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St John’s College to close after 156 years

06 December 2019

Theological college in Nottingham ‘no longer financially viable in the long term’

LEONARD DESIGN

Artist’s impression of development on the site of St John’s, Nottingham

Artist’s impression of development on the site of St John’s, Nottingham

AFTER 156 years, St John’s College, Nottingham, is to close, it was announced this week.

The majority of the 28 employees at the former theological college, including tutors, will transfer to new posts in institutions that have agreed to continue the college’s distance-learning and youth-ministry work; but there will be redundancies by the end of next summer. Students have been reassured that their courses will continue until they have completed them.

A statement issued this week said that the college’s council had agreed, on 11 November, “that the operation of the current configuration of St John’s is no longer financially viable in the long term”, and that the process of closure would begin.

The Principal of the Eastern Region Ministry Course, the Revd Dr Alex Jensen, suggested this week that there was “great fear” in the Theological Education Institutions (TEI) sector that other closures could follow.

“Hardly any college or course is financially sustainable,” he said. “I think there is a recognition in the Ministry Council that there is something wrong. . . The question is if changes will be made before the next college or course falls by the wayside.”

The broader context for theological education was illustrated by figures from the Ministry Division seen by the Church Times this week (News, 6 December), which suggest that the Renewal and Reform target of a 50-per-cent increase in ordained vocations is unlikely to be met by 2020 (News, 2 September).

There have been signs of trouble at St John’s for some time. Last year, there were 60 students at the college, compared with 108 in 2016-17, and 223 recorded in June 2016, according to a report from the Quality Assurance Agency.

In 2014, the college had decided to stop recruiting students, including ordinands, to study on-campus, announcing plans for “remodelling the college to meet the future training needs of the Church” (News, 14 November 2014). It was renamed the St John’s School of Mission in 2015, and plans were set out for students to be placed with a church, and study for only two days each fortnight at the campus (News, 20 November 2015). It then suspended all recruitment for the academic year 2016-17: the last ordinands finished their training in June 2017.

Healthier finances were secured in 2017 when land was sold for a new housing development. In 2018, the college reported a surplus of £1.3 million, compared with a deficit of £612,853 the previous year.

The Principal, the Revd Dr David Hilborn, resigned at the end of last year, and is now Principal of Moorlands College, Christchurch, a non-denominational TEI based in Dorset.

As far back as 1997 the college was facing financial pressures and falling student recruitment, but a “mixed-mode” delivery of ordination training was introduced, and two years later the the Midlands Institute for Children Youth and Mission (MCYM) was opened on site, in partnership with Youth for Christ, offering two undergraduate degrees. This became the College’s main source of income. Since the late 1970s, St John’s has also been a pioneer in distance-learning.

In October, the Midlands Institute for Children Youth and Mission (MCYM), which has been at St John’s since 1999, announced that it would move to Leicester and merge with the Institute for Children Youth and Mission. In this week’s announcement, it was confirmed that the college’s collection of 10,000 books in this field would be given to the Institute, and that discussions were under way with the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham, and St Mellitus College, East Midlands, to ensure that the St John’s library had “a new home in Nottingham”.

The last remaining building owned by St John’s will be sold, and the three parts of the legacy — MCYM, distance-learning, and the library — will be given funds to help to secure their future in their new homes.

The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, will take over the Extension Studies department, offering distance-learning courses and degrees validated by the University of Durham. The majority of staff, including tutors, will transfer to Leicester or Birmingham.

St John’s was originally founded as the London School of Divinity, an Evangelical college, in 1863. Former Principals include Donald Coggan, who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury, and the evangelist and theologian Michael Green. Another Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, trained at the college, as did the present Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, who arrived in 1979 to train as a deaconess.

Former students, friends, and supporters will be invited to a closing service at the college’s site in Bramcote, next summer.

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