The Ballbag University for Ballbags: Or the New College of the Humanities is Rubbish

Being somewhat inclined to vulgarity, and unable to think of a funnier name than Telly Don University, I think Ballbag sums up what I think of AC Grayling’s New College of the Humanities. First of all, a professed egalitarian setting up a school charging £18,000 a year smacks of hypocrisy. That’s the sort of thing that gives us all a bad name. That is only a minor complaint though.

When it is proposed is a new Oxbridge. Presumably Ballbag University isn’t interesting in gravitas, as they are shamelessly plugging a series of pop-intellectual, second rate academics in a bid for “ratings.” No, Ballbag University offers, can only offer, networking and the further embedding of privilege for those in the know (and in the money). It seems likely to be a vehicle of privilege rather than progress. As such, it will more than likely fail as worthies like Richard Dawkins slowly back away and pupils realise they ain’t paying for an education, they’re paying for posh friends.

Apparently the idea is to offer an elite education coupled with “science literacy and business awareness.” What a load ballbag. You don’t need instruction in science or business to understand science or business. You need to be curious. Let me repeat that. You need to be curious. Not just inquisitive, inquisitive people stop at an interesting answer. A curious person will hear an interesting answer and want to know what makes it interesting. Thus.

A copy of Bad Science, an internet connection and a curious mind people who want to be science literate can become so. The university has also misdiagnosed the problem. Scientific literacy is not all that rare, but many people’s belief systems, and most importantly livelihoods, rest on ignoring scientific literacy. What would a Home Secretary do if they acted scientifically literate?

Likewise business savvy is not something you inoculate, it comes from curiosity about what goes on for the majority of most people’s waking hours. Read some Chandler, read some Coase, read some Harberger. Most importantly, get a fucking job. Plus, if people are learning to a minor exam any business or scientific knowledge students glean will be short lived.

But I should be more supportive. In theory I am quite sympathetic to AC Grayling’s endeavour. Experimentation is a very good thing indeed, and experimenting with different ways to educate is absolutely vital. Mass manufacturing physical capital is relatively easy, we’re very good at it, mass manufacturing human capital is very difficult, and we want to get better at it. Although a rather mechanistic way to look at it, I am destined to be one of those ghastly technocrats you hear so much about, so get used to it.

I’m not particularly supportive as it happens because AC Grayling is, I predict, not offering anything like the education system of the future. The education of the future involves more people learning at their own pace online. Places like the Khan Academy (video below the fold) offer online instruction and a more personalised learning experince than the sausage factories of much of our current education system, at a fraction of the cost too.

Quite often my solution to a problem involves pricing to the market and then transferring money to poor people. However, money only goes so far, you cannot tax and transfer a network, or power. Therefore, I am aware I dont offer a  very stable equilibrium. Whatever grand bargain that sees the price of university go up in the name of market forces combined with more money for poorer students has a weak link. People forget the bargain and soon enough and take the money from the poor. What little egalitarianism is left in our provision of education is being eroded. I agree with Paul that Ballbag university seems a catalyst accelerating this process. So I hope it is an experiment that fails quickly.