Creating a national Catholic university in England from the federation of three small higher education institutions could allow them to boost student recruitment and their “impact on society”.
That is the view of Peter Lutzeier, the vice-chancellor and principal of Newman University, Birmingham, who would like to see the body link up with England’s two other Catholic higher education institutions: Leeds Trinity University and St Mary’s University College, Twickenham.
“My vision is that we should eventually try to federate and become a national Catholic university,” Professor Lutzeier said.
He also floated the idea that the federated institution could be run as a cooperative, or along the lines of the John Lewis Partnership.
Professor Lutzeier said the federal concept is “very much my idea” and is “not going to happen in the next 10 years”, but he has raised it at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. For the idea to become reality, “political” support from the bishops would be needed, he said.
If a national institution were created, Professor Lutzeier added, he would expect a “higher profile at the national and international level”, giving “wider…reach in terms of national recruitment but also economies of scale in certain support areas and international recruitment”.
Professor Lutzeier argued that a national Catholic institution could have an “even bigger impact on society”. He said that Newman – which gained full university status in February – has a “mission of service” thanks to its Catholic ethos, citing its “ethically founded” business degree and its Children, Young People and Family Research Centre.
Newman, Leeds Trinity and St Mary’s have agreed a joint statement on their Catholic identity. It reads: “Our approach to education and training exemplifies the centuries-old Catholic tradition of celebrating human knowledge, which proceeds from an appreciation of the dignity of the human person and the need for vigorous, respectful and charitable dialogue in the pursuit of truth.”
But could the faith ethos become exclusive in a national Catholic university, as some fear is the case with faith schools?
Newman has a high and steadily increasing proportion of Muslim students, Professor Lutzeier said, which he cited as evidence of the institution’s “inclusive” nature.
“The [Muslim] parents say: ‘We trust you, we know you have values. Because you have values, you will respect our values.’”
The committed atheists and Marxists among the institution’s staff are also happy, he said. “They say: ‘We love to work here because it is a values-driven organisation.’”
So the possibility of being part of a federation run on cooperative lines “really fits with our ethos”, said Professor Lutzeier. He added that he envisaged a share of financial rewards being distributed to staff.
“As a Catholic institution, we should be a model of how we treat our staff,” he said.