Church universities urged not to be coy about Christianity

10 November 2011

by Margaret Holness Education Correspondent

THE 15 church universities and col­leges in the Cathedral Group should emphasise their Christian back­ground and ethical values when market­ing their institutions, a report from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE), out this month, suggests. It urges Group members to play up their distinctive­ness when marketing their institu­tions, but notes that some are “too coy” about doing so.

The report, Distinctiveness and Identity in a Challenging HE Envir­on­ment, backed by the Higher Edu­cation Funding Council for England (HEFCE), is based on a close study of eight church-based institutions by the authors — LFHE’s chief execu­tive, Eddie New­combe, and a former registrar of the University of Man­chester, Ewart Wooldridge.

They found that, while some mem­ber institutions, particularly those with Roman Catholic involve­ment, were confident about display­ing their faith heritage in prospec­tuses and websites, others were “more reticent — perhaps wishing to be seen like any other institution”.

Although all 15 member institu­tions were founded as denomina­tional teacher-training colleges, and had chapels, the prominence given to Christian symbols differed signifi­cantly. They also varied in the strength of their relationship with national Church bodies. RC institu­tions, and those with significant RC involvement, had more structured links from which their C of E coun­ter­parts could benefit, the report says.

The authors also propose an annual meeting between all the faith-based institutions and their national bodies. “This would but­tress the unique constituencies which the institutions have, and strengthen their voice.”

Institutional leadership was crucial to creating and sustaining the Christian-based culture of each institution, particularly in the larger universities, the report found. Its authors “identified specific cases when the advent of a new Vice-Chancellor/Principal . . . had a profound impact in re-stating the faith heritage of the institution”.

The report concludes that their Christian-based values mark out church from secular institutions in most areas. The centrality of the chaplaincy, a high level of student support, and a tradition of engage­ment with local communities were areas in which Cathedral Group institutions excelled.

Moreover, as higher education became increasingly commercial­ised, they upheld an alternative model for the rest of the sector. “Faith-based institutions are differ­ent, at least in degree, from the rest of the sector and are well placed to respond to the challenges facing higher education.”

The chairman of the Cathedral Group, Professor Tim Wheeler, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Chester, said: “At a turbulent time it is important for every institution to reaffirm the values and activities essential to its identity. This means looking not just at its mission, brand and marketing but how its organisa­tional character distin­guishes it from others.”

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