I learned some things today. About Grayling Hall.

The first thing I learned was that it was called "Grayling Hall" until recently.

Most of what I learned, though, was via an emergency meeting this evening called to plan opposition to the college. I went to this fired up by reading Eagleton's magisterial take-down of Grayling's vanity project. This piece, incidentally, was denounced by one of the more impressionable Graylingites of my acquaintance as "obviously partisan", as though this were clearly a bad thing. Here we have the world according the liberal intelligentsia and their hangers-on: everyone is compromised by they, who steer by the pure light of reason alone. Liberalism, the ideology which dare not speak its name.

I digress.

What I learned included the following: all the talk of New College being a charity is deceptive. There are two companies associated with Grayling's venture. The New College of the Humanities itself is a company limited by share, a potentially profit-making body. And given the amount of start-up capital - some £18million - invested in it, money-making will need happen sooner rather than later.

Separate from this, there is a charitable trust, The New College of the Humanities Trust (registered charity no. 1141608), whose sole function is the making of charitable grants, at the NCH and elsewhere. This latter provision was no doubt added in order to secure charitable status. If the college ever opens its doors, it will be well worth keeping an eye on just what this external charity amounts to.

It would be better all-round if those doors never opened. Walking home this evening, I reflected on how much is at stake. This college is a symbolic turning point in the struggles over the future of HE. If it goes ahead, charging £18,000 p.a. fees, Russell Group institutions will lobby to have their fee ceilings removed, so that they can remain competitive. Meanwhile, new private sector colleges will spring up, possibly built out of the ashes of bankrupt 'failed' universities.

Not coming from a background where my parents could have afforded those level of fees for me (or my three younger siblings), I got a top quality university education whilst it was still affordable. I am presently engaged in research (again, not something I could afford to do if saddled with the debts future students are threatened with). I want to work in academia. But I want to do so in an academia where people, no matter what their backgrounds, are afforded the same opportunities that I had.

I do not accept that the lifeboat of Grayling-style scholarships for a few lucky bright students is an alternative to proper collective provision of higher education on the basis of ability alone. Grayling Hall, even if we overlook the vanity, the pervasive ultra-rationalist ethos, and the underlying profit motive, is no solution to the current crisis in HE. The only solution is public education: and we need to fight for that. The cheerleaders for the buoffant bourgeois will say this is unrealistic: a fatalism which Andy brings down to size. Isn't it interesting, in this particular case, how realism coincides with the interests of the bank balances of so many celebrity academics?

Because of what it represents and what it will do, this college cannot be allowed to open its doors. It was encouraging this evening to see that there is a high level of angry opposition to the NCH locally. Lots of ideas about the way forward for opposition were put on the table. My own view is that the most promising avenue is to ostracise the college academically. People in academia:

  • Do not apply for, or accept, jobs at NCH. This college cannot get off the ground without labour. I realise that the jobs situation in academia is incredibly difficult. I may be jobless myself in September. But NCH is no solution. Apart from the ethics of it all, and the need to show solidarity with academics fighting the privatisation agenda, it is a short-term solution even in personal terms. If British HE goes down the Grayling road, then terms, conditions, pay, and prospects will be worse for everyone.
  • Do not participate in conferences, seminars, or other events organised by the college.
  • Above all, lobby, in local UCU branches and beyond, for a UCU greylisting of the NCH.

As someone put it at tonight's meeting, "Greylist Grayling"!

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