THE UPTURN in young ordinands coming forward for training in the Church of England could be checked, after a government move to redistribute £100 million to finance more first degrees.
The Higher Education Funding Council has been forced to find £100-million-a-year cuts by the Treasury. On 7 December, it announced that it plans to save the bulk of this by not funding second qualifications that are equivalent to, or less than, a person’s existing qualification. Most theological qualifications come into this category.
The cuts, due to be implemented next autumn, would leave the Church up to £1.5 million a year short, experts warned this week.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said on Monday that he was very worried about the cuts and had already received representations about them. But he did not yet know the full extent of the likely impact on the Church. The cost to the Church was likely to be about £2500 per candidate.
The Principal of Westcott House Theological College, Cambridge, the Revd Dr Martin Seeley, said on Tuesday: “All colleges and courses training routes are threatened by this move, and it will have an impact on the Church. We hope we can get the Government to recognise the vital community role clergy perform.”
The Cambridge Federation of theological colleges, which includes Anglican, Methodist, Orthodox, URC, Roman Catholic, and Jewish studies, expected to lose £120,000 a year and that pattern would be repeated across the land.
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said last week that the new policy was “worrying and misguided in itself, and contrary to the Government’s policy of prompting life long learning”.
It could affect the Church’s “brightest and best students”, he said. “Twenty-five per cent of candidates for training do not have a first degree, but the high proportion that does have one is a good thing; now it seems, the better the quality of the cohort, the more it is penalised. . .
“If we do not have an exemption, it could lead to less-well-trained clergy for the Church, and also for the wider civil society.” The Church was making representations to ministers, and would press for all the degrees of all clergy — and not just those of imams, as has been suggested — to be exempt from the cuts.
The two institutions most affected by the proposals are likely to be the Open University and Birkbeck College, London. The Open University is facing cuts in funding of £30 million a year.
The Bishop of Southwark, Dr Tom Butler, said he expected the cuts would hit his diocese’s scheme to ensure that post-ordination training was validated by an academic institution. The institutions could at present reclaim the cost of validation from the Government, he said on Monday.
A spokesman said that the Church would submit written evidence to the Select Committee of the Department of Innovation Universities and Skills by 14 January. The Bishop of Norwich was seeking a meeting with the Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell, to express the Church’s concerns.