Top UK Academics Form New University

This story in the New York Times caught my eye this morning.

Top UK Academics form New University

Convinced that the maximum allowable tuition at public universities would not permit them to maintain a quality education, a group of prominent British academics are forming their own university. The new college will offer degrees in literature, history, economics, law and several other disciplines. The new school will apparently follow an American model of setting a high list price and then discounting it based on some method of determining financial need. The list price will be set at 18,000 pounds, or roughly double the maximum tuition at British public universities.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it is an experiment in American-style higher education in a cultural setting where private universities are virtually unknown. As a tuition outlier, the school will have to compete with all the public universities with established reputations whose charges will be much lower. To get good students, the new school will have to do an excellent job of convincing prospective students that the quality of their offerings really will justify the price. Alternatively, they risk becoming an institution that serves predominantly wealthy families whose sons and daughters can’t quite muster an admission to Oxford , Cambridge, or St. Andrews. As the university system in Britain loudly and publicy bemoans its fate under austerity, the task of this new university actually becomes easier.

Next, this school will have to develop a system for determining need. In the US, this process is done at the national level using the FAFSA form. No individual school shoulders the administrative and security burden of acquiring sensitive financial information from families and processing it.

The new university plans to open its doors in 2012. Will it work in the UK context? It’s certainly an experiment worth watching.

Your thoughts?


  1. Till Schreiber says:

    It’s very hard to create the necessary good reputation from scratch. Clearly some of the higher education benefits and returns for students come from the networks, pedigrees of alumni and the quality of fellow students. You would probably have to discount tuition dramatically for good students to entice them to come because they know that they are taking a bigger risk compared to Oxbridge etc. The only way then to make it work, as you argue above, is to admit more full-paying students who can’t make it elsewhere. But this again will make it harder to attract good students even with large discounts who could get into top schools.

    I think in the end it boils down to: Can they raise enough private money? Also how much are they free-riding on the University of London which the article mentions? Is Niall Ferguson (who I thought was more of a historian than an economist) really doing a whole bunch of “one-to-one tutorials” with mediocre rich students? Or is he mostly going to be on leave and giving talks in the U.S. and will the “one-to-one tutorials” be done by adjuncts?