Monday, June 6, 2011

The Grayling Farce: a Link-Dump

[Disclaimer: I am sympathetic in the abstract to the following argument -- the bureaucrats and politicians who run higher education in the UK are incorrigible vandals who are out to destroy the humanities (and maybe the pure sciences); the situation is less dire in the US because well-endowed private universities exist; therefore there is an argument to be made that the private university is a refuge for researchers in the humanities. (I do not know how accurate this is. Differences in tenure might also be relevant.) If a university cannot run itself on an endowment or government grants, it has to raise money somehow, and one way to do this is through students' fees. It is very bad, perhaps reprehensible, that low-income students would not have access, but we live in hard times and it's better that some people have access than that no one does.
I would not consider this a knock-down argument but it isn't without force.]

A.C. Grayling's increasingly absurd new scheme (appropriately, the URL is seems at first sight to be related, but in fact it is not. As Mary Beard says, there is no real research component. The "distinguished professors" are all public intellectuals (mostly over-committed), e.g., the Guardian lists
Richard Dawkins teaching evolutionary biology and science literacy, Niall Ferguson teaching economics and economic history and Steven Pinker teaching philosophy and psychology [...] Ronald Dworkin QC, a leading constitutional lawyer teaching at University College London and New York University; and Steve Jones, a leading geneticist. Lawrence Krauss, professor of Earth and space exploration and physics at Arizona state university.
(It is interesting how many of these are nominally scientists, given that it's the "New College for the Humanities"...) Today the Guardian reports that the nchum website has posted syllabuses "copied from the University of London's own web pages." The point becomes clearer once you understand (via Jack of Kent's excellent roundup) that

it is not even a College in any meaningful sense.

Its students will be enrolled on University of London degrees which, it seems, they will have to apply for directly.

However, instead of the £1,000 to £2,000 a year they would expect to be charged for a University of London degree, the “gifted” student will be expected to pay £18,000.

At least Boris Johnson gets the point:
London's mayor, Boris Johnson, backed Grayling's idea, saying "it fully deserves to succeed and to be imitated".
It prompted him, Johnson added, to recall his own idea of founding "Reject's College, Oxbridge", which would be "aimed squarely at the wrathful parents – many of them Oxbridge graduates – who simply could not understand how their own offspring could rack up three A-stars and grade 8 bassoon, and yet find themselves turned down".
In general this seems about as silly and somewhat less harmless than Alain de Botton's roughly contemporary venture, the School of Life.

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