A group of graduates in Oxford.
Paul Hackett  /  Reuters
A group of graduates gather outside the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford to have their photograph taken after a graduation ceremony at Oxford University. A group of prominent British scholars has created a new university based that they hope will deliver an education to rival that of elite British universities Oxford or Cambridge.
updated 6/6/2011 10:37:20 AM ET 2011-06-06T14:37:20

While many continue to be critical about the worth of an American college degree, some prominent British scholars plan to create their own university based on the U.S. liberal arts college model.

London’s New College of the Humanities, a new private university staffed by some of the world's most famous academics, will carry a similar price tag to U.S. schools and an education the scholars say will rival those now offered at Oxford or Cambridge — two of the oldest and most elite universities in the world.

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Most Americans who are used to the cost of a private college education wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the New College of the Humanities’ tuition. At £18,000 ($30,000) a year, the private school’s cost seems comparable to the American private four-year college average of $27,293, according to collegeboard.com.

But with the British government recently setting fees for England’s public universities at a maximum of £9,000 ($14,756) beginning September next year, many Brits are unlikely to justify the new university’s high tuition.

AC Grayling, currently a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, said he wants to offer a “new model of higher education for the humanities in the UK,” the BBC reported on Sunday.

Private investors have contributed millions of pounds to the New College of the Humanities, which will be based in Bloomsbury, in central London. So far, 14 prominent professors have signed on, including biologist Richard Dawkins and historian Sir David Cannadine.

The new university, which will open to 200 undergraduates in September 2012, will offer eight undergraduate courses and degrees covering law, economics, history, English literature and philosophy.

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But will mirroring a U.S. liberal arts education ensure a quality education for those who deserve it?

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the UK’s largest trade union and professional association, doesn’t seem to think so.

"While many would love the opportunity to be taught by the likes of AC 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,” she told the BBC.

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