Wednesday, 8 June 2011

*Further Information on NCH

After posting the below, I was sent the following article by @carolinepennock on Twitter. It does seem to change the game; I don't have time at present to think through all the implications, but it means that Grayling is indeed doing something new, that may well be meretricious. On the other hand, it may be a necessary step to surviving in an increasingly commercialized world: I'm not sure.

What I am sure of is that Grayling has become another Clegg: a public whipping boy for implementing the repellent policies of David Cameron.

Grayling's quotations in the British press over the last few days have also not lessened my qualms: if he isn't being misquoted, they seem pretty outrageous.

Others have pointed out that the more worrying model is University of Phoenix, not Harvard. I agree, but U of Phoenix hasn't ruined all of US Higher Ed.

Yet. Sigh.

My reservations are growing exponentially by the moment, but I still counsel wait and see.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sarah, with all due respect this seems like a tremendous and unjustified bit of equivocation in the face of your earlier, and plain statement: "If NCH turns out to be for-profit, or if in practice it admits only the rich and squeezes out the poor, then it will fully deserve condemnation."

    There is a second issue here, too. It seems to me that casting Grayling as a whipping boy for Cameron's policies is entirely disingenuous; Grayling chose to start his private, for-profit college entirely of his own accord, with not even the excuse of political necessity within a coalition government that Nick Clegg's (remaining) defenders can deploy in his defence.

    There is no such necessity here. From an enviably secure position within the academic world (a tenured position at Birkbeck, personal wealth), Graying has instead chosen a course of action which is complicit with those 'repellent policies'. Thus when he complains in The Guardian of being deemed "a bastard capitalist", he seems to be inveighing against a judgement which displays a far firmer grasp of moral intentionality and free will than he has shown.

  3. @Tom That certainly seems to be increasingly the case. It is an unpleasant (and frankly sad and disheartening) thing to try to reason caution for someone to explain their position and for that position to come to seem increasingly untenable. You call my statement an 'unjustified bit of equivocation': I understand why you say that, but the whole point of everything I'm saying is to defend not just the legitimacy, but the *necessity*, of slowing down and thinking this shit through. It it is tremendously complicated and the people attacking me don't want that to be the case ("taxation!" - brilliant answer. why didn't I think of that?) but I will defend my right, and the need for society, to slow down, learn the facts, speak politely to each other, and figure out what we think, as opposed to what we have always thought. As the wise CharonQC put it more elegantly than I could: "I am open to persuasion and argument as always. I have never developed a taste for coming down mountains with tablets of stone." You may call that equivocation if you choose. I call it thinking.

  4. Sarah - thanks for your considered response. I agree that one must think about things and learn the facts, God knows there's been enough misinformation circulated about this project. But if a topic is important one must also at some point act on those thoughts, and assume a position in order to have any effect at all - this is the essence of judgement.

    I am just confused (particularly given your high profile engagement in this debate already) as to what is driving the reluctance to adopt such a position, as the idea of for-profit higher education seemed pernicious (and empirically unsuccessful) to both of us in the first event, and we have seen no new evidence to convince of the contrary.

    Charon's point is indeed true, but it can coexist (and indeed seems to presuppose) taking a particular stand on an issue. That seems to me to be a healthy scepticism that I would subscribe to; adopting a position based on the evidence available while being open to arguments to the contrary.

    On either side of it lie an unconstructive dogmatism and the impotence of non-action; I believe this debate is far too important for those of us in HE to indulge either of those options.

  5. I will defend my right, and the need for society, to slow down, learn the facts, speak politely to each other, and figure out what we think

    Yes, indeed... except that your response to AC Grayling's college and the protests it has aroused was not to learn the facts, but to publish a factually incorrect piece in the Guardian. Maybe think twice next time? The information about the dual charity and for-profit status of the NCH was already available before your piece was published.

  6. Excuse my ignorance, Tom: but I wonder what you're referring to when you say that for-profit higher education is is empirically unsuccessful.

  7. The majority of evidence we can draw on regarding for-profit HE is the US ca. 1990-present. Wikipedia has a fairly lengthy overview of what happened there:

    But the key issues raised are exploitation of publicly-funded government grants and loans, encouraging students to take on debt to fund courses of little or no benefit, extraordinarily low completion rates, unsuitable or non-existent accreditation, and investigations into criminal fraud.