“new college”: brought to you by white men

College is failing us. So goes the continual refrain. Here in the US this means questioning its value, whether students learn anything, and the growth of the for profit school as an alternate model. In the UK, it has meant going in a new direction — charging more and more for school, and now, creating a “New College” with academic superstars! For the select few, you can attend a new kind of school (associated with UCL). Imagine being taught by AC Grayling! Or Peter Singer! Or Ronald Dworkin, or Steven Pinker, or Richard Dawkins, or Niall Ferguson all at one small, elite college! (Well, let’s pretend that last one isn’t on the list).

But wait a minute, when you look at this super-star faculty you might notice two things: 13/14 are men. And 13/14 are white (h/t to Kieran Healy for pointing this out). Hmmm… I guess for Mr. Grayling and others, creating a top-notch college means selecting the best — and if that means that the “New College” is one so tremendously old-fashioned as to exclude women and non-white faculty, so be it.

The model for such a “new” British school is the American Ivy League. British intellectuals have denounced such a move, arguing that at present, “UK investment in higher education seems to be yielding almost three times the return [than the more privatized US system].”

The New College represents some of the worst of this move. It is admittedly elitist. They write, “Every university is elitist, because of selection based on ability and potential. But we’re determined not to be exclusive.” They will provide financial aid, but at levels far lower than comparable US universities. They claim that “more than a fifth” of students will receive aid. That’s presumably less than a quarter. The tuition alone is $30,000 (18,000 pounds). That’s less than Columbia’s $41K. But not that much. And Columbia provides aid for more than half its students.

It seems to me that the “New College” provides the worst kind of education — massively increasing costs, accessible only to the very few, a nearly all white all male faculty, and the claim that they are saving us from the bad educations provided elsewhere with their “quality”.

10 thoughts on ““new college”: brought to you by white men”

  1. I don’t really understand the financial model of this. What kind of participation are they claiming they are going to get out of people like Steven Pinker?


  2. As far as I can tell, the professors do nothing.

    Here’s how it works, “Each subject area will be in the charge of a member of the Professoriate with day-to-day management by a subject area convener who will also have teaching responsibilities… The subject area conveners will recruit, lead, train and develop teaching staff who have the same dedication and credentials.”

    In short, the “professors” provide the conceptual framework. The “conveners” execute it with the help of “teaching staff”. In other words, you’re several levels removed from folks like Pinker. And I’m guessing that you’re likely taught by the equivalent of post-docs. Inspiring.

    See here:



  3. This keeps getting weirder and weirder. Grayling has now been accused of stealing syllabi from UCL:


    From that story, what I find most puzzling is that the relationship between the New College and UCL is far from clear. The Guardian writes,

    “Grayling has said that New College students would receive University of London degrees, but the university has since made clear there is “no formal agreement between the University of London and the NCH concerning academic matters”. However, it said it was “legitimate for NCH, as an entirely independent institution, to provide tuition to students of University of London international programmes, as other institutions in London and around the world do”.”



    1. The UCL’s statement makes it clear that the New College is not part of UCL:

      “The University is aware of the intention of the New College of the Humanities (NCH) to provide tuition to students of the University of London International Programmes. There is no formal agreement between the University of London and the NCH concerning academic matters. As with any other Independent Teaching Institution, a dialogue will be maintained about when to apply for recognition under the Institutions Policy Framework, but normally a track record is required. To avoid any confusion, it should be made clear that NCH is not, and will not be, a part of the University of London. ”

      Their statement is here:


      Terry Eagleton has a good piece in the Guardian on this place. I haven’t been as a big of a fan of Eagleton in recent years. But he’s spot on here:


      End of my obsession with this. I suspect this will backfire for all those involved.


  4. The established nonprofit elite universities in the UK aren’t exactly known for their diversity, either. On the surface, it’s not clear that Grayling Hall (HT to Crooked Timber) falls much outside the range.

