Scratch a liberal and you find a free-market profiteer. That's one way to interpret plans by some of Britain's greatest thinkers and academics, who have protested at government plans to raise student fees and introduce the private market into higher education, to now open their own private, elite college charging students double the highest fee permitted in the public sector.
The 'Oxbridge style' private university in London will be staffed by some of the world's most famous academics, including philosopher AC Grayling, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, geneticist Steve Jones and historian Niall Ferguson. It will offer degrees in the humanities, economics and law from 2012 to 'gifted' (read 'wealthy') students at a cost of £18,000 a year.
Its backers claim the New College of the Humanities, based in Bloomsbury, will educate 'a new British elite' with science literacy, critical thinking, ethics and professional skills on top of degree subjects taught in one-to-one tutorials. It is backed by private funding and will be run on a for-profit basis. It will offer assisted places to one in five of the first 200 students.
Grayling has said he was motivated in part by fears that government cuts to university humanities and arts courses could leave "the fabric of society poorer as a result".
"Society needs us to be thoughtful voters, good neighbours, loving parents and responsible citizens," he said. How that sits with capitulating to the market and offering the very best education primarily to those with the ability to pay, may leave many baffled.
Image by UG Ardener under Creative Commons licence.