Three years ago I wrote a blog post hailing the New College for the Humanities as a parodically bad response to the ongoing marketisation of UK higher education, which prompted me to quit the system at that time. The NCH offers tuition at £18,000, and presumably more for its overseas intake (the college keeps its foreign students’ rates secret). That’s double the rate that was then being introduced as the sector norm in public universities, for which the jeunesse dorée get to camp in Bloomsbury, drawn by the roster of telly dons that the college had on board, at least for publicity purposes.

At the end of the post, without much hope that it would happen, I sketched an alternative to the NCH:

Found a national humanities and social sciences college whose intake, while based on academic merit, is confined to state-school pupils, with a bias towards those from non-academic backgrounds, sought through an active outreach programme... Charge no up-front or deferred fees. Rather than dangling a fat pay cheque in front of airmiles profs flown in for a night at the Dorchester, the college would treat invitations to give guest lectures as an honour.

Now comes the IF: This University Is Free project. I haven’t been involved in it, but have offered free teaching, and urge others who are in a position to do so to follow suit. IF aims to set up free humanities courses in London using the capital’s free cultural assets. They’re asking for kickstarter funding, initially for a summer school which will also serve as a pilot for a larger-scale operation to be launched later this year.

I know the case against. A one-off third-sector initiative is no real substitute for a properly funded state higher education sector. Sure. But it is not trying to be and the fact that the better-than-nothing is not ideal is no reason to let it be vanquished by the undeniably crap.

IF needs to raise £10,000 – just over half of one UK student’s annual fees at the NCH – by Tuesday 25 March to meet their kickstarter target. At the time of writing they’re about £2700 short and under kickstarter rules don’t get a bean if they fail to hit their target. So if you have some spare change or can shake down someone for a donation, please do.

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