Catholic and other colleges of higher education deserve to be awarded university status, argues Gordon McGregor
THESE ARE GOOD years for the Church Colleges of Higher Education. There are 21 of them, eleven Church of England, two Methodist, two Free Church, and six strong Catholic Colleges: Christ's and Notre Dame, Liverpool; Digby Stuart, Roehampton; La Sainte Union, Southampton;
Newman, Birmingham; St Mary's,
Twickenham; and Trinity and All
Saints, Leeds. This term they
enrolled 70,000 students the same number as the whole British university system in 1951.
All the more impressive because in 1973-74 the government's drastic reductions in teacher education closed 30 out of 51 Church Colleges. The 21 survivors were allocated 11,000 places and told to `Diversify or Wither'. They accepted the challenge and are prospering in the unified Higher Education Sector, as larger diversified institutions.
The education of teachers remains a central commitment, particularly for the Catholic Colleges, but the old Teacher Training College image dies hard even among the educationally wellinformed. In fact this year fewer than 40 per cent of Church College students are in teacher education. 21,000 are reading BA or BSc courses in Humanities, Arts and Sciences, 20,000 more are on professional degree programmes including Occupational Therapy, ,Physiotherapy, Nursing, Midwifery, Sports Science, Business, TV, Film and Radio, Dramatherapy, Social and Youth Work, Design, Engineering, Information Technology and Accountancy.
With a university-style curriculum are they still Church Colleges? The 1988 Education Act, which liberated the former polytechnics and LEA colleges, encouraged the Church Colleges to rethink their 'distinctiveness'. The Colleges regrouped in an ecumenical Council of Church and Associated College (CCAC) challenging themselves in their 1988 MissionStatement to provide "for students of all faiths or none high quality higher education in contexts in which the study and practice of the Christian Faith is taken seri ously". We undertake to provide opportunities for students "to encounter Christian insights and experience in the moral, ethical, social, political, religious, philosophical and cultural issues which arise in higher education programmes and to consider them freely alongside a wide range of other insights".
A few universities may offer similar opportunities. Compari son is not the point. They may we must we were founded to do so. We are translating promise into practice through our ten-year project, Engaging the Curriculum, commissioning from inter national scholars curriculum materials which offer students "Christian insights and experience" in our main disciplines beginning with Science Education and Sociology. TheSe publications will be available to all universities and entirely optional in our own colleges. They will have to be excellent to command attention and there is no whiff of Christian coercion. We are extending the academic freedom of our members, not infringing it. We are also providing a supportive environment in which the committed can grow in faith and the uncommitted can see faith in action. The project goes to the heart of our Christian witness; as the Archbishop of York said at the launch: "Talk about values is in the end talk about beliefs".
Open government is also central to our convictions. CCAC colleges are committed "to open, participatory styles of management, to open recruitment policies offering equal opportunities, to fostering collegiate community and to encouraging international education". Rejecting recent Government pressures, we maintain strong staff and student involvement in the formulation of college policy and achieve a balance of consultation with decisiveness. We echo Rheinhold Niebuhr: "Our capacity for good makes democracy possible; our capacity for evil makes democracy essential".
Our faith in democracy is such that we have formed a Church Colleges All-Party Parliamentary Group to inform MPs accurately of the effects of government policy. We have had three good meetings this year and are pleased that the universities have now followed our lead.
We also welcome the support of good policy decisions, from the unified Higher Education Funding Council. The Colleges' attempts in the 1970s to launch new degrees were hampered because universities received twice as much money as colleges for similar programmes.
HEFCE has moved towards equal funding. Church Colleges have a fair chance to compete for resources for teaching and research and through the HEFCE Advisory Committee for Church Colleges of which Liverpool auxiliary Bishop Vincent Malone and Gerard Turnbull, Principal at Trinity and All Saints College, are key members we have a direct negotiating access. The Council's preference for co-operation between institutions rather than merger has heartened smaller Church Colleges and big ones located close to universities.
One issue has not been well handled by the Department of Education. Several Church Colleges excelled in the 1992 Universities Research Review, notably Roehampton Institute (of which Digby Stuart is a part) and Cheltenham and Gloucester. Both have all the qualifications for university status , already awarded to demonstrably less successful institutions and should not be denied it.
CCAC will not let this issue rest. As Chairman I shall be advising several of our colleges to apply for degree-awarding powers as a stage to university status. We will face some interesting choices. Should we work towards a group a co-operating but independent Christian universities, towards an Ecumenical Christian University with a small central bureaucracy and a collegiate structure, or might the Catholic Colleges eventually wish to form a National. Catholic University?
My own hope is for a strengthened Council of Christian Universities and Colleges to develop our ecumenical thrust, and preserve variety of opportunity in a range of independent but co-operating institutions. For four year the headquarters of CCAC has been at University College of Ripon and York St John, next year it moves to La Sainte Union Catholic College with its principal Dr Anand Chitnis in the chair.
Are our colleges of "high quality"? Last year a national survey showed that our degree and employment success compared well with most university levels. This year, for example, Ripon and York St John (3600 students) gained 820 University of Leeds honours degrees, 42 were firsts, 399 upper seconds and 350 lower seconds, in total making 96.5 per cent of our graduates getting firsts or seconds. The drop out/failure rate was a low 6.5 per cent. Of our 1993 graduates, 71 per cent gained full-time posts while another 22 per cent continued in higher education. Few universities can exceed these figures.
We offer university education in colleges which believe in community where value for money is not neglected, but Value for individuals comes first.
Professor Gordon McGregor is Chairman of the CCAC and Principal at the University College of Ripon and York St John.