Richard Dawkins is under pressure over his involvement in a new private university that has been branded as elitist by campaigners for equal access to higher education.
The New College of Arts and Humanities, which plans to charge £18,000 fees, has been sharply criticised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU).
Richard Dawkins, a leading biology professor and the most prominent proponent of ‘New Atheism’, is one of fourteen academics who have declared that they will teach at the institution. Others include the right-wing historian Niall Ferguson and the philosopher A.C. Grayling.
Dawkins is already the target of an email campaign urging him to withdraw his support for the institution.
A draft email circulated by campaigners points out to Dawkins that his role at the college will “give credibility to government plans to further privatise higher education and so may bolster their case for further funding cuts”.
It states, “The existence of such institutions in Britain will encourage elites to perpetuate down generations. They will ensure that parental wealth has more and more to do with success in life.”
The UCU, which represents academic and teaching staff, described plans for the college as ‘further proof’ that the government’s plans for funding higher education will entrench inequality.
UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said, “While many would love the opportunity to be taught by the likes of A.C Grayling and Richard Dawkins, at £18,000 a go it seems it won’t be the very brightest but those with the deepest pockets who are afforded the chance”.
The government’s cuts to higher education already mean that most funding for arts, humanities and social sciences has been cut. The cuts have been criticised by the NUS, UCU and the Student Christian Movement (SCM), all of whom have also campaigned against Parliament’s decision to treble the cap on tuition fees in state universities to £9,000 per year.
The UCU said that the government’s failure to protect the subjects would stop all but the wealthiest from being able to study them.
The union pointed to the example of London Metropolitan University, which plans to cut 70 per cent of its courses and scrap virtually of all its arts, humanities and social sciences provision as a result of the new funding plans.
Sally Hunt accused the government of “looking to create a market within the university sector”. She said that ministers should instead focus “on providing opportunities for all not just a select few”.