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Recruitment to higher-education institutions with church identity

by
18 June 2008

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From the Principal of Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln
Sir, — It was good to see Professor John Howson’s article about church higher education (Education, 13 June), and particularly pleasing to see a picture of some of our own freshers at the top of the article.

I would want to point out that where our own recruitment is described as “declining less than the average”, it would be more accurate to say that our applications are increasing — a more positive situation — and I am sure we are not alone in this.

In fact, I suspect that the overall picture is more complex than the article suggested. Any direct causal link drawn between church identity in the name of an institution and its success in recruiting fails to take into account many other issues such as regional location, portfolio of courses, and reputation, and at the same time makes huge assumptions about students’ understanding and awareness of what we might call theological general knowledge.

By no means every student applying to Newman University College has any awareness of John Henry Newman and what he stands for. It is hard to see, too, how the University of Winchester as a title is notably less explicitly Christian than King Alfred’s College, its previous title, to that same potential undergraduate.

The other cautionary note that any vice-chancellor or principal would strike is that, at this time of year, application rates are not the most significant measure. Yes, we all want a high application rate, but far more significant is the conversion rate: the proportion of students who are offered places and then accept, achieve their grades, and enrol.

The other slightly strange feature of the article is the use of the term “former church colleges” to describe a set of institutions that retain their church identities, but have become either universities or university colleges. Again, this phrase seems to offer a sense of abandonment of the church mission, which is far from the reality.

The really positive story about the church higher-education institutions is that almost all of us now are either universities or university colleges: in other words, that we have demonstrated that our quality processes are rigorous enough for us to be able to award our own degrees, and that, after the many closures of church colleges in the past, we now have a stable and successful group, working together across ecumenical boundaries through the Council of Church Colleges and Universities, and offering opportunities to students of all faiths and none to study in an environment where faith is respected and taken seriously.

MURIEL ROBINSON
Bishop Grosseteste University College
Lincoln LN1 3DY

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