CHURCH OF ENGLAND schools seem to be in the news almost every
day. In contrast, Church of England universities rarely hit the
headlines. Without reading any further, how many such universities
could you name?
You could be forgiven if you got slightly confused about which
ones count. There are two main groupings: six are free-standing
Church of England colleges that became universities; five are
mixed-mode universities involving Church of England colleges which
merged with other colleges.
There are also the four older universities of Oxford, Cambridge,
Durham, and King's College, London, which were founded by the
Church, and, although they retain overt and visible ecclesiastical
features, are rarely seen now as church universities.
The 11 Anglican universities range in size from 2500 students to
18,000. Usually multi-sited, with a plethora of courses, and many
of their students non-residential and part-time, it is a far cry
from the 1960s, when they were small teacher-training colleges.
Six of the universities are free-standing Church of England
ones: Bishop Grosseteste, Lincoln; Canterbury Christ Church;
Chester; St Mark and St John, Plymouth; Winchester; and York St
John. These universities can be, and are, more up-front about their
Church of England origins and current status than their mixed-mode
This is reflected in their foundation documents; in their
mission and values statements and operational documents; in the
expectations of their vice-chancellors; in the composition of their
governing bodies; and in provision for their worshipping life and
EACH has its own distinctive ethos and specific external markers
indicative of its Anglican nature. For instance, Chester has a
particularly large and flourishing Religious Studies department,
with an internal academic staff of 20 and a visiting staff of 11 -
including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams as the
Gladstone Professor of Literature and Theology.
At York St John, the Centre for Church School Education and the
Centre for Religion in Society are both based in the Faculty of
Education and Theology; and Canterbury Christ Church has the
National Institute for Christian Education Research, and is right
alongside the mother church of the Anglican Communion.
The two newest universities - Bishop Grosseteste, Lincoln, and
St Mark and St John, Plymouth - both focus on serving their
geographical catchment-areas. Indeed, there is hardly a primary
school in the Lincoln diocese that does not contain at least one
Bishop Grosseteste-trained teacher; and many look to the university
for ongoing professional support.
Winchester is embarking on an examination of what it means to be
an Anglican university. It is doing so partly through a theological
review, identifying key points made by British Anglican theologians
about the nature and purpose of higher education; and partly
through research, looking at itself as an Anglican university as
reflected in its institutional life and in the views of its staff
The findings, it is hoped, will also contribute more widely to
discussions about Anglican identity within the other
Three of the universities are mergers of church and secular
colleges. Cumbria is an amalgamation involving the Church's
second-newest college of education, St Martin's College, Lancaster.
Chichester is a similar but much earlier merger, between a
local-authority college and Bishop Otter College, Chichester, as is
Gloucestershire, between St Paul and St Mary's College, Cheltenham,
and the Gloucestershire College of Art and Technology.
Clarifying the nature of these three institutions, in ways that
do justice to both their Anglican and their secular components, and
which safeguard the Anglican investment in them, is not easy.
Although the foundation documents preserve the Anglican identity in
law, it is dependent on the senior management and governors to
ensure that it becomes a reality in practice.
THE history of Bishop Lonsdale College of Education is perhaps a
cautionary tale. Founded in 1851, it joined with Derby College of
Art and Technology in 1977, and, in 1992, the merged body morphed
into the University of Derby.
Unfortunately, the 1977 merger was based substantially on
"gentlemen's agreements". There were some written guidelines, but
much was done in good faith, and little was included in the legal
Verbal understandings rarely survive a change of personnel,
however. And, not surprisingly, when Bishop John Gibbs was sent in
later to investigate what had happened to the Church of England's
assets, and to the original understandings, he could find little of
In 2006, the Bishop Lonsdale site was sold by the university to
a developer for £8.6 million, and, as there was no reverter clause
on the site, nothing came back to the Church.
A further two institutions went into ecumenical partnerships.
Whitelands College remains as a site and operational entity within
Roehampton University; and St Katherine's College, Liverpool,
joined with two Roman Catholic colleges and subsequently became
Liverpool Hope University.
Significant theological-reflection work is being undertaken
through Whitelands, and Liverpool Hope is an ecumenical beacon of
higher education both within Merseyside and nationally. Working
ecumenically, as part of the Cathedrals Group, will continue to be
an important way forward for the future.
Each of the institutions is grappling in various ways with what
it means to be an Anglican university in the current market-driven
competitive world of higher education, where the student is the
paying customer, and the customer is king. While instrumental
outcomes, such as graduate employment successes, are necessary,
there is a growing emphasis, linked to their foundational ideals as
church universities, on presenting a more holistic view of the
purposes and outcomes of a university education.
An earlier review, looking at national statistics on higher
education, suggested that church universities were likely to be
providing a value-added experience for their students.
Furthermore, within the instrumentalist culture of higher
education, Anglican theologians can, and are already beginning to,
make a significant contribution to critically examining this
culture, and to providing a wider rationale, embracing the public
good, for all universities.
The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, who holds the C
of E portfolio for higher education, emphasises the part that the
Anglican universities play in shaping the common good. He praises
their combination of "good-quality higher education, access, and
The Church, he says, needs to uphold and promote them as part of
its "long-term engagement with the public square".
The Revd Dr John Gay is Research Fellow at the Department of
Education, in the University of Oxford, and Visiting Professor at
the University of Winchester.