An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university


12:06 pm - June 6th 2011

by Adam Ramsay    


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Dear Professor Dawkins,
I am saddened to hear of your involvement in the £18,000 a year “New College for the Humanities”.

I have always respected you as a public intellectual. But that you have allowed this position to be used to promote a private university – and so the principle of privatisation of universities – saddens me.

In particular, the New College for the Humanities will charge the majority of students £18,000 per year. This amount – double the maximum for public universities – means that the demographic able to attend this college will be highly skewed. While a few of the very brightest from average backgrounds may receive scholarships, most learning from you at this institution will only be able to attend because of the wealth of their parents.

I believe that this is dangerous. The existence of such institutions in Britain will encourage elites to perpetuate down generations. They will ensure that parental wealth has more and more to do with success in life.

Your profile is such that the media will always choose you as a face for the institution. Any role you have there will imply support for the existence of this institution.

It will give credibility to government plans to further privatise Higher Education and so may bolster their case for further funding cuts. It will certainly do little to help the current shortfall.

As such I’m asking if you would consider polity politely declining the offer from Prof Grayling to teach at this establishment.
Yours sincerely,
Adam Ramsay and others

The newly established ‘Common People‘ campaign group are asking people to email Prof Dawkins and letting him know you disagree with his decision: CLICK HERE

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About the author
Adam is a regular contributor. He also writes more frequently at: Bright Green Scotland.
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Reader comments


1. Aidan McSmith

“polity” spelling error in final line.

I also couldn’t help noting this page on the New College for the Humanities website: http://bit.ly/iybQzY?r=td

“Support network | New College of the Humanities

Created on Friday, 13 October 2006. Posted in Content pages/Support Network

… College, you’ll register with a local doctor for help with any medical problems. One of the local practices has many students registered and also offers ***complementary therapies*** and a counselling service. …”

[*** my emphasis]

Am I the only one who can’t quite square “academic excellence” with the apparent endorsement of the intellectually incoherent notion of “alternative/complementary medicine”?

Mike Ward

3. Chaise Guevara

@ 2

Agreed, but remember that whoever compiled the list of local services probably isn’t one of the founders of the institution, but more likely to be working in Student Orientation or something. Also, it IS a humanities uni, not a sciences one.

4. Luis Enrique

not sure about this …. it depends on whether Oxbridge and other top universities are replaced by private universities or competed with by them. If rich kids go to the new private universities, that leaves more room for non-rich kids at Oxbridge. Is Oxbridge’s reputation going to suffer by comparison with these new unis? If you are a rich kid educated at one of these new private universities, are you going to be more or less likely to secure your place amongst the UK’s elite than you would have been in the absence of these private universities?

If our system was transformed into one where all the top universities were private and expensive, I’d agree that would cement advantage and inter-generational transmission of advantage. But that’s not what we’re looking at is it? If we move to one with a mix of private and state run top universities, it’s less obvious to me how that’ll play out.

Is Oxbridge’s reputation going to suffer by comparison with these new unis?

I doubt it. Oxbridge’s reputation stands and falls as much on its postgraduate teaching as its undergraduate. This new foundation is proposed to be solely an undergraduate institution. Different beasts.

Luis – elites aren’t only perpetuated through quality learning and teaching. They are perpetuated through social links – who you know. I went to a boarding school that is middle of the range academically – it certainly gave me some academic advantages, but that wasn’t the main way that it helped me. More important was the socialisation into a ruling class.

As George Washington said, the reason you have comprehensive national universities is that this is one of the best ways to mingle social groups and to break down social barriers. Having private universities mostly attended by the children of the elite is about much more than giving that elite better teaching. It is about ensuring they are friends, that they know each other, that they are socialised into running the country.

7. Chaise Guevara

@ OP

Outside of the obvious, what do we know about Dawkins’ politics? While it doesn’t seem likely to me, for all I know he’s a die-hard libertarian.

@6 – “More important was the socialisation into a ruling class.

“… it is about ensuring they are friends, that they know each other, that they are socialised into running the country.”

What’s your excuse, comrade? (How did you escape this hideous fate?)

