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There has been an international cultural shift to democratically redistribute academic resources available, but mainly to an elite. This includes established universities sharing content online (Berkeley); content aggregators (OpenCulture, Apple’s iTunesU); ventures like Coursera delivering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); and local free universities such as People's Political Economy. Demand for such provision is striking.

IF shares the aim of providing democratic access to academic learning, but notes important gaps in provision such as the vital social elements of traditional higher education, e.g. seminars/mentoring, required to reinforce self-directed learning.


The if solution

IF, the project organisers, will help non-graduate school-leavers and young workers aged 18 - 30 access a free six-month humanities survey course. 

IF will be a new kind of networked ‘University’ institution, providing its foundation degree level course in the humanities by:

  • 'Hacking' London’s cultural resources: i.e. directing IF students to free: gallery events; museum talks; institutional lectures; concerts; films; festivals.

  • Curating free online humanities content.

  • Convening a network of experts willing to donate shares of their time (e.g. 2-3 hours every 6 months) to create a new composite humanities department.

Students will choose seven modules (lasting three weeks), from 10 possible subjects: History, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Classics, Literature, Music, The Plastic Arts, Cultural Studies, History of Science, Methods.

Each week IF students will be:

  • Asked to watch/listen/read from a learning list of free online content 

  • Directed to a free event

  • Brought together for a seminar with a subject expert (who has donated their time) to discuss the week’s topics and questions. Seminars will involve up to 20 students. Volunteers will be approached based on their ability to teach on the IF syllabus topic/questions for that week.



Beyond set-up costs (e.g. digital infrastructure) ongoing IF running costs will include an administrator’s wages (co-ordinating students and experts) and continuing strategic development costs.

Short-term: Initial service design covered by £3000 - private investment. Additional support sought from RSA Catalyst and Unltd.

Mid-term: Crowdfunding campaign planned to support a pilot and IF term 1. Engagement with Esmee Fairbairn Foundation towards an application to support core costs.

Long-term: Potential for IF commercial revenue streams. For example by augmenting the normal syllabus with a series of for-profit, high profile keynote lectures. The long-term aim being to build a brand dedicated to the public understanding of the humanities that would in turn attract corporate sponsorship.

A commercial concern, currently requesting confidentiality, is donating space as part of its corporate social responsibility plan.


Visit IF's website