Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 88

Submission from Westminster College, Cambridge


  From a United Reformed Church theological college in Cambridge, working with partners in other churches and faith traditions, comes a plea that theology and theology for ministry courses should be exempt from the ELQ cuts. We come from a church tradition which has, in the past, been excluded from the universities and which it took powerful campaigning nonconformists to open up for us. From that experience comes a plea that training for ministry within the church does not have to revert to a narrow base, but can remain firmly within the public sphere. The ELQ cuts, if implemented, would have a dramatic impact on our work and would set back by a long way the progress we have made in providing education for ministry that is ecumenical, academically credible and professionally excellent.


  1.  Westminster College is a college of the United Reformed Church, and is part of the Cambridge Theological Federation that has seven full member institutions and four associate member institutions providing training for ministry within most of the main-stream churches in England. Within the whole Federation there are about 450 students. We are privileged to work alongside Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Orthodox and others.

  2.  We are also proud, at Westminster, to be able to educate our future ministers through study at two universities, Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin. We draw on our own highly professional staff and also on the staff at the Cambridge University Divinity Faculty to provide training that is professional, thorough and tested beyond a solely church setting. We rejoice in providing education for public ministry and service to the community which is validated and assessed in ways that are publicly measurable and accountable. Westminster College represents part of the tradition known as "Nonconformist", those who were once excluded from our universities by virtue of being outside the Church of England. We value beyond measure the privilege of access to university study and believe deeply that those who train for ministry in the church should have such access and take full advantage of it.

  3.  Almost all our students are studying for ministry on degree programmes. About 80% of them come with a first degree already, usually in a subject other than theology.


  4.  The proposed funding changes will have a devastating effect on our life and on our ability to train people for the ministry of our churches with the rigour which we hold dear and which our society now demands and rightly expects.

  5.  The removal of HEFCE funding for students who already have a first degree will, for example, more than double the course fee payable to Cambridge University, from £3,070 per head to a figure likely to be between £6,300 and £9,000. A similar impact would be made for a student studying through Anglia Ruskin. The effect of this would certainly be to reduce student numbers, even to a level that would make some of the courses we presently offer unviable. This would have an impact not only on ministerial training, but on the university faculties with which we presently work to provide it.


  6.  We are not confident that the implications of these cuts have been thought through. We applaud the Government's aim to give a wider range of people access to higher education, but believe that this particular strategy will not achieve that aim, and certainly not without drastic, and unforeseen, consequences elsewhere.

  7.  We believe that ministers in our churches are servants of the community, not only of the Church, and that it is vital that they be well educated and resourced. Indeed, we would say that it is often ministers, in local churches and communities, who have inspired and encouraged people towards higher education! They have themselves often been an access route for those who could not have imagined themselves studying for a university degree.

  8.  The funding provision that exists now gives the churches the opportunity to train their ministers in the public space—and not in narrow faith-based communities only. The Government has shown itself aware of the dangers of faith communities becoming insular and turning inward. We want to encourage the future ministers of our churches to belong fully to the society in which they minister and to face its challenges and questions—this is what happens when preparation for ministry includes taking a publicly validated degree.


  9.  We recommend that theology and theology for ministry courses be added to those exempted from the ELQ cuts. This will have a modest impact of Government funds, but would enable all the churches to continue to provide the best possible training for their ministers.

January 2008

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