At just a day’s notice, over 140 students and staff crammed into a University College of London lecture theatre on Monday evening to discuss their response to the proposed ‘New College for the Humanities’, hyped extensively as a ‘rival to Oxbridge'.
They were furious that an attempt is being made to set up a private London college charging £18,000 a year. NCH claims it will offer full University of London degrees and allow access to existing, publicly-funded, university facilities.
NCH is the brainchild of philosopher A.C. Grayling and a gaggle of his academic cronies including British Empire enthusiast Niall Ferguson and fundamentalist atheist Richard Dawkins. They are backed by a shadowy gang of private equity investors, who have apparently supported the project to the tune of £10m.
As one group of concerned academics have written, this is an assault on the principle of a university as a public institution for ‘research, scholarship and the dissemination of knowledge.’
Mayor of London Boris Johnson is a fan, claiming the college will provide an academic home for those failing to get into Oxford or Cambridge, the ‘cream of the rejects’ - presumably rich, thick, and full of clots.
As became clear from discussions, the college will not be an accredited university and does not have charitable status. It is a profit-making vehicle for those involved that will leech off public resources. Some of the courses it claims it will offer have been copied wholesale from existing University of London degrees - including those currently facing catastrophic cuts in funding.
Much of the legal and logistical planning appears borderline incompetent. It is not clear as yet where the college will be located and where it intends to house its students.
Anger in the room was palpable. But contributions from the platform and the floor stressed that this ramshackle operation was the thin end of the wedge for university privatisation.
Comparisons were drawn with Eddie Shah’s attempts to break the printworkers’ union back in 1983. Dismissed at the time as a small-time spiv, Shah’s success paved the way for the onslaught of Murdoch and the shattering of the newspaper unions.
Initial legal moves to establish the college were enacted as early as July last year, well before the publication of the Browne Review. Boris Johnson took barely a day to offer his seal of approval to the plan. It is not hard to suggest that however flaky NCH may appear, it is supported by elements in the Coalition government.
They and others will be watching its progress carefully, and learning the lessons for future privatisation. It is vital that this scam is nipped in the bud.
The meeting agreed on a broad plan of action to ‘greylist’ Grayling and all those academics involved, turning them into persona non grata throughout higher education. A campaign is being launched to put pressure on University of London and its constituent colleges to condemn the project.
Richard Dawkins will be speaking at the Institute of Education this Thursday (9 June), meet at Bedford Way steps at 6.30pm. A protest has been called to demand he removes his support from NCH.
Radical economist James Meadway has been an important critic of austerity economics and at the forefront of efforts to promulgate an alternative. James is co-author of Crisis in the Eurozone (2012) and Marx for Today (2014).