Inside NCH: London’s exclusive private uni where a degree costs £54,000

It’s like a finishing school for grad jobs

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In the heart of West London, in between UCL and the British Museum is the New College of the Humanities, a private university set up by philosopher AC Grayling three years ago.

Go to the NCH, they say, and you’ll leave with a world class degree taught by leading experts in History, Economics, Law or Politics. You’ll by snapped up by top recruiters, desperate to hire you for their high-flying grad schemes. Founding Prof Grayling, a household name in philosophy, says you’ll discover a “richer kind of perception of things, so that you come out at the other end an educated person –– not merely trained”. All this can be yours for just £54,000. That’s £18,000 a year, if you’re counting, on top of housing fees in Central London.

When NCH’s doors opened in 2012, furious protesters wailed about the privatisation of unis and the elite band of professors who they thought were barring entry to poorer students. Incensed demonstrators even picketed the street as freshers arrived for their first day. Three years on, the pioneer class is about to graduate –– how well are they set up for real life? Has the uni turned out a class of polished scholars ready to take on the world? We chatted to a handful of hotshot finalists as they get ready for graduation and the premier jobs awaiting them.


Philosopher AC Grayling, founder of NCH


NCH’s campus in West London

Meet Alex Pluthero, 22, from London. She’s about to leave with a degree in Economics with Law on the side. NCH courses work like American unis with a major and minor: here they’re called degrees and contextuals. Alex is spending her summer in the States on holiday before starting the sales grad scheme at drinks giant Diageo, having turned down a job offer at Mars.

As one of the best students sent our way by NCH’s press office, Alex is quick to rave about her time at the uni, its tight-knit vibe and the opportunities available post-degree.

“We do all know each other very well, we do know pretty much what everyone’s up to,” she explains. “It’s a fascinating place to be –– you’ve got graduates who are going to be lawyers and investment bankers. Loads of people are also going on to do Masters’ degrees or further studies.”

Alex Pluthero

Alex Pluthero

Alex says her course was a busy mix of four lectures a week on top of small group and one-to-one tutorials, which she describes as “all-consuming”.

But the course she’s the keenest to talk about is the Professional Programme, teaching practical advice on how to get a job, which ran throughout her degree. Learning marketing, research, stats and strategy, with networking, teamwork and problem solving, it’s essentially Job Interview Studies –– and makes you ideally suited to walk straight into a grad scheme.

“It gives you the chance to showcase your abilities. The whole point is to bring you into the real world,” says Alex. “You learn the basics from how to write a proper email, writing and presentation skills, to how to get a job and manage your finances.”

And did it help her nail her place at Diageo?

“Absolutely. On a broader level, the way the whole course was structured to help. We have the breadth and depth of the degree, and being able to do logic and critical thinking trained me to help understand what I wanted to do and what I was good at.”

It sounds like it’s designed to gear you up for a future of soul-crippling spreadsheets and elevator small-talk. Not that it was ever going to be a competitor of Leeds or Manchester for wild nights out, but it’s fun to think of Freshers’ Week at NCH: Jägerbombs with AC Grayling. As unis go, even Adrian Mole could never have imagined a college more Oxbridge than Oxbridge.

If the idea of choosing an indeterminate degree based on interwoven disciplines appeals as shown in their diagram, then this is the place for you.

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How to decide your course at NCH

Surely going to a uni like this is the goal of a true nerd, who, in the breaks between having their head getting stuffed down the toilet, dreamed of hurrying to lectures across bustling courtyards, carrying a satchel and wearing a college scarf. Poetry by Baudelaire, economics by Keynes. The University Challenge team, approval from Paxman. Can you imagine beer-chugging rugby players tearing down the halls at NCH?

Alex 2

Talking about the uni’s sense of fun, Alex explains: “There’s a campus vibe just like Imperial or UCL. We’re part of the University of London and we’re all just a bunch of 20-somethings. We just like to have fun.” Maybe asking someone to prove they’re cool is an unfair question but NCH begins to appear less like the high-minded dream factory AC Grayling proposed, and more of an efficient corporate finishing school.

Try Veronica Caraman, 21, from Moldova, who just finished doing Economics with a Politics contextual, and has already started as a financial analyst at Deutschbank in Frankfurt.

“My degree was incredibly interesting and I enjoyed every bit of it,” she tells me during a quick break from a banking conference in Amsterdam. “The Economics course was very well-taught, and it had a lot of Maths. It was the best and worst three years of my life. I had sleepless nights preparing for one-to-ones and did at least seven hours of constant work a day, not including the revision period. But NCH has given me to the tools to develop as a person.”

In a recent interview, AC Grayling laid out a rosy vision for his grads, who would shine at “the dinner party of life”. And as one of the 50 students who joined the uni in 2012, Veronica sings the same party line.

“We all know each other’s business by now. You get groups of 10 to 15 who get together and have parties, so I get to talk to people who do English and History, with different perspectives on things. I don’t just have Economics friends, I genuinely believe we have made friends for life.” As model students go, Veronica has to be the university press office’s golden ticket –– and to be fair, it sounds like she loves it. Then again, she’s working for Deutschbank and not the IMF.


Veronica Caraman (the press office only sent us photogenic blonde students)

But what about the insane cost? NCH claim 30 per cent of their students are on full or half scholarships, and everyone I’m put in touch with isn’t a full fee-paying student. Chatting to Veronica about fees, she responds, a bit sharply: “It’s not something I’m prepared to talk about.

“NCH has much more to offer than talks about the cost –– they have scholarships and exhibitions. Thinking you can’t go because you don’t have the money is wrong.”

Alex, Skyping from a holiday house on America’s East Coast, agrees: “It’s about the students, not about the money.”

Enter English and Art History finalist Frances Bryon, 21, from Southampton: the last finalist NCH put us in touch with. She’s heading into a grad scheme with property company Savills, and like a true grad schemer, she didn’t want to send on a picture of her. Employment prospects, and so on.

“There is a good social life here: if you want to go out for a drink after work, there’s a pub around the corner. I tended to see [my degree] as a 9 to 5 job, I tend to hate working in the evenings. Everyone works really hard here. There’s a hard working environment.”

The business courses, accounting skills and marketing projects, she explains, “really helped” her get a job.

Does NCH sound like it has the makings of AC Grayling’s academic utopia? Do students from around the globe congregate in fire-lit parlours to exchange trailblazing ideas? It mostly feels like a well-oiled grad scheme production line. You go there not so much to be ready for the dinner party of life, more the corporate canteen. Deutschbank, Diageo and Savills –– bet you can’t wait to be regaled about interest rates over crème brûlée and an aromatic Shiraz.

It’s hardly surprising when students are forking out £200 for interview practice and doing months of unpaid work experience at their target companies years before properly applying there. This is just the latest iteration of grad job desparation.

It’s an exclusive university offering competitive courses at £54,000 a year. What did you expect?