29 Jun '11

News Thomas Docherty: 'AC Grayling's New College for the Humanities betrays us all'

AC Grayling's New College for the Humanities (NCH) has occasioned much vituperation from its detractors. We should begin, though, from agreement. In these pages last week, Grayling defended the NCH on ethical grounds as a response to a political situation. As he indicated rightly, the British university system has suffered from what he called "chronic underfunding over decades". The NCH, he claims, is certainly not the thin end of a wedge of privatisation, but a response, well behind the curve, to an existing "part-privatisation" of the sector, evidenced by our enforced dependence on overseas fees. It is indeed the case that, for years, humanities in Britain have been regarded with ill-disguised suspicion, verging on contempt, by successive governments. Humanities are seen to lack the brash aggression and Apprentice-style crude "competitiveness" that is admired and regarded as normative, economically and socially. So, humanities are now explicitly under attack, most especially in our universities. The 2010 Browne Review took this prevailing negativity to its most radical conclusion: the state would withdraw all interest in humanities and funding for the teaching of those disciplines should cease. Thus, the earlier, vaporous musings of Charles Clarke, when he casually dismissed medieval history as a private hobby, find material realisation in a philistine report – and government policy – that exacerbates an increasingly difficult situation. Grayling's case, then, rests on an ethical principle in which he is simply trying to provide a quality education at an advanced level in a situation where these things are endangered. By his own account, however, the ethical action does not exist in a neutral space: it is a response to government policies.

Read the full story in BBC Education UK
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