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June 05, 2011

Comments

Dan Hardie

Rather splendid to see Grayling justifying his involvement in an elite college charging double fees of £54,000 as a blow struck against educational inequality.

Chris Brooke

And the way the "Fees and Scholarships" page kicks off with the words "At New College we're committed to making full-time study here both accessible and affordable."

Dan Hardie

Open to all, like the doors of the Ritz Hotel.

tomslee

Worth reading Nina Power on this at http://infinitethought.cinestatic.com/

skidmarx

From Steve Jones' Wikipedia page:
In an interview on the BBC Radio 5 show '5 Live Breakfast' hosted by Nicky Campbell and Shelagh Fogarty on 13 January 2009, Jones described private schools as a "cancer on the education system".

Is a smorgasbord curriculum going to attract degree status?

jamie

Steve Jones is the only name there I'm actually a bit surprised by

"Is a smorgasbord curriculum going to attract degree status?"

Perhaps these days the assumption is that this can be arranged.

CharlieMcMenamin

Yes, I've always thought Steve Jones a sound and thoughtful man, as well as a bloody good writer of popular science books. So I'm disappointed to see his name on that list. Colley is also impressive (except perhaps in her choice of life partner), but there's nothing in her writing or public pronounments that actually rules put taking a step like this. For most of the others this move was entirely predictable.

BenSix

And Christopher Hitchens on gender studies...

Alex

Could this Big Society initiative be nothing more than a load of old cock and press releases with no real thought, professionalism, or work behind it? How could it happen?

dsquared

1) Richard Dawkins, a lepidopterist, is not qualified to teach evolutionary biology.

2) Niall Ferguson, a historian, is not qualified to teach economics.

3) Steven Pinker, a linguist, is not qualified to teach philosophy

I expect the next announcement to be that Stephen Hawking will be coaching the rugby team.

dsquared

And with a financial PR at the helm! How could anyone possibly question the deep background preparation that has gone into this?

Otoh, ay up:

"And a separate diploma from the college to reflect the additional course that includes practical professional skills such as financial literacy, teamwork, presentation and strategy."

I smell a retirement job here. Forget what I said earlier, they're fantastic lads!

ajay

Richard Dawkins, a lepidopterist, is not qualified to teach evolutionary biology.

Richard Dawkins is not a lepidopterist. Where on earth did you get that from? He's been studying evolution and ethology for the last forty-odd years. His supervisor was Tinbergen for heaven's sake.

dsquared

hmm, I might have misremembered. I know that he specifically isn't an evolutionary theorist though, as I remember how decent it was of Lewontin not to bring the fact up a lot more than he did. Substitute "ethologist" above without loss of sense though I think.

ajay

Actually he specifically is an evolutionary theorist: if you've spent thirty years studying and teaching evolutionary theory, and written two of the most famous and influential books on evolutionary theory, then you are an evolutionary theorist. Saying "oh well his first five papers were all about bird feeding behaviour" is a bit irrelevant tbh. Oxford, anyway, considers him enough of an evolutionary theorist to allow him to give evolutionary theory lectures to undergraduates.

dsquared

No, I think that if both your big influential books on evolutionary theory were popularisations of other people's research (and I hasten to add Dawkins has never as far as I'm aware claimed otherwise), and your other works weren't on evolutionary theory and you've not made a substantial contribution to the theoretical literature, then you're not an evolutionary theorist. Just as JK Galbraith, although he gave lectures on Keynes to Harvard undergrads, wasn't a macroeconomist.

dsquared

(to clarify - I think Dawkins has made significant contributions in the form of the theory of the extended phenotype, the concept of the meme and the strong-adaptationist view of the genetic basis of evolution - albeit that I think the last two are pretty definitely wrong they're major contributions. But none of them really seem to be part of evolutionary biology, which I know to be a very mathematical field, having wasted nearly forty quid on a textbook which Paul Krugman once recommended as being quite like economics).

Cian

I smell bullshit. First of all, most of these people are not going to give up their day jobs, so their involvement would be minimal. Nobody would give up a chair at Harvard, or Princeton, for this. So this is on top of their existing jobs. So really, what are they going to offer. Some of the other people are retired, so I suppose its possible, but I kind of doubt Dawkins has the energy to create a new course.