9. Luis Enrique

Adam,

yes I understand that – nothing in my comment @4 rested on a particular view of how advantage is transmitted (actual education versus signaling, networks, whatever).

So, are the social networks established at amongst rich kids at private universities going to be more powerful than the social networks established at amongst rich kids under the current system? If the some rich kids go to private universities, making more room for non-rich kids at Oxbridge, are the social networks established at Oxbridge going to lose power? It’s not obvious.

10. the a&e charge nurse

Oh, don’t be so coy Adam – the rich already spend humungus sums on their kid’s education (pre-Uni) so they can avoid chavs, sorry, I meant get a better education.

In the current climate wasn’t it inevitable that the concept would be rolled out at some point to cover ALL stages of the educational process?

If privileged academics like Dawkins & Co exploit their reputation to coin in a bit more cash, who are we to point the finger at them – after all, we have a proud tradition of rigging the game in favour of the children of the wealthy?

11. redpesto

Luis Enrique:

If rich kids go to the new private universities, that leaves more room for non-rich kids at Oxbridge.

Such optimism is almost touching. What about the rich kids who didn’t get into Oxbridge, and end up in a hell-hole like, say, UCL?*

*NB: Satire.

12. Luis Enrique

rp – OK, maybe it’ll just leave more room for other rich kids.

13. the a&e charge nurse

[11] “Such optimism is almost touching” – indeed, not least because it implies a change in demographics bucking long term Oxbridge trends.

But why a trifling £19k – I’m sure there is a significant minority with much deeper pockets than that?

14. redpesto

a & e charge nurse: But why a trifling £19k – I’m sure there is a significant minority with much deeper pockets than that?

Yes: non-EU students. Plus, it’s not as if a private university has to worry about which dictators or plutocrats it’ll take money from.

15. Cynical/Realist?

Is it just me who finds Dawkins a smug git?

Does anyone else find Adam Ramsey a bit hypocritical?

It’s easy to play socialist after you’ve had all the advantages of a good school, going to a good universtity and plenty of family money – when will he ever have to worry about anything other than playing at politics?

Now he seems to care most about taking away choices from people who were lucky enough to be in a similar situation to himself, rather than improving the situation and system for all.

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 16 Tyler

“Does anyone else find Adam Ramsey a bit hypocritical?”

Not really. But then some of us aren’t receptive to clumsy ad hom attacks. Maybe you should wait until you have something to say before posting?

18. paul ilc

That a group of largely leftie academics should choose to set up an elite university is very interesting. Base motives will inevitably be attributed to them, but their stated concern is falling standards in our universities and the burdens of regulation. ‘Fair access’, for example, is largely (though not entirely) a means of pressurising the universities to lower their admission standards to allow for the gross deficiencies of state schools. Academics want to teach the brightest and best, whatever the applicant’s social background.

19. Col. Richard Hindrance (Mrs)

“That a group of largely leftie academics should choose to set up an elite university is very interesting.”

Only if you confuse “socially liberal” with “left wing.”

Don’t be ashamed, many people do these days. I blame cuts to the national education system.

20. the a&e charge nurse

[18] “Academics want to teach the brightest and best, whatever the applicant’s social background” – not quite, academics want to teach those with an accumulation of social and cultural advantages, and at Dawkins central, families with deep enough pockets to cough up £18k (plus accommodation fees & living allowance) – so let’s call it a round £25k pa?

21. Mr S. Pill

@19 Col. Richard Hindrance (Mrs)

tbf Grayling himself claimed to be “left of centre and pink at the gills” or something when talking about these plans. but I think if you set up a private university you automatically resign from being left-wing at all…

(welcome back, btw – you’ve not been around for a while…)

You may get a first rate education from this place, but I suspect that anyone with a degree from here will carry a bit of a taint, that they weren’t good enough to get into Oxford or Cambridge. Lets face it, if you are given the choice between studying at an Oxbridge college for £9,000 a year or this place for £18,000, people will choose the former.

Here’s a damning verdict from Jack of kent: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2011/06/ac-graylings-folly.html

24. Matt Wardman

No problem whatsoever with private/independent colleges awarding degrees from Public Universities, as there are many associated colleges already, provided:

a – They pay for services at a reasonable rate.
b – The quality is good enough.

