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Time to ask questions about the ideologies in Higher Education

The UK education scene is buzzing with the news that 14 professors are setting up a “New College of the Humanities” and are claiming to offer a “new model of higher education for the humanities in the UK” (here and here). The concept of education being privately-funded is not widely held with approval, and feelings against it can be very strong. Yet, we do have one privately-funded university (the University of Buckingham), which co-exists peacefully with those in the state system. With massive changes to the funding regime for universities, the team of academics, led by Professor A.C Grayling, has set out its business plan for a college that aims to compete at the highest level of UK higher education. The mayor of London wrote about it on Monday with this headline: “At last, an Oxbridge for those who can’t get into Oxbridge“.

The proposal has received much criticism: it is odious and the academics are “money-grubbing dons“. The press commentators received the announcement with “universal scorn“. A promotional event involving Prof Grayling was abandoned after protestors made their presence felt.

However, only one person has written about the ideological issues. Andrew Brown has realised that the entrepreneurial academics are committed to secularism and some are prominent atheists (notably A.C Grayling and Richard Dawkins). This is what he wrote:

“Which brings me to the New College of Humanities, which appears to be a kind of Cirencester Agricultural College for the owners of Chelsea tractors. This will not, it is safe to say, have a chaplain, nor an imam or rabbi. But it does have a notable emphasis on ensuring that it is not polluted by what the founders would regard as superstition. There is to be a course in “critical thinking” – defined as “scientific enquiry, empiricism, experimentation, analysis, rationality and the ethics of rationality, basic statistics and modelling, textual analysis and criticism, case studies”. It’s hard to believe that religious belief will figure in any of this except as a counter-example. These are the habits of thought that are meant to make religion impossible – “the tropes of informal logic” figure in this compulsory course and include “rhetoric, bias, fallacies of reasoning, spin and advertising, analysis of argument, evidence evaluation, forensic investigation, advocacy”. I do hope they teach all these from The God Delusion.
The ethics course, though otherwise comprehensive, makes no mention of plagiarism.
All these are, of course, vital parts of any university education, and I don’t think they need to be spelled out. But knowing the founders, it’s also quite clear that their conception of rationality is bound up with a particular religious and theological stance every bit as much as UCL ([University College London] founded for dissenters) or the old Anglican established colleges are.”

When Christians set up a school or college, opposition can be intense and critical questions are asked about how Christian commitments will influence the way subjects are taught. The secularists conveniently forget that Christians have been at the forefront of education for centuries. Something tells me that Andrew Brown’s insight is not nearly probing enough – I wonder what others think about this?

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