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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

New College of the Humanities

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about A.C. Grayling's brainchild, the New College of the Humanities. On the face of it, its £18 000 a year fees smack of elitism; the left-wing academic Terry Eagleton has described it as "odious." However, by assembling a glittering array of Professors and teaching staff such as Richard Dawkins and David Cannadine, the College seems to be seeking to be an elite institution, equivalent to Oxford and Cambridge, or the Ivy League, where comparable bodies of internationally-renowned academics already exist. And as their US counterparts already do, Oxford and Cambridge would quite happily charge £18 000 a year for this privilege were the government to allow them.

Grayling's New College is, then, simply a dystopian vision of where the coalition's privatisation of Higher Education will lead us in five or ten years time, when the cap on fees will, no doubt, be lifted altogether for our top-level institutions. The fault lies in the principle of privatisation that has been instigated by the government, not the consequences which Grayling is now seeking to put into practice.

Let's not be naive about this. Of course, the headline Professors of the New College of Humanities will likely pop over for morning coffee only once a year, gracing the prospectus but rarely to be seen inside a tutorial room. But then that's not wholly different to how the US system currently works, with star, tenured academics giving a few headline lectures and adjunct, doctoral or postdoctoral staff doing the bulk of the teaching week to week. And it's not unlike what will presumably happen in the UK system, with part time, temporarily contracted teaching staff responding on an ad hoc basis to student - sorry, consumer - numbers. Again, Grayling's new model institution is a precursor of what is to come.

And, on this basis, a part of me can't quite help admiring the fact that in the post-Browne climate where the arts and humanities are generally deemed to be of no economic worth, Grayling is sticking two fingers up to the economists by asserting the value, both financial and humanistic, of a liberal arts education. Combining studies in the conventional humanities with required courses in Science Literacy, Logic and Critical Thinking, and Applied Ethics, the New College of the Humanities might - just might - demonstrate that the arts and humanities have a role to play as the applied sciences of human life.

The economics of class in Charles Dickens, the lessons of the history of the Crusades in the era of Islamic terrorism, metaphor and simile in scientific communication. Maybe, just maybe, and in an ironic and paradoxical way, the New College of the Humanities offers us a vision not only of the decline of the public university in the twenty-first century, but also of the reassertion of the liberal arts education that underpinned the first mass expansion of universities in the nineteenth century.

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Posted by Alistair at 2:52 pm


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