The privately funded New College of the Humanities will be based in Bloomsbury in London.
It will admit its first undergraduates in October 2012, offering degrees validated by the University of London.
It is being established by a stable of well-known academics, led by philosopher A.C. Grayling and including Richard Dawkins, Simon Blackburn and Niall Ferguson.
It will offer degrees in law, economics, history, philosophy and English literature, and students will also be required to take three “intellectual skills” modules in science literacy, logic and critical thinking and applied ethics.
The college will also teach “practical professional skills” such as financial literacy, teamwork and presentation, which are designed to improve employment prospects.
The model is a striking addition to the UK higher education sector, and appears to be a direct response to the government’s call for new providers to enter the market.
It will offer one-to-one tutorials and 12-13 contact hours per week, and is guaranteeing a student-teacher ration of better than 10 to one.
However, while private providers are often spoken of as a way to drive down prices, the £18,000 fee is twice the £9,000-a-year maximum that publicly funded institutions will be permitted to charge from 2012.
Professor Grayling, who is professor of philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, said fees at the new college would be the same for UK and overseas students, and that over 30 per cent of students would receive financial support.
In the first year this support would range from a full scholarship to assisted places charged at £7,200 a year.
Speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, he suggested that the college was being launched as a direct response to the government’s decision to withdraw public funding from higher education in general, and the arts and humanities in particular.
However, Baroness Blackstone, vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich and former Labour education secretary, claimed that it would be “an institution for the very rich, a few people with bursaries and overseas students”.
She added: “As such, I would say don’t go near it. There are many good universities that will continue to offer the humanities…£18,000 a year for humanities courses is extraordinarily high. I think it’s a very bad deal. The things [the college] is going to provide are in fact already provided at other good universities.”