So at best (assuming this isn't a PR stunt based upon some of these people agreeing to give guest lectures/seminars), their involvement will be minimal (admittedly this is mostly the model of undergraduate education in Ivy League universities in the US). So who's going to do the teaching?

ajay

You bought a textbook once??
I'm beginning to feel a bit Dan Hardie at this point, ironically enough, so I think I might just leave it.

Agreed that this whole idea is fairly disgusting; it won't be the only one, though. A free market in university education will be a very interesting thing to watch develop. Not so much if you have kids maybe.

dominic

Population genetics is very mathematical, but there is more to evolutionary biology than that. The extended phenotype idea is an important enough contribution to make it quite reasonable to call Dawkins a theorist. Compare Stephen Jay Gould. He wasn't a geneticist either, but he counts as an evolutionary theorist too, and indeed taught it to the Harvard kids, just like Dawkins at Oxford.

Phil

So who's going to do the teaching?

Postgrad students, same as in town.

dsquared

fair enough I'm wrong then. Thinking about it, given that it's a liberal arts college, it doesn't really matter whether or not RD has the mathematical background.

Cian

Postgrad students, same as in town.

Well quite. Seems expensive.

dominic

Dawkins may have enough maths to teach pop gen to undergrads, in any case, even if he doesn't put it in his books. Pinker can probably teach philosophy of cognitive science perfectly well, but I wouldn't want to hear his take on most areas of philosophy. Ferguson teaching economics seems a bit more dodgy to me, but there are plenty of academics who could competently teach a topic outside their PhD area, at least to first years. Though, as Phil says, they'll probably get grad student helots to do most of the teaching.

Chris Brooke

They say somewhere on the website that they won't be using pre-PhD instructors.

dominic

Unemployed adjuncts, then.

JamesP

Isn't this just a high-end equivalent of the language-schools for bored, rich Europeans that London is flush in?

SimonW

They haven't even created their own courses. Compare the history degree courses detailed in this UoL external degrees prospectus with the one on the Grayling Hall website.

Phil

A standard U/G teaching year consists of 120 credits of teaching. This is usually divided up into six 20-credit units/modules/things; each of these involves at least 20 hours of lecturing and at least 10 hours of other contact time (seminars, one-to-ones with the lecturer etc). There are economies of scale for the lectures, but less so for the small-group and one-to-one activities: 30 hours of contact time for every student means more than 30 for one member of teaching staff; say 50, conservatively. And, after year one, there will be more than one year of teaching running concurrently.

Getting away from the "Jamie's Dream Academy" fluff which is all we've seen so far ("Linda Colley will teach History and Richard Dawkins will teach Evolution!"), laying on one single degree programme will require at least 300 teaching hours p.a., or 600 in year two and 900 in year three and every year afterwards. Then multiply by the number of degree routes they'll need to offer in order to be credible (I can't see "BA (Hons) Humanities" cutting it). That lot cannot possibly be delivered by the big names alone. There's been some reference to getting 100 hours a year of teaching out of these people, but I very much doubt they'll manage even that - 100 hours is a fairly light teaching load for a full-time job (it's less than mine, and I'm a part-timer), but these are all people with quite substantial existing commitments.

One way or another, if they're going to do this they're going to have to make a hell of a lot of appointments. The only question is whether they're appointments of the "permanent contract and a pension" variety or more in the nature of "hourly pay for agreed duties over a period of eight months, would suit University of London PhD student, possibly, among other people".

Chris Williams

The University of Buckingham would tend to suggest some of the limits to this sort of thing.

Still, if they want to make a go of it, I know of 180 up-to-date UG points worth of level 2 and 3 History course material which I'm sure they could get a license to deliver: give the punters a star lecture a week on top of that, and there you have it. On the other hand, each star lecture's going to cost them about £450 (assume OU degree costs c.£12,000 in total and there are about 30 lectures a year), but Veblen.

ajay

That's actually quite a neat idea - reselling OU product with better presentation and upmarket branding. Kind of a premium-fare airline model. After all, you get to New York just as fast whether you're in the front or the back of the plane; the extra fare isn't for the objective, it's for the user experience.

dsquared

That's actually quite a neat idea - reselling OU product with better presentation and upmarket branding.

As far as we can tell (see SimonW's comment above) it's UoL, specifically for the most part RHUL, external student learning packages that they're rebranding but yes.

the extra fare isn't for the objective, it's for the user experience

... for amazingly socially pernicious values of "user experience" yes. The word "exclusive" isn't used by chance in these contexts - a lot of the service you're paying for is the absence of hoi polloi.

