New College of Humanities: A New Model for Law?

AC Grayling’s inspired publicity campaign for the New College of Humanities is provoking a lot of debate.  I’ve got marking to do so I am not going to offer an even partially reasoned treaty on the rights and wrongs, but it may be worth noting this:
1. It’s a bit showbiz: which is why they’ve got  a lot of scientists and not many humanities stars (go on, name some and then think about what the problems are).
2. The law degree is very ordinary in its intent and design.  Tying to the London LLB is a step which makes life easy initially but will  inhibit genuine innovation.  There’s not even a legal ethics course (do they know this is likely to become compulsory?) [makes subtle bid for job, which has already been ruined by point 1]
3. The idea of injecting some broader liberal education around ethics/science etc. IS an interesting one – though not entirely novel (lots of law schools do a bit of this integrated into courses  for instance)- I’d like to see more of this kind of thinking around law courses in particular.
4. Contact time on the course is low, outside of lectures.  One on one tutorials will play well (they appear to be only once a week).  To me the value to cost ratio given the £9k hike is, erm, difficult to justify.
5. A lecture based course suggests the College does not have it’s eye on best educational practice.  The teaching style is more about marketing than about what works.
6. Most of the teaching will not be by the ‘stars’.  Indeed, they’ll struggle to get genuinely inspirational law stars that can also teach.  Indeed (x2), who are they?  I’d actually be really interested in readers’ thoughts on that: who do YOU think are the stars?
7. Law firms will like it.  It looks feels and smells like Oxbridge, has a plausible – but conventional – approach to merit and may be even more socially selective.
8. Up to 80% will be paying the full fee.  It remains to be seen how much further than 20% paying less they can go.  I can’t speculate on this in an informed way.
9. They are emphasising teaching, but is there real substance behind this?  Most universities have not, in my opinion, got the extent to which the fees shift will bring a real shift in emphasis away from research and back to teaching.  This means NCH have an opportunity to carve out a reputation quickly.
10. We can expect more, not less of this.  The government’s fee system is completely unsustainable.  They may shrink the publicly supported sector by reducing student numbers (and help these kinds of colleges thrive) or they will take the cap off the fees and allow full-blooded competition.  A retrograde but inevitable step.  NCH, for all the complaints, have already had a good start on establishing a brand (even if it is one, I would argue, based on a rather slim version of what constitutes good education).  I think they will thrive in spite of the eye watering fees.
11. Indeed, the fee may help them.  Consumers are a bit daft.  They take price as a signal of quality.  Star dust, the whiff of Oxbridge and megabuck entry fees.  And every switched on parent in the country knows about them.  No wonder the venture capitalists are involved.
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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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3 Responses to New College of Humanities: A New Model for Law?

  1. Justicia says:

    They have Ronald Dworkin as their celebrity figurehead for law. In terms of who a celebrity is, I’d say that any academics who have their names on the top practitioners guides or reading materials will be regarded celebrities by those already in the profession or education, but to prospective 6th formers? No one who actually teaches law. Maybe Shami Chakrabati, and Lord Grabiner QC for football fans.

    It’s a bit worrying to see this course of action. I’m a Cambridge student myself, and believe that while discrimination likely happens in the admissions process, it would be completely incomparable to an £18,000 a year institution with private selection processes.

    Further, their strategy of poaching ‘A-list’ academics for the humanities could really become a runaway phenomenon. As they have no science or material facilities to upkeep, they already go into recruiting with a huge financial advantage. Factor in the double fees and it starts to get ridiculous.

    That said, I wonder how succesful it will be. As you’ve said, there is clearly little chance of having regular 1-1 supervisions with the likes of Dworkin, Dawkins et al, and without the institutional reputation that other universities have (not to mention the important fact that, offering no masters of PhD courses, there is no postgraduate community to encourage research and further teaching) I don’t see how a law course at NCH could really be first rate in the first few years of operation.

    That’s to say nothing about their ridiculous poaching of sylabi : http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jun/06/ac-grayling-private-university-syllabus

  2. Pingback: New College of the Humanities – Oh, the humanity! | botzarelli

  3. Gillian Palmer says:

    My current star lecturer is Professor Alistair Hudson at QMC. Not only has he written the first new practitioners textbook on Equity and Trusts for 150 years, but from his podcasts he clearly can teach and inspire as well.

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