A degree of frustration
Higher education is embracing private suppliers—but timidly
The first batch of 60 undergraduates at the New College of the Humanities in Bloomsbury, London’s main university quarter, occupy a spacious Georgian house. Opening doors on the way up a grand staircase, your reporter eavesdropped on tutorials on ancient Greece, Romantic poets and economic theory. It feels like a dinky version of an august academic institution. Yet it is a for-profit organisation with a chief executive huddled over spreadsheets downstairs.
The college’s founder is Anthony Grayling (shown above), a philosopher who wants to introduce a bit of diversity to a largely state-funded higher education system. A new high-end entrant in the marketplace also helps fill the gap in provision for students with good qualifications who lose out by a grade or two in the brutal race for places in the Russell Group of top universities. Degrees are awarded through the University of London, but at 18,000 pounds ($28,550) fees are double the maximum that state-subsidized universities can charge. The syllabus is broader and more akin to an American liberal-arts college than a traditional English university.
该大学的创办者名为安东尼·格雷林（Anthony Grayling）（见图），这位哲学家希望为大范围的公立为主的高等教育体系引入一些多元化元素。一些优秀学生由于在罗素大学（ Russell Group ）集团的残酷竞争中相差一二分而落榜，在教育市场上这位高端新入者为这些学生填补了空缺。学位证书通过伦敦大学颁发，但是费用高达18000英镑（28550 美元），是国立大学补助最高费用的2倍。与传统的英国大学相比，这个教学大纲更宽广，更类似于美国自由艺术大学。
This kind of disruptive innovation earns a mixed reception. The coalition government welcomes it. But Terry Eagleton, an outspoken Marxist academic, describes the venture as “odious” and divisive. Other critics have pointed out that courses at Mr Grayling’s New College closely resemble what is on offer, more cheaply, at the existing London university colleges. Two-thirds of the first intake of students come from private schools and just 22% from state schools (the rest are foreigners and mature students). Mr Grayling hopes to counter the “too posh” charge with outreach initiatives and generous bursaries for poorer students.
人们对这种破坏性的创新说法不一。联合政府对此表示欢迎，但一个直言不讳的马克思主义学者Terry Eagleton认为这种风险是“令人讨厌的”，不和谐的。其他批评家指出，相比格雷林的新学院，伦敦大学目前也提供类似且更为经济的课程。第一批学生中三分之二来自私立学校，只有22%来自国立学校（ 剩下的国外学生和成年学生）。面对这些‘过于冠冕堂皇’的批评，格雷林希望以积极实践创新以及面向贫困生的丰厚奖学金予以反驳。
The newcomer epitomizes a broadening of higher education, aided by a rise in maximum fees to 9,000 pounds that makes students (and their parents) look around for value for money. The government has also eased rules on what qualifies as a university. The newly named University of Law, an outfit with several regional centres, is backed by a private-equity firm and offers two-year degree courses for highly motivated or cash-strapped students. Its hard sell stands out among more conventional university branding: the college’s website touts a graduate legal qualification as if it were a soap powder—“Now with Masters included”.Other institutions such as BPP University College, which bestows professional qualifications from accountancy to chiropractic, were given degree-awarding powers by the last Labour government, but now want full university status.
And the line between private and state-funded higher education is blurring in other ways. Established institutions including Imperial College, London and University College are also thriving businesses, cross-subsidising studies and research which do not make money. Oxfordhas initiated a joint Master’s course in law and finance, crammed into nine months and costing a hefty 21,000 pounds.
Much has changed since the independent University of Buckingham (a non-profit operator) launched 30 years ago, teaching mainly business and economics. Today it has more British undergraduates than foreign ones and offers a range of subjects, including medicine. But the revolution is unfinished. One anomaly that makes life harder for independent providers is that students can take out government-backed student loans at a favourable rate for only the first 6,000 pounds of their fees. At subsidised top universities, they can borrow the full yearly fee of 9,000 pounds .
The level playing field promised when the coalition came to power in 2010 remains a work in progress. David Willetts, the universities minister, failed in a bid to allow for-profit education firms equal access to state funding. Many senior academics opposed the move, citing “derisory graduation rates, crushing levels of debts and degrees of dubious value” from some for-profit American companies. The issue has been shelved until 2015 at the earliest. When it comes to changing higher education, even small innovations can provoke a noisy backlash.