LONDON -- A group of prominent British academics said Sunday they are starting a private liberal arts university in London to rival the country's elite institutions in Oxford and Cambridge.
The New College of the Humanities will be led by AC Grayling, a renowned philosophy professor, and the faculty will include Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and successful author, economics professor Niall Ferguson, and other prominent educators.
Grayling told The Associated Press the new college is needed because of substantial cuts mandated by the British government that will sharply reduce the teaching of the humanities and social sciences throughout the British higher educational system.
"The provision of the humanities – history, philosophy, literature – is shrinking," he said. "It has an intrinsic value, but also the U.K. economy is a service economy and these graduates go into law, journalism, government. It's a resource for this wide range of endeavors."
The new college will be a relatively small institution boasting at least one teacher for every 10 students and offering one-to-one tutorials and extensive contact between teachers and students.
Grayling said this type of teaching standard is difficult to maintain, even for Oxford and Cambridge, because of the high cost.
He said the new college in the Bloomsbury section of central London will offer degrees in literature, history, economics, law and other disciplines, in conjunction with the University of London. Tuition fees will be set at 18,000 pounds ($29,500) per year, double the maximum allowed under a government cap on public universities.
The government mandated maximum fee of 9,000 pounds ($14,750) is too low to be sustainable, Grayling said.
Grayling said "a significant number" of scholarships would be awarded to excellent students to offset the high tuition.
"We've tried to learn from the American model how to mitigate the effects of the expensive costs by means of either full scholarship or charging some students only very low fees," he said. The goal is for 20 percent of the first class to receive financial help, he said, with the percentage to rise after that.
The startup college is being funded by private investors, including many with connection to London's financial community. The amount of money being raised is not being made public.
The new college has started accepting admissions applications, with classes expected to begin in October 2012.