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Durham University to validate C of E ordination training

29 June 2012


DURHAM University has won a contract to validate ordination training for Church of England clergy from 2014.

The partnership fulfils a recommendation of the Working Party of the Ministry Council, that the Church should develop a suite of Higher Education (HE) Awards with a single validating partner. It is intended to make validation simpler and more affordable. Currently, 19 universities validate training at 23 theological institutions.

From 2014, Durham University will be responsible for granting awards, and overseeing their assessment and regulation. The vice-chancellor of Durham University, Professor Christopher Higgins, said that the university was "exceptionally well-placed" to work with the Church because of its "experience over 100 years of close partnership in ministerial training" through St John's College, and, at one time, St Chad's College.

Representatives of the Baptist, Methodist, and United Reformed Churches will continue to be involved, with the intention of sharing the awards in due course. Current students will continue with the awards for which they have been entered, and current validation schemes will be honoured.

The Principal of the South West Ministry Training Course, Prebendary David Moss, congratulated the C of E on the partnership, but said: "I would be very disappointed if we were forced to finish our relationship with University of Exeter. . . The question for us is what we lose from this arrangement."

Other institutions are also asking this question. The Principal of the South East Institute of Theological Education (SEITE), Canon Jeremy Worthen, said he hoped that the project would "allow greater coherence between training before, and after, ordinations". But he echoed concerns about relationships with local universities, something that institutions had been "strongly pursuing". SEITE has an "excellent" partnership with Canterbury Christ Church University.

He agreed with the conclusion of the Sheffield report, published in December, that "there are many different ways of working in partnership [with universities] which need not include HE validation," but believes that such relationships will "inevitably be weaker. . . Universities will ask the question: is it worth it?"

The Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon, near Oxford, Canon Professor Martyn Percy, said that colleges and courses would be working closely with the Ministry Division and Durham University to ensure that "distinctive regional and theological characteristics remain supported and affirmed under the new arrangements".

One of the drivers of the reforms is the rising cost of ministerial training. The Sheffield Working Party estimated last year that HE reforms would cause theological institutions to lose £924,000 in funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England in 2012, while increasing Vote-1 funding requirements to £626,000 as a result of rising student and validation fees.

The report also referred to a "deep desire" within the House of Bishops, training institutions, and the General Synod to "bring into clearer focus the common elements of our training". The offer made by a partner university "varies immensely", and institutions "often find themselves working in competition".

The report argued that it would be possible to create the awards while preserving a "mixed ecology" of training, partly by allowing exceptions where courses are fully or part-taught by university theology faculties.

The Principal of Ridley Hall, Canon Andrew Norman, said that a "mixed economy" would prevail at Cambridge, some students receiving a Cambridge degree, and others receiving one that was validated by Durham.

There remained, however, concerns about independent and international students, and it would also be important to ensure that the new awards take into account the needs of ecumenical partners, he said.

On Monday, the Director of Ministry at the Archbishops' Council, the Ven. Julian Hubbard, said that all 23 institutions "will continue to teach according to their tradition and ethos".

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