Alex

RHUL. It would be us. Conference and banqueting centre, also a college of the University of London. First British university to use private security guards to discipline the students.

ajay

I was meaning more as a general business concept - but, yes, any fairly mercenary whitelabel university would do as the back end of this particular enterprise.

The word "exclusive" isn't used by chance in these contexts - a lot of the service you're paying for is the absence of hoi polloi.

Those scholarship boys are going to have to be carefully screened. Or maybe they're going to bring back sizary.

SimonW

Cue unamused tweets from academics finding courses they wrote are part of the NCH syllabus.

Jakob

What kind of moral rights, if any, does an academic have over a course they designed?

Cian

It would depend upon the contract they signed. I'm guessing none that matter in this instance.

redpesto

dsquared: As far as we can tell (see SimonW's comment above) it's UoL, specifically for the most part RHUL, external student learning packages that they're rebranding but yes.

I can also see a 'new RADA' drama school strategy in franchising their drama courses to a consortium led by Simon Cowell and Dame Judi Dench.

dsquared

Dim siawns on that one, I'm afraid - since UoL/RHUL were already punting these syllabi out to all comers under white label, they're bound to have sorted out the intellectual property issues ahead of time. Work for hire, I'd bet quids.

redpesto

Perhaps the best explanation is that Grayling wants to set up a 'Mutant Uni' to challenge evil theology colleges or even rival PPE at Oxford, which (as Chicken Yoghurt put it) 'has produced more supervillains over the years than the Marvel Universe.'

[Insert inevitable Stephen Hawking/Professor X gag here]

skidmarx

That would have to be a lot of supervillains. Perhaps Doctor Bong could take a class or two, if he doesn't have something less important to do.

ajay

There is already quite a bit of franchising going on with things like Nottingham (Malaysia) University. (The academic equivalent of Vienna (Bratislava) Airport).

redpesto

[Please delete if necessary - have I left an italics tag open or something?]

Jakob

I was under the impression that moral rights existed even under work for hire, and couldn't be waived - but looking at Wikipedia suggests that contracts can contain an agreement not to enforce them. Pity.

Chris Williams

My work on courses (as distinct from my research) belongs to the OU, sez an especially watertight bit of my contract. I am fine with this, because it only becomes a course (rather than, say, a collection of planning documents and a number of typescript chapters and instructions) when combined with the skilled professional labour of about thirty other people, all of whom have also signed off their moral rights.

Malcs

Re: Phil's point about 8 month appointments, well, quite. And in that, as the comment implies, they will be no different from any established university. Nor will they experience difficulty in sourcing cheap available labour at short notice, at least in the humanities. Employment practices in "humanities" departments across the country are utterly deplorable. I didn't bother pursuing an academic career much beyond graduating from a PhD although I did some teaching at various universities including RHUL, but the experiences of my friends in the sector are depressing. New College is a fairly logical and obvious extension of an established and widespread trend. Its novelty is ... well, what, exactly? The level of fees? US readers might find that difficult to comprehend.

belle le triste

Mutant University versus Dr Nina Power

dsquared

My work on courses (as distinct from my research) belongs to the OU, sez an especially watertight bit of my contract

I wonder whether Professor AC Grayling has a similarly watertight bit of his contract? Ie, could Birkbeck, which seems really quite unhappy about this, force him to do a clean-room rebuild of all his lectures?

Chris Williams

Well, at least one other university has a clause in its stadard contract which, while allowing the odd public lecture, only lets you take on teaching duties with other universities ("including the Open University" - bless) with yr manager's permission. So the superstars have:
1) got contracts without this clause - given their status, this is quite possible, or
2) failed to sign this off and are awaiting a coffee-free interview, or
3) only signed up to do the odd lecture, which puts yr PR guy in a perhaps sticky relationship with the Trades Descriptions Act.

belle le triste

Haven't directly quizzed any of my friends who work in relevant departments re all this, but my impression down the years is that quite a lot of senior academics disdain the details of IP contracts and the like as "admin to be taken care of by the little people", and can actually -- despite being Brights and all -- be both stupid and arrogant about the former and towards the latter.

Chris Williams

BTW, it appears that Vickery's course has now been pulled from the NCHUM website, which reads - in History at least - an awful lot like the University of London's standard distance learning History BA. Compare: http://www.londondegree.org/BA_History_detailedsyllabus.htm
and:
http://www.nchum.org/history

Cheeky.

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