    Take, for example, Oxford’s Nuffield College. Nuffield currently lists some 35 fellows and university readers in sociology, economics, and politics. Three are women. None of the 11 sociology fellows are women. Contrast this with the US, where even the sociology departments at the bottom of the demographic diversity distribution are about 25% women (tenured-line faculty only).

    I didn’t bother to try to find information on racial and ethnic diversity of the faculty in the UK elites, but I’d guess the story is much the same.


  5. This is the first time I have ever heard of this…It sounds like this is for rich individuals who didn’t do well enough to get into the more established universities. My father grew up in council housing in Liverpool and went to Oxford on scholarship because he did well in school. So the ‘regular university system may not meet the needs of elites who can’t cut it.

    Here’s what New College says to the FAQ “What grades to I need?”

    We will consider your application individually, seeking talent and potential as well as exam results. If you can show these qualities in your application, we will normally ask you to meet us for an interview.
    We do not normally require you to take specific subjects at A Level (or equivalent). Our commitment is to treat you as an individual, when applying and throughout your time at New College.


  6. Not that I in any way condone such high levels of white male-ness in academia, but I do want to point out that virtually all of the ‘faculty’ are British (I think) and this is a university in Britain, which in 2001 was 92.14% white, according to the 2001 census (85.67% “White British”, 5.27% “White other”, and 1.2% “White Irish”). So in terms of faculty diversity, at least measured by representativeness of the population at large, they are doing pretty well, with 7.1% of faculty being non-white (that is, one person out of fourteen). This is surely a higher level of representativeness than the vast majority of universities in America. Obviously they have a long way to go with gender representativeness, though.

    Just to be clear about this post: I am not trying to sidestep the incredibly important issue of faculty diversity in America (or indeed anywhere, for that matter). I just want to emphasize that America and Britain are different countries with different demographics, so the typical (entirely valid and important) criticisms about diversity leveled at American universities, and emphasized in the original post and some of the comments, should, at minimum, be checked before being applied wholesale elsewhere. Yes, there should be fewer white academics in British universities, but in terms of representation of the population at large, this issue is much less serious than in America (excluding the ongoing serious problems with representation of women in British academia).

    Though as others have pointed out, the level of diversity of this ‘faculty’ is no doubt irrelevant in any meaningful sense, since none of these superstars will actually be doing any teaching.


    1. A point well taken (particularly about national context being different). But Britain has transformed considerably since 2001. The country now has 9.3 million Britons who are non-white (out of around 55 million people). And all of its population growth over the last decade has been because of a growth in this population. At around 17% and fast growing (particularly among the younger cohorts and college age students), I think that the numbers are still abysmally low. And you’re right: the same could certainly be said for US Universities.

      Stuff on this demographic changes in Britain can be found here (disclaimer: my brother, Omar, is one of the talking-head “experts” on this stuff):



      1. Hi Shamus,

        Not to belabor the point, but the non-white population hasn’t jumped to as high as 17%. First, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) report is for England and Wales only, so if data for Scotland and Northern Ireland were included then that figure of 17% would drop, since Scotland and Northern Ireland have a much higher percentage of white people than England and Wales (no doubt almost entirely due to their lack of a city as large and diverse as London). I think the numbers for Scotland are something really ridiculous like 98% white or something like that (though a 2% non-white population in Scotland would only translate to about 100,000 people since Scotland’s population is so low).

        More importantly, though, the headline 9.1 million in the ONS’s report is for those classified as “non-‘white British'” so it includes “White Irish” and “White (other)”. So taking “White Irish” and “White (other)” out of the figure of 9.1 million gives 6.6 million who are non-white out of total England and Wales population of 54.8, so about 12% of that population are non-white.

        This compares to 2001 figures for England and Wales of 6.6 million “non-‘white British”, of which 2 million were “White Irish” and “White (other)”, leaving 4.6 million non-white population, out of total England and Wales population of 52.4, so about 8.8% non-white.

        So, a big increase in non-white percentage of population in England and Wales, from 8.8% to 12%, but not to the 17% headline figure.

        But in any case, yes, the main point is still really important: percentages of non-white faculty in Britain are still far too low, and it is something that rightly is cause for concern.


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