NCH plans could mean new owner

New College of the Humanities plots course for growth and more investment

January 23, 2014

Source: Alamy

New kid on the block: the institution set up by A  C. Grayling opened in 2012

The private “Oxbridge-style” institution set up by the philosopher A. C. Grayling could be sold to a new corporate buyer as it plans to expand student numbers almost 10-fold.

Times Higher Education understands that the New College of the Humanities has been seeking an investment of about £10 million from private equity firms and other potential corporate investors.

The move, which NCH says is aimed at funding growth, could amount to a new investor taking majority control.

NCH – where tuition fees are almost £18,000 a year and academic big names include historian Niall Ferguson, psychologist Steven Pinker and novelist Howard Jacobson – is a non-profit subsidiary of for-profit Tertiary Education Services. The new investor would be taking shares in this parent company.

NCH will hope to attract investors through its billing as an alternative to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and claims to have a similar intensive tutorial system. However, it will have to prove that it can attract students given its high fees.

THE understands from sector sources that NCH is projecting huge growth in enrolments, from about 100 students now to nearer 1,000 towards the end of the decade.

Hitting such a target will depend on several planned changes, including the government allowing NCH to recruit non-European Union students and allowing its UK and EU students to access public-backed funds from the Student Loans Company. NCH’s recruitment is hindered currently because its students are denied SLC funding and must pay fees up front.

It is also thought that NCH may consider expanding the range of subjects it offers beyond the humanities in an effort to attract more students.

Jeremy Gibbs, NCH chief executive, said: “It has always been our plan to expand the size of the college, and we periodically have conversations with potential investors. Additional funding could help to accelerate our growth now that we have demonstrated that there is demand for our high-quality approach to higher education.”

Asked if NCH’s exploration of investor interest suggested a financial challenge, he said: “The college is absolutely not in financial trouble. On the contrary, we are a sustainable institution, and we continue to grow.”

Andrew McGettigan, the author of The Great University Gamble, described NCH’s student number projections as “very optimistic”. He said that Tertiary Education Services “will first need to resolve a validation arrangement with a university before it secures access to [SLC] support”.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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