The Government’s removal of HEFCE funding from Humanities subjects could have a big impact on ordination and theological training in the C of E, since quite a few institutions have relied on this income to make ends meet.
I contributed to a consultation on Wednesday about the future of training in the light of this. One of the possibilities mooted was that a small number of ordinands would take (in future more expensive) validated courses, whilst the majority would take (cheaper) non-validated courses.
There are some clear disadvantages to university validation. It makes administrative demands on already busy staff, and it would be great to find ways across institutions to minimise this. But there are a number of clear—even vital—advantages of validation.
- In an increasingly post-Christendom world, there is an apologetic reason for validation: it demonstrates that Christian ministry is something that can bear the weight of objective scrutiny and has academic rigour.
- At St John’s we have found there have been some real pedagogical gains in talking through issues of programme design and teaching methods with validators, thus making learning more effective.
- With the expansion of post-92 universities and theology as a discipline, there is now a greater number of universities with a strong sympathy to theology with a Christian vocational orientation, supporting the need for training in theology for ministry.
- By contrast, more traditional theology courses have, if anything, moved away from ministry concerns—for example, there are now many fewer universities offering Biblical Studies courses than in the past, and many more offering general ‘Religious Studies’. Whereas bishops had in the past been appointed from the ranks of university professors of theology, it is much less clear that this is appropriate for a missional church in the contemporary cultural context. And it is far from clear that, with so many highly-qualified faculty in theological colleges, university-taught theology degrees offer advantages in preparation for ministry.
- Having two kinds of training, one validated and the other non-validated, would create a two-tier ministry, which is the last thing the C of E needs just now.
As a colleague said to me this week, it is a ‘no-brainer’ to continue to offer validated programmes across the board. But to do so, without incurring significant additional costs, is going to involve making some hard decisions; I hope and pray that the C of E has the courage to make such decisions.