Fresh flashpoint in New College backlash

The backlash against plans for a new £18,000-a-year college for the humanities intensified when protesters set off a flare during a talk by the institution’s founding master.

June 8, 2011

The incident at Foyles bookshop in central London yesterday put an end to the public talk by A.C Grayling, former professor of philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London.

Speaking after the event was abandoned, Professor Grayling told The Guardian: “It’s always upsetting to be the target of attacks. I didn’t expect to change any minds.

“I share the belief that we should as a society invest in education at every level. We should keep up the pressure on the government to stop the cuts and reverse them.

“At the same time, we’ve got to think of imaginative ways of doing things. What we’re trying to do is make use of an American-style model.”

The New College of the Humanities is due to open in London in 2012 and will offer one-to-one tutorials as well as lectures from a stable of “celebrity academics”.

However, the plans have come under sustained fire since they were announced earlier this week, with claims that the college will be elitist and is offering off-the-peg University of London courses at inflated prices.

Protesters at last night’s event also demanded to know why the eminent academics involved were not channelling their energies into defending publicly funded universities.

In another blow to the fledgling institution, it was reported today that two of the high-profile academics involved – historians Sir David Cannadine and Linda Colley – will only teach for an hour each in the institution’s first year.

Professor Grayling said that this was because the pair “didn’t want to rock the boat" at Princeton University, where both are based.

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