This one looks somewhat dodgy on the quality, as suggested by JoK, especially in the Diploma modules; it comes across as an overpriced marketing front end (if you will a BMW badge) for standard courses with the imprimatur of media dons. To appeal in the UK prices need to be down.

An endorsement and a few tutorials from Grayling and the others is unlikely to convince at £8-10k or so a year.

IMO one market will be in competition with Euro operations of US colleges, where they will seem a cheap option, and the likes of Dawkins and others have a better reputation.

“Having private universities mostly attended by the children of the elite is about much more than giving that elite better teaching. It is about ensuring they are friends, that they know each other, that they are socialised into running the country.”

Do you think the wealthy and successful should be hindered from mingling and getting to know each other? Sounds a bit spiteful.

Public intellectual? Is this like a common prostitute?

And why isn’t there anything about the IMF’s report here on Lib Con? Not even a conspiracy theory – I know, I’ve got it – DSK was arrested at the request of the British Gummint because they knew that, being a good socialist, he was going to have the IMF produce a report that would back Ed Balls’ economic thesis and they had to get rid of him so they could arrange for a new report to be hurriedly thrown together that would back the ConDem’s savage cuts agenda.

That’s it!

@25 I think the point being made is that they’re being fashioned into a new nobility, ensuring that they don’t mix with proles etc etc

28. So Much For Subtlety

6. Adam Ramsay – “Having private universities mostly attended by the children of the elite is about much more than giving that elite better teaching. It is about ensuring they are friends, that they know each other, that they are socialised into running the country.”

So if I felt like setting up a club with membership fees of 19,000 a year where new members would only be allowed to remain members for three to five years, while being expected to drink to excess, puke their guts out in the gutter, shag anything that moves, strike silly political poses and general make an ass of themselves, you would be opposed because that would be perpetuating a political elite?

Would you ban one and not the other? Or both? Pony clubs? The MCC?

On this basis is there anything you would not ban because Nobs might use it to gather and plot their children’s play dates?

This is a fine example of the distinction between the Left and Liberals.

29. So Much For Subtlety

18. paul ilc – “That a group of largely leftie academics should choose to set up an elite university is very interesting.”

Any of them from the LSE? Birkbeck? Just out of interest, would everyone here have been opposed to the creation of these institutions had they been alive at the time they were established?

“Oh, don’t be so coy Adam – the rich already spend humungus sums on their kid’s education (pre-Uni) so they can avoid chavs, sorry, I meant get a better education.”

I think it’s unfair to say that all people sending their children to private schools are (a) rich and (b) don’t want their children mixing with “chavs”. Surely some do and some believe it will get them a better education due to smaller class sizes etc.

Also:

“As George Washington said, the reason you have comprehensive national universities is that this is one of the best ways to mingle social groups and to break down social barriers. Having private universities mostly attended by the children of the elite is about much more than giving that elite better teaching. It is about ensuring they are friends, that they know each other, that they are socialised into running the country.”

The problem is that many state school students are pretty unfriendly to private school students at uni. Certainly this was the case at the University of Sussex, which is dominated by middle-class state school students.

31. the a&e charge nurse

[30] the real point I was making is that exam success (in the main) says more about social privilege rather than latent ability – private schools are exemplars par excellence of this phenomena.

Look at the demographics of students who get into Oxbridge, and by that I mean populations over generations rather than the odd working class lad made good.
Exactly the same pattern plays out when it comes to top civil servant jobs, the law, medicine, etc, etc, and always has done – what an extraordinary coincidence?

Representation from class A/B is disproportionately high in these spheres largely because the system is gamed so much in the favour of certain groups – Dawkins, et al, probably know this better than anybody, but the attraction of money, or perhaps infamy, is an exciting temptation – maybe our Richard will blame selfish genes?

@31 Given Dawkins’ output of late, he’s far more likely to blame Muslamic Ray Guns.

You may get a first rate education from this place, but I suspect that anyone with a degree from here will carry a bit of a taint, that they weren’t good enough to get into Oxford or Cambridge.

