Faith, hope and charity

January 8, 2015

In Norman Bonney’s letter “Sever support for Kirk” (18/25 December), he proposes that the privileging of Church of Scotland candidates training for ministry in the Scottish universities should end. For the sake of greater clarity, it is worth noting the current arrangements.

Some Church of Scotland candidates are taking a first degree at one of the Scottish universities; there are, in fact, five institutions that provide relevant courses, not four. As is the case with other Scottish-domiciled students, first degree candidates are not liable for tuition fees. Others are currently studying for a postgraduate qualification (either at master’s or doctoral level) and they pay tuition fees at the same level as home/European Union postgraduates. This leaves only one subgroup of students who take a second undergraduate degree accelerated over two or three years. Such students are not liable for tuition fees, which would otherwise stand at £1,820 in the current academic year. At present, there are 16 such students in Scotland, which constitutes an annual public subsidy of just under £30,000. The duration of study supported here is roughly commensurate with that provided by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland for the training of other professional groups, such as schoolteachers, doctors, dentists and vets.

It may also be worth noting that this relatively low level of subsidy is significantly less than the amount donated each year by the Church of Scotland, as a charitable organisation, to the schools of divinity (or their equivalent) in the Scottish universities.

Bonney and I might agree that there is a public benefit in locating ministerial training at university where students can be exposed to a wider range of perspectives and can interact constructively with people of different religions and none. If other churches and faiths wished to follow this practice, there could be no objection to their candidates enjoying the same modest financial benefits as a minority of those sponsored by the Church of Scotland.

David Fergusson
Professor of divinity and principal of New College, University of Edinburgh

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