New College of the Humanities

June 10th, 2011

The controversial “New College of the Humanities” of which Anthony Grayling will be the first master, and Richard Dawkins and Niall Ferguson amongst its first faculty members, has described itself as an ‘independent university college’. It is wrong to do so the Department for Business Innovation and Skills has said. Why?

The question ‘what in law is a university?’ is not altogether simple. For two universities it is reasonably easy to answer: see the Oxford and Cambridge Act 1571 (still in force). Generally speaking, pre-1992 universities operate under statutes like this one and a Royal Charter granted through the Privy Council. Universities established after 1992 derive their university status and degree-awarding powers from the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Section 77 of that Act provides that the consent of the Privy Council is required in order for a higher education institution to use the word ‘university’ in its title. This includes the term ‘university college’. It would appear that the New College of the Humanities may not yet have applied for the Privy Council’s consent.

Professor Grayling may be the target for smoke bombs from disgruntled students and grumpy communications from academics at another ‘New College’, but he is at least not likely to be imprisoned for his ‘university’ misdemeanour. Although it is a criminal offence under the Education Reform Act 1988 for a body to award a UK degree when it is not authorised to do so, students at New College will receive their degrees from the University of London.

Comments are closed.