Arts and Humanities: Becoming a privilege of the rich?

This week saw the announcement of a privately funded college in London. The New College of the Humanities plan to charge students 18k per year and offers a chance for undergraduates to be taught by world leading academics such as Richard Dawkins.

The college has outlined plans to offer eight undergraduate courses in the subject areas of law, economics, history, English literature and philosophy. Once admitted, students will complete a University of London degree alongside the college’s own Diploma.

Proclaiming a ‘new model of higher education for humanities in the UK’, the college arguably signals a watershed moment for higher education in the UK. Philosopher and the college’s first Master, Professor AC Grayling has stated, “Our students will be challenged to develop as skilled, informed and reflective thinkers, and will receive an education to match that aspiration.”

In essence this college seems to offer a bastion for humanities, which seems timely when considering the recent funding cuts made to these subjects under the Coalition government. In fact, it cannot be doubted that a very real fear exists that arts and humanities are somewhat doomed in British Universities.

However, is this college the answer to the problem facing humanities in British higher education? You need look no further than the 18k per year price tag to see an immediate obstacle to many students in the UK. Despite the fact that, the college claims it will offer scholarships and ‘exhibition schemes’ in order to ensure that personal finances do not hinder the chances of any talented UK student this aim is hardly realistic and is one that seems inevitably destined to fail.

As the UCU (University and College Union) general secretary Sally Hunt has stated, “While many would love the opportunity to be taught by the likes of AC Grayling and Richard Dawkins, 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.”

Does this mean we are seeing humanities subjects slowly becoming a privilege of the rich? The 2012 launch of this innately prestigious college alongside the government’s funding cuts to arts and humanities would seem to suggest that this is the case.

This seems a tragic turn of events and sets the tone for less privileged students to be increasingly led towards ‘safe’ subjects with clear careers in sight on completion. Once more this illustrates the ignorance towards the distribution of talent within society and undervalues the less privileged students in our society. In limiting humanities to the privileged, whether intentional or not, some of this country’s best minds will be lost and in this time of mass apathy what a shame that would be.

Kenneth Way.

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