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‘Westcott has had to face questions about its future’

17 January 2020


Westcott House, Cambridge

Westcott House, Cambridge

AFTER discussions about whether Westcott House is financially viable, the college has put in place new financial arrangements and is recruiting students for the next academic year.

In a letter to Bishops, dated Wednesday of last week, the chairman of the college’s Council, the Bishop of Whitby, the Rt Revd Paul Ferguson, acknowledges that Westcott is “at a watershed”.

He writes: “I will share with you frankly that over the last term the Council has had to face questions about Westcott House’s future, to the point of whether it is viable in the long term, and therefore whether we can with integrity recruit new students for autumn 2020.”

It was “common knowledge”, he writes, that the college was among the theological-education institutions [TEIs] that were “under financial strain”.

He goes on to state that “we have put financial arrangements in place in order to see the college come through its difficult position,” and that students are being recruited to begin studying in the autumn. This week, he declined to provide further information about the nature of these arrangements.

Also announced was the appointment of a former Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, as interim Acting Principal, after the departure of Canon Chris Chivers in September (News, 27 September).

Canon Chivers had spoken candidly about the financial strain in the TEI sector, talking about a “pseudo-Darwinesque survival of the fittest”, and that “every ordinand is under-funded in every form of training” (News, 10 November 2017). In 2017, he reported that Westcott House had had a 28-per-cent fall in ordinands aged over 40.

The latest annual report for the college, filed last year, spoke of “significant restructuring” that had produced a surplus of £38,000 after a £138,000 deficit the previous year. But, it stated, “the long-term future of the College is less certain. The House has no permanent endowment and receives no core funding.” It said that it was “unlikely that further significant savings can be made without fundamentally compromising the operations of the College”.

After reforms to the funding of ministerial education in the Church, many dioceses were opting for part-time training, which had “compromised the basic business model of the College”. There were 54 students confirmed for 2018-19 — down from 65 the previous year — and 79 in 2015-16: “significantly below levels needed for long term sustainability”. In previous years, Westcott has spoken of plans to create modern conference facilities to generate additional revenue.

Last year, the Ministry Division reported that the number of ordinands starting residential training had fallen by almost a quarter (22.7 per cent) since 2016, and the number on context-based pathways had increased by 142 per cent (News, 6 December). It declined to comment on whether, after the closure of St John’s, Nottingham, it would intervene to prevent further closures.

In his letter, Bishop Ferguson refers to a “refreshed offer to grow the dedicated, spiritually secure, public ministers that the Church needs for the coming years and decades”; a “new substantive Principal’s role”; and plans for “focused and purposeful conversations” with bishops, DDOs, and Ministry Division about the college’s “distinctive potential”.

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