NCH’s £18k-a-year private law degree sparks new battle of the law schools

College of Law (CoL) chief executive Nigel Savage has hit out at the UK’s newest private university, which plans to offer a law degree costing £18,000 per year.

The New College of the Humanities (NCH), which is being backed by 14 celebrity academics including the likes of philosopher AC Grayling and biologist Richard Dawkins, claims that it will teach what it terms ’gifted’ undergraduates and prepare them for degrees from the University of London.

Savage, whose own institution recently unveiled plans to launch a two-year law degree costing £18,000 in total, argued: “It’s a load of cobblers. Those students have as much chance of ­seeing these ageing professors as we have of bumping into Jamie Oliver at one of his restaurants.”

So far, NCH’s law faculty has appointed Ronald Dworkin, the world-renowned legal philosopher, and Adrian Zuckerman, professor of civil procedure at the University of Oxford, but it hopes to announce further hires in the coming months.

In his latest blog, Professor Richard Moorhead of Cardiff Law School also raised doubts about whether the students will be taught by the “stars”.

But Moorhead admitted to The Lawyer that, with such significant financial backing, NCH is unlikely to struggle to hire some of the country’s top tutors. That said, he added that some may see it as a risky move while others may have ethical reasons for steering clear.

Moorhead also questioned whether NCH was offering true value for money because, with just one hour of one-to-one tuition per week, the number of contact hours students will have with tutors will be lower than that offered by traditional universities.

But according to NCH students will have between 12 and 13 hours of contact time per week with tutors, comprising lectures and tutorials, both one-to-one and two-to-one.
Meanwhile, the head of another law school has described the move as a “publicity stunt” that has gone horribly wrong, and questions how a course that is not going to be regulated by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education could cost so much.

BPP University College, which in 2010 became the UK’s first private university and is seen by many as NCH’s most significant rival, declined to comment. BPP is yet to set its course fees for the forthcoming academic year.

Moorhead did, however, argue that law firms will soon start to favour students from NCH as it “feels and smells like Oxbridge”.

He added: “Employers will respond cautiously to start with, but if they’re being honest firms will like the social selection.”

Indeed, law firm graduate recruitment teams at the top City firms have remained tight-lipped about whether they will target ­students enrolling on NCH degree programmes.

Linklaters joint graduate recruitment partner Mark Middleton, for example, said in a statement: “While we see the establishment of this new university, with its stated aim of attracting the brightest students, as an interesting development, only time will tell whether its graduates are indeed among the best.”

In addition to legal courses, the new Bloomsbury-based organisation also plans to offer degrees in ­economics, history, English literature and philosophy. NCH will see its first cohort of students arrive in autumn 2012.

NCH’s launch may raise more questions than it answers, but one thing is sure – it is an inevitable response to the funding ­crisis that is engulfing the higher education sector.

“Educationally, I think it’s rather disappointing,” said Moorhead. “Commercially, I think it’ll be a success. But most importantly, this is an inevitable development.”