THE headmaster of one of several schools attended by the Bishop
of Winchester, the Rt Revd Timothy Dakin, the son of a missionary
family, advised him to give up any idea of going to university.
"You'll never make it," he told him.
As it turned out, Bishop Dakin went to three higher-education
institutions: the College (now university) of St Mark and St John,
Plymouth, where he took a degree in religious studies; King's
College, London, where he was awarded an M.Th.; and Oxford
University, where he was a research student in theology.
Forty years or so after his former head's crushing judgement,
Bishop Dakin reflects: "It spurred me to get into higher education.
and made me prize it all the more." And that, he said, is why, as a
bishop with a seat in the House of Lords, he was keen to take on
the newly created position of "Bishop for Further and Higher
HIS career so far has been good preparation for the job. He left
Oxford before completing a doctorate, because, in 1993, he was
asked to return to East Africa, where he had grown up, to be the
Principal of the Church Army's Carlile College, Nairobi. Concerned
to widen his students' educational chances, he increased the scope
of Carlile's academic offer during his seven years there.
Later, as general secretary of the Church Mission Society, he
saw what had been achieved by the colleges and universities with
mission backgrounds. Most of these are now members of the Colleges
and Universities of the Anglican Communion (CUAC). Some have become
prestigious academic institutions while retaining a strong Anglican
identity, Bishop Dakin says. And the significance of CUAC's members
is too little appreciated by Anglicans here, he suggests.
Now, of course, his educational focus is in England.
Traditionally, the Bishop of Winchester is an official Visitor to
five Oxford colleges. Slowly, he is getting round them all. That is
the easy bit. As the new chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary
Group on Higher Education, however, his task is likely to be
trickier, because higher education has never been as politically
contentious as it has become in this decade.
OVERSHADOWING all current discussion and dispute is the
question: "What is higher education for?" Bishop Dakin is certainly
not in the utilitarian camp, and believes that the social capital
in universities is at least as valuable as their economic
contribution. And there is the question of recruitment. It is
rumoured that the cap on numbers may be lifted - but so, also,
could the current cap on fees.
These issues are particularly relevant to the ten Anglican
universities in the Cathedral Group, with their heavy bias towards
the humanities and social sciences. One of these, the University of
Winchester, is on the Bishop's doorstep. He is chairman of the
university's foundation, and says that it is doing a very good job
The Cathedral Group as a whole will look to him for
encouragement, and he may need to defend it vigorously,
particularly if the teacher-education function, for which its
member institutions were founded, continues to be undermined by the
shift to school-based training.
Bishop Dakin believes strongly that universities have an
invaluable part to play in teacher education, in widening the
context in which they are trained.
This is particularly so, perhaps, in subjects such as religious
education, where little theoretical understanding may be available
in schools, and also in the preparation of primary-school teachers.
(This issue is close to home: his daughter, Anna, is in her first
job, teaching RE at a local secondary school after training at
And then there is chaplaincy, which some universities, in
straitened circumstances, see as an expendable luxury.
To the first Bishop for Higher Education, however, chaplaincies
are indispensable to the life of any university: "The years that
young people spend at university are the most open and the most
formative of their lives," he says. "The Church needs to be there
with them, and be seen to be there."