29 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  51. Long, Camilla. "AC Grayling: Is it safe to come out now?", The Sunday Times, 12 June 2011.
  52. "Experiments in Teaching," The Times, 8 June 2011.
  53. "One very New College, at a price", The Economist, 9 June 2011.
  54. Eagleton, Terry. "AC Grayling's new private University is odious", The Guardian, 6 June 2011.
  55. For the letter, see "The shame of this 'gated intellectual community'", Letters to the editor, The Guardian, 7 June 2011.
  56. Kealey, Terence. "Don't call these people Ivy League pioneers", The Times, 7 June 2011.
  57. "Welcome to the fight, Professor Grayling", The Daily Telegraph, 8 June 2011.
  58. Jenkins, Simon. "AC Grayling has caricatured British universities. No wonder they're fuming", The Guardian, 9 June 2011.
  59. Melville, Caspar (2012). "Saving our universities? New Humanist interviews AC Grayling". 127 (5). New Humanist.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  60. "AC Grayling forced to flee smoke bomb protest at Foyles debate on private university", Andrew Hough, The Daily Telegraph, 7 June 2011
  61. Private college faces objection in trade mark bid, BBC News, 23 January 2012

Further reading