Higher university fee sets precedence

For most freshers, the first day at university involves nothing more taxing than collecting timetables and planning a night out. But the first cohort of students at philosopher AC Grayling’s new £18,000-a-year private university had to brave a gang of egg-throwing protesters yesterday as they arrived for the start of term.

Despite heavy rain, between 20 and 30 demonstrators opposed to the university’s Ivy League-style for-profit approach to education held up placards denouncing Grayling and chanted slogans calling for the closure of the university. Police were called after some protesters threw eggs at its windows.

Only about 60 students of a planned cohort of 180-200 have been enrolled, but the demonstrators said they wanted to see the New College of the Humanities (NCH) shut down, claiming it sets a dangerous precedent in higher education.

One protester, who would only give the pseudonym Brian Stone, said: “By charging £18,000 per year, they are putting out a clear signal that they want the Government’s programme of privatisation to work, which of course means priority [for some] and under-funded education for the rest of us.

“They have the right to pay high fees if they want but it has never been about that. It is about the very real effect that this institution might have – if it doesn’t fold – and the precedent that it sets for other self-serving ideologues and financiers.”

The college’s recent freshers’ pub quiz on Fleet Street was also disrupted by members of the protest group, one of whom said it was a “quite confrontational” atmosphere.

He added: “A lot of the students are stuck-up rich kids. A lot wanted to say that so many have scholarships but we know what this institution has been set up to be: the same elitist sort of system as Oxford and Cambridge but with higher fees.”

Visiting professors include Simon Blackburn, Sir Christopher Ricks and Niall Ferguson. Students can study economics, English, history, law and philosophy. Grayling originally planned to accept up to 200 students, and the university’s co-founder Matthew Batstone recently revealed that about 50 students offered places have not taken them up.

The university’s administrators discouraged students from talking to journalists on the first day, but one who did speak to The Independent anonymously said she was “excited” to be starting at the college and was looking forward to starting studying.

NCH was set up in response to Government cuts to subsidies for the humanities but has been criticised by unions for entrenching inequality within higher education.

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