AC Grayling’s new college hit by plagiarism row

AC Grayling

Two days after its launch, the New College of the Humanities faces criticism from all quarters

BY Tim Edwards LAST UPDATED AT 12:05 ON Tue 7 Jun 2011

AC Grayling's new 'private university', announced on Sunday amid great fanfare as a rival to Oxbridge, finds itself mired just two days later in allegations of plagiarism and elitism - with one of its star professors, Richard Dawkins, taking time to distance himself from it, and a student protest planned for later today.

It was no surprise that the New College of the Humanities, due to open its doors in central London in September 2012, would enjoy extensive media coverage, given a professoriate that includes - besides Dawkins and Grayling - historian Niall Ferguson, geneticist Steven Jones and many more stars.   

Unfortunately, the media and rival academics have chosen to concentrate on the facts - in particular NCH will charge its students £18,000 a year. This means that the University of London degrees it is offering will cost at least double those available from more established - some might say more august - London colleges such as Goldsmiths and Birkbeck.

To add insult to injury, students have begun pointing out that even the titles of the syllabuses have been apparently plagiarised from those of other University of London Colleges.

One Twitter user - a professor of journalism - points out the similarity between the titles of history modules at Royal Holloway and NCH, where you will be able to study 'The rich tapestry of life: A social and cultural history of Europe c. 1500-1780' for significantly more than the going rate.

Justin Champion, a senior historian at Royal Holloway, told the Guardian he felt "quite insulted" because Royal Holloway syllabuses had been written using taxpayers' money. "If the University of London didn't exist and public money hadn't been used to draw up these syllabuses, they wouldn't have been able to do this, or they would have had to invest a lot of money," he said. "Here we have a whole degree programme being plagiarised."

Other University of London professors have waded in, with Professor Colin Jones of Queen Mary college saying: "Despite a light scattering of international stardust, this seems to be a somewhat cynical repackaging operation."

Grayling has hit back, saying he has been misunderstood. "We offer University of London international programme degrees, so that is the syllabus we are preparing the students for. It is reductive to describe it as repackaging... There is a quarter more content, contact with some rather distinguished people, and preparation for professional life."

That has done nothing to pacify students, who are planning a protest this evening at a lecture Grayling is due to give at a Foyles bookshop in London's West End.

Mark Bergfel, a member of the National Executive Council of the NUS, attacked NCH as "the most elitist attempt ever to privatise higher education".

And Grayling hasn't exactly enjoyed a ringing endorsement from  the starriest of his star NCH professors, Richard Dawkins.

On Sunday evening - the day the news broke - he told commenters on his website: "This is the brainchild of A C Grayling, NOT me. I have no idea why the BBC chose to use my face [in an article]... I accepted the invitation, partly because I liked the idea of lecturing to non-scientists after reaching Oxford's compulsory retiring age, partly out of respect for A C Grayling, and partly out of respect for the other professors from around the world who had already agreed to lecture." · 

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