The new British university model?

Well, it’s certainly star-studded. A new private university in London, devoted to the humanities, will have the philosopher and public intellectual A.C. Grayling as its “master.” Richard Dawkins will teach evolutionary biology, Niall Ferguson economic history, Steven Pinker psychology, and Ronald Dworkin the philosophy of law.

Christopher Shea has more.  Daniel Davies notes correctly that few if any of these illustrious names will be resigning their normal academic posts.  That is the real innovation of this business model.  Why not rent illustrious names rather than paying the whole set of fixed costs?  Then hire excellent teachers — mostly not top researchers — to provide most of the actual instruction.  If say Dawkins teaches an intensive two-week course, that is perhaps more than a student would see of him anywhere else, while benefits of certification and affiliation remain in play.  I predict this has a good chance of succeeding, and since the illustrious lecturers hold equity shares in the venture, their incentive is to talk it up.  It doesn’t have to outcompete Harvard, it simply has to draw international interest from students/families who cannot get into Harvard or who do not wish to donate the required $$.


Please tell me Niall will not be teaching anything close to economics…...

I'm not sure its prospects look so rosy if you consider them within a UK context. The college advertises itself as offering an Oxbridge/Ivy League-style education, but it will charge double what Oxbridge will charge (£54k, vs £27k). How will prospective employers react? If they are looking at UK graduates of Grayling Hall, won't they just think "You're dumb. You've just paid £54k for an Oxbridge style education, when you could have bought the real thing for half that amount. Since you're dumb, I don't want to hire you." Prospective students with more than a smidge of street smarts will anticipate this reaction, so won't apply. Grayling Hall is therefore guaranteed an intake of the merely rich and thick. Maybe that is a sustainable business model (lots of rich thick kids out there), but don't expect the college to be turning out sharply-honed intellects.

I'm afraid Oliver you don't really understand the mental model that employers use when deciding where/whom to recruit. Education cost isn't very important to them, after all its a sunk cost by the time they come into the picture, one incurred by a 18 year old's decision.

What is important two them is typically a concentration of good enough talent, and some signalling value, both of which this school can achieve with a reasonable sprinkling of scholarship and high status students.

So what does not being able to get into Oxbridge signal to prospective employers?

We have that here in Atlanta. It's called "Emory University." ;-)

This assumes that there's unlimited entrance into Oxbridge. But if Oxbridge is known to be over-supplied with well-qualified students, then why would employers conclude that anyone who couldn't get in to Oxbridge is dumb?
The other issue is in how much demand are Oxbridge students? If an employer can't fill all their open new graduate positions from Oxbridge, because of demand from other employers for those positions, then they have a reason not to be snobbish about applicants from other universities.

Well, actually, this is more the future than you think.
Think graduate MBA programs from distant national branded schools being started in many cities with visiting weekend or video lecturers and local facilitators.
This keeps the local graduate school deans and faculty awake at night: but it shouldn't. They should be thinking about setting up programs in local medium sized cities in their states.
This big name elitism is a joke however. Attending a lecture by a nobel prize winner is not like getting educational pixie dust sprinkled on you for attending. You still have to work at learning. What I'm waiting for a national standardized testing for economics, math, the sciences, MBA's etc. so that you can really separate the wheat hidden among the chaff.

I agree with you that the value added by the university system would be enhanced if more were known about the actual cognitive skills of graduates.

However there is at least a little bit of this information out there: economics, math, and science students (and others) take GREs to get into graduate school and compete for awards, and while schools typically do not report (or have access to?) those scores, they correlate strongly with admission to selective graduate programs and winning of national awards (like NSF fellowships). And schools sometimes do make available where their students pursue graduate study, and more frequently how many win fellowships (in the case of the NSF, this can be looked up online at their site). One can then use this as a proxy for the overall state of education at a university.

Good points. But, we can do more, and probably need to do so as more work is done online in the future or under alternative methods of instruction (year abroad, etc.).

After coming back to this, I realize my parenthetical comment at the end could be made clearer: NSF itself publishes a list of award winners, with baccalaureate institution:

It would be interesting to create a "science ranking of UG programs" based exclusively on the number of NSF fellows divided by the number students pursuing graduate study in relevant fields. You'd need to include many years to develop good statistics. But as you can see from looking at just the first page of the list I give, non-"elite" institutions are represented much more heavily than you'd guess, based on their prestige. On the other hand this is a bit of an illusion, in that there are few elite schools and many others. So what I think you'd find is that per capita NSF fellows coming from Harvard are much bigger than coming from OSU (say), but the number coming from schools *like* OSU is higher than many people might naively guess. I think this reflects that a school like OSU is perfectly capable of providing education very similar to Harvard, it's just there are fewer extreme-talent students there.

Innovation. That's good!

Admissions is the key. Keep the standards high even if it means losing money. High standards is the costly investment that builds the brand. The problem is that this may mean losing money for about 15 years.

"Admissions?" A few more decades, and somebody like Dworkin will be broadcasting these things from his living room. Or the living room of the rich guy whose kids he's tutoring.

That won't work because the high achievers can get into Oxbridge. The fact that they aren't signed up to UCAS, giving them an opaque and flexible admissions procedure based mostly on interviews, suggests a strategy of claiming high standards to project quality, while in practice accepting any idiot with the right parents. I expect most of their places to get filled up during clearance.