That’s true of all other universities isn’t it?

34. So Much For Subtlety

31. the a&e charge nurse – “the real point I was making is that exam success (in the main) says more about social privilege rather than latent ability – private schools are exemplars par excellence of this phenomena.”

Except they are not really. You can look at success in getting into elite French schools like ENA for instance. They don’t have quite the same class bias. Yes, Upper Middle Class people do quite well, but then Upper Middle Class people tend to be quite smart. But they don’t do as well as you might think. Exams benefit the next social strata down – the lower Middle Class who have the wealth to access education and disproportionately gain from passing the exams. The children of the rich notoriously do badly in examinations. They prefer interviews.

“Look at the demographics of students who get into Oxbridge, and by that I mean populations over generations rather than the odd working class lad made good.”

We introduced Grammars, the proportion of State schooled children grew until they dominated Oxbridge’s intake. We abolished them and they have fallen off. There is simply no denying that competitive examinations were bad for the children of the wealthy in the UK. Countries with Grammar-type schools have vastly more social mobility than Britain or America who have Comprehensives presumably for that reason.

“Exactly the same pattern plays out when it comes to top civil servant jobs, the law, medicine, etc, etc, and always has done – what an extraordinary coincidence?”

Except it didn’t. From Mcmillan to Blair we had only Grammar schooled Prime Ministers. And that worked across the board in British life – the Grammar swots were replacing the Toffs. Then the Grammars were abolished.

35. the a&e charge nurse

[34] Private school pupils are 55 times more likely to go to Oxbridge than poor students (those entitled to a free school meal).
http://www.suttontrust.com/public/documents/access-proposals-report-final.pdf

You characterise this disparity as upper middle class people doing “quite well”, I see it as evidence that accumulated social advantage is far more important than latent ability when it comes to success or failure in our educational system.

It’s the age old problem of people not seeing something for what it is, perhaps because these unjust patterns have become so deeply engrained – at any rate, we should not be surprised that those who profited from such arrangements (yes, Richard, I’m talking about you) wish to perpetuate, and even accentuate them?

36. So Much For Subtlety

35. the a&e charge nurse – “Private school pupils are 55 times more likely to go to Oxbridge than poor students (those entitled to a free school meal). You characterise this disparity as upper middle class people doing “quite well”, I see it as evidence that accumulated social advantage is far more important than latent ability when it comes to success or failure in our educational system.”

Actually I don’t. I didn’t as any clear reading of what I said makes clear. We do not have a competitive examination system. We have one that deliberately holds back the gifted if they are stuck in the State system. Hence Oxbridge is fully of the privately educated.

We *used* to have a system that took examinations seriously. As a result Oxbridge – like virtually every important institution in the UK – was dominated by Grammar School pupils. They did well from the system.

As our education system is now, only a private education can provide any sort of education. Any child in a Comprehensive today is unlikely to finish their A levels being able to read and write.

But if we returned to a system of exams, it is not the toffs who would benefit. It would be, as I said, the next social layer below whatever they are being admitted to. So to go from school meals to Oxford is an ask.[*] But to go from Lower Middle Class to Oxford is not.

[*] Although it is worth pointing out some of my family did.

37. the a&e charge nurse

[36] “So to go from school meals to Oxford is an ask” – agreed, but not because of lack of ability in the socially disadvantaged group (an estimated 12% of the school population are entitled to free school meals).

Now those genuinely interested in equity might have used their talents (and privileged teaching experiences) to level the playing field rather than buying into the financial anxieties associated with access to university?

I do resent phrases like ‘gifted’ children because it is so often used to rationalise preferential treatment for the A’s & B’s and that’s all this development is – more of the same.

38. Charlieman

@31. the a&e charge nurse: “Look at the demographics of students who get into Oxbridge, and by that I mean populations over generations rather than the odd working class lad made good.
Exactly the same pattern plays out when it comes to top civil servant jobs, the law, medicine, etc, etc, and always has done – what an extraordinary coincidence?”

I agree, with a proviso. Even if we had a belief that Oxbridge and the Russell Group universities operated honest admissions policies, we would then have to look at who runs the civil service and professional bodies. In the House of Commons, who is the most prominent MP who went to a Polytechnic? Nick Harvey?

