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.”