But we're not necessarily talking about 'idiots', just kids with the right parents who weren't quite Oxbridge-ready. I think we can expect quite a few of these students -- with the right parents and now the right elite connections -- to do rather well in life, no? Sure, the school would be coasting on the inherent characteristics of its students and not the value-add that the university provided, but that seems to be the case for Oxbridge and the Ivy League as well. So, you run your university filtering on test scores and C.V. padding and I'll run mine by filtering on ability to pay...and then we'll see whose graduates end up being more successful. Is it obvious it will be the former and not the latter? No, unfortunately, I think this model could work.

you're describing "idiots," just well-connected and/or wealthy ones. and you're also describing a measure of "success" that has been mocked (in America, at least) for at least 100 years - "success" earned not by your own merits and skill, but by your connections and inherited situation. perhaps that matters to you, but it doesn't matter to anyone worried about the "success" of an academic institution.

this might "work," but I think we should all hope that it doesn't.

I got my masters degree from a college in India that was privately funded by a philanthropic family trust and resisted government grants because they didn't want to follow the caste based reservation system for college seats in India. They hired star part time professors (sometimes recently retired) from the neighboring colleges (which had a mix of abilities among their professors, also partly owing to the reservation system) and I have to say we received a better education than all the colleges around.

Moral of the story: Discrimination is hard work, people will always try to find a way to restore equilibrium and get their due (or more!)

It's even better than that: discrimination motivates people to self-sufficiency and improvement rather than entitled grievance.

Is there really any value there?

Are you serious: Niall Ferguson teaching economics? He's not an economist and not a great teacher. I have nothing against Conservative-leaning academics. As for conservative-leaning economists, I would pay a lot of money to take a class with Becker, Mundell, Taylor, Barro, Mankiw, and even... Cowen. Is Ferguson the best historian? I don't think so. He knows a lot about Europe and quite a bit about economic history, but there are lots of better economic historians out there. The bottom line: taking Ferguson's class is unlikely worth the money. I'm sure the classes by Dworkin, Dawkins, and Pinker will be worth the money.

I have recently taken courses from both Mankiw and Ferguson at Harvard. (Ec10a/b: Intro to Micro/Macro and SOW19: The Western Ascendency, respectively) As a lecturer, Ferguson blows Mankiw out of the water. I found Ferguson's class much more though provoking in lecture with a more well laid out syllabus progression. Granted, the nature of the course allowed Ferguson to include 200+ pg's from a variety of handpicked sources. The readings for Mankiw were primarily from the latest edition his (then) $200 textbook with a few supplementary articles. You could clearly make a strong argument that Marnkiw's economics course was better in terms of value added for future employability. However, Ferguson's Economic(ish) History course was superior in my experience in terms of personal utility and general enjoyment. Just my experience.

"You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library." -Good WIll Hunting

Ferguson is an Oxbridge man, so you've just experienced part of the sort of thing that Grayling's gang wants to do in London. But they will also provide Oxbridge-style tutorials.

Yes, it sounds very similar to the Harvard College model of education. Larger gen-ed and lower level lecture classes with big names (Pinker, Mankiw, Ferguson, Gates) and small Oxbridge discussion seminars once a concentration of study is chosen.

Well, it seems like not paying the "whole set of fixed costs" actually implies stealing from other universities:

In addition, if one understands higher education as sending a signal to future employers, then as one of the latter I would be highly suspicious about the quality of somebody who didn't get in a good university and yet had the means to buy himself such a signal.

Instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars, couldn't you just spend a few hundred and buy their books?

The original purpose of universities, after all, was as a cheaper alternative to buying books. You'd have thought that as the comparative advantage swapped our institutions might have taken note of the change.

It might test an interesting question, which is how much of a university's public prestige is tied to its prestige among academics?

Because I don't think such a business model builds prestige among academics. They have incentive to fight it, because it creates a sharper hierarchy among academics, with a few high-profile ones who get their name on all the mastheads and then a bunch of low-profile ones who do all the teaching. But more importantly it goes against the university model as a research institution. The point of the university is to gather researchers together, because research is more efficient that way. This requires people to actually spend a good deal of time at their host institution. High-profile faculty will wish to spend most of their time at the historically-prestigious universities, because that's where supporting faculty are, as well as postdocs and graduate students. And it's of course where the postdocs and graduate students will want to go, because they care about the researchers in residence, not who's on the masthead. So from the *academic* perspective, historically-prestigious universities maintain their prestige and the new business model appears like a cheap shell.

And the interesting question is, how much of this *academic* assessment will translate to the assessment of the public, potential (undergraduate) students and potential employers.

It sounds a bit like the Kiel Advanced Studies Program.

Since the undergraduates will be taking external examinations of the University of London, the quality of them and their education should become apparent pretty quickly. The failure to have examining properly separated from teaching seems to me to be a weakness in the US system.

This seems like nothing new, non-Ivy wannabe elitist schools in the U.S. charge a similar price-tag and promise big name professors, small classes, etc, though without this intensive teaching element proposed on the New College. What is striking about this however is the profit-motive:

"New College of the Humanities, based in Bloomsbury, is being backed by private funding and will aim to make a profit."

Where exactly will this profit go? Even some of the most overpriced and over-touted schools in the U.S. tend to operate as "non-profits" more or less.

Here's a blog entry that makes a point I noticed---the big-name founders listed are missional atheists, except possibly Dworkin: As for Anti-Gnostic's point on how/where schools will be run, see this item on the Math/CompSci blog I assist:

"Look at me, I have a degree from TED grad school!"

Tim Leunig, an economist at LSE, has raised some serious doubts about the financial viability of New College.

That is the strongest concentration of sexist academics I've ever seen on one billboard. It will be interesting to see what the composition of the student body is.

The stars and teachers model is very familiar to J-schools...

This shows which they last very much lengthier and thus saving you income which could otherwise are actually utilized to purchase new ones.hgfhh

Sounds like another for-profit college; like University of Phoenix with a British spin. It sounds like a good business model, but one could attend community college and afford to buy a house to live in for what an undergraduate degree would cost at Uni of the Humanities.

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