My proviso was around the words “always has done”. Higher education reforms in the 1960s had a massive impact on society, although you can never escape the biography quote that “X was a minor player in the Cambridge Footlights and a minor player in government”. The 1960s, 70s and 80s young adults who attended HE have created a society that is more questioning of authority and more socially liberal. As professions expanded, graduates from red brick universities and polytechnics attained social rank or more idealistically, “did something useful”.

The downside is that they — the lucky ones by chance of birth date — believe that their kids and grandchildren are entitled to something. The concept of a two way elevator does not exist for them.

39. Chaise Guevara

Apparently Dawkins has signed up because he wants the college to teach scientific literacy to arts/humanities students. Which, in fairness, is a pretty good idea.

Dear Professor Dawkins,

I really liked you when you were giving those Christians all sorts of spuds, generally dissing them and pointing out how very stupid they were compared to clever atheists like me. You were one of us then, one of the people.

Now you are exposed, shockingly, as nothing but an educational elitist. You have betrayed those of us who looked up to you and repeated your arguments ad nauseam (as we used to say in Latin prep at that elitist school that I really hated and it wasn’t terribly posh anyway so there). I beg you to reconsider your decision to join with that pony-tailed prig in an institution which may lead to Britain’s domination by a ruling elite.

The history of twentieth-century Europe tells us that domination by a ruling elite can have terrible consequences. Do you want the blood of millions of people on your hands ?

Yours sincerely

A.R.”


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university http://bit.ly/jBaxba

  2. New Humanist

    Interesting RT @libcon: An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university http://bit.ly/jBaxba

  3. RichardHaro

    RT @libcon: An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university http://t.co/naNsZCd

  4. sdv_duras

    RT @libcon: An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university http://bit.ly/jBaxba [could a Deleu… (cont) http://deck.ly/~0SVKi

  5. Ash Chapman

    An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university http://bit.ly/jBaxba

  6. jackie schneider

    An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university http://bit.ly/jBaxba

  7. Mike Ward

    Interesting RT @libcon: An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university http://bit.ly/jBaxba

  8. Martin Shovel

    RT @libcon: An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university http://bit.ly/jBaxba I look forward to his response!

  9. esther holden

    Interesting RT @libcon: An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university http://bit.ly/jBaxba

  10. Mabel Horrocks

    An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university http://bit.ly/jBaxba

  11. Christopher Meredith

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/06/06/an-open-letter-to-prof-richard-dawkins-on-the-18k-university/ <– Shame for a hero to support this.

  12. wilfgilbert

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/06/06/an-open-letter-to-prof-richard-dawkins-on-the-18k-university/ <– Shame for a hero to support this.

  13. Crispian Jago

    An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/o57QnBg via @libcon

  14. Ahren Lester

    An open letter to Prof Richard Dawkins on the £18k university | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/o57QnBg via @libcon

  15. First overall report-card on Grayling's New College of the Humanities: Must try harder, could do far better, #Fail - blog by Gurdur - Blogs on the Heathen Hub

    […] has already garnered its very own protest group, as well as a whole lot of other criticism, and an open letter to Dawkins and one to Peter Singer. Terry Eagleton gets downright clear about it all) in Britain and western […]

  16. U of AC « Cubik's Rube

    […] and a clarifying response to some of the public reaction by Grayling himself. I’ve read an open letter to Richard Dawkins asking him not to get involved, and David Allen Green describing the whole thing as a sham and […]

  17. Doubts are cast on the Tories’ economic credibility, an old plot to oust Blair is revealed, and the Archbishop attacks: round up of political blogs for 4 – 10 June | British Politics and Policy at LSE

    […] New College of Humanities, as Adam Ramsey writes an open letter to Richard Dawkins asking him to reconsider his involvement with the project. Maeve McKeown at openDemocracy thinks is just a case of the emperor’s new […]

  18. Ciaran Gillespie

    @jamiekilstein Dawkins – Signed this:http://t.co/EU4CqhTQ Did that:http://t.co/LeUQ62Xh Total douche.





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