Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 91

Submission from the Rev Canon Gordon Oliver, Director of Ministry and Training, Diocese of Rochester


  I write in two capacities:

    (a)  Director of Ministry and Training responsible for initial and in-service training of Church of England clergy and licensed lay ministers. Vocational training given at HE levels 1-4 (undergraduate certificate to MA) in partnership with Christ Church Canterbury University.

    (b)  Chair of the Council of the South East Institute for Theological Education (SEITE) which is the lead providing body in the South East Regional Training Partnership for pre-ordination theological education for clergy for the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Lutheran Church of Great Britain. Vocational theological education given at HE levels 2-4 in partnership with the University of Kent.


  2.1  Around 50% of all clergy candidates enter pre-ordination training after age 35, having already taken careers in other settings, often requiring HE qualifications at graduate level. Around 90% of all candidates for licensed lay ministries (eg Reader, Pastoral Assistant, Youth and Community Workers, etc.) enter initial training after qualifying and serving for a time in other fields.

  2.2  The Churches work ecumenically in partnership with each other and with universities to deliver vocational theological education and training which is disciplined, progressive and quality assured to people who will serve the communities beyond as well as within the churches. These people contribute in major ways to the growth of community cohesion and the flourishing of people who are often in the poorest of circumstances. Furthermore, each ordained and licensed minister, like other community workers, draws together and focuses the contributions to community well-being of many volunteer workers. The financial rewards for ordained and lay church workers are minimal or nil.

  2.3  HEFCE funding is a significant factor in prospering the partnerships between religious bodies and universities which serve to help the growth of vocational higher education that is of high quality, broadly based, vocationally focused, professionally delivered and fully accountable. These are values worth preserving at a time when HMG are concerned about the influence of religious groups whose standards do not reflect these ideals.

  2.4  Registered Charities such as the Churches do not have the financial base to sustain the hugely increased costs of vocational ministerial education that would arise if the HEFCE funding part of the partnerships with universities were to be withdrawn. It is important to emphasise that what is involved here is vocational higher education, not merely "learning for leisure" by the middle classes.


  It is only right that HMG should aim to focus limited resources where they are most needed. Nevertheless, blanket withdrawal of HEFCE funding on the basis of ELQs is such a blunt instrument that it is bound to lead to massive injustice and to the withdrawal of large amounts of vocational higher education provision that otherwise would continue to serve to build up the effectiveness of people working for low level or no financial rewards who are seeking to serve the community to the highest of professional standards.

  3.1  The question then is how to achieve the proper focusing of HEFCE funds.

  Clearly, discriminating on the grounds of subjects studied would lead to charges of arbitrary decisions which would be a nightmare to administrate and please no-one—and could lead to deep injustice.


  4.1  Withdraw the policy and seek to increase HEFCE funding on the grounds that universities, especially those which specialise in vocational HE, are under enormous financial pressure already, and career re-direction HE is not a luxury but a necessity in a progressive and rapidly changing society.

  4.2  If the policy must be applied, then ensure that people sponsored for HE programmes offered through fully documented partnerships between Registered Charites and Universities are designated as exempt from the application of the policy.

January 2008

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