When tectonic plates of knowledge collide 3

September 30, 2010

"More light, less heat: institutions look to strengthen lines of communication about religious issues on campus" (23 September) discusses a number of practical issues for higher education institutions raised by their increasingly diverse staff and student bodies. Far from the conflict-filled stories that make many media headlines, the article offers insights into how the sector is working to develop its understanding of the relationship between religion and the campus experience.

However, it should be noted that the situation is more nuanced than "higher education vs religion": welcoming and supporting those with religious views does not necessarily threaten the academy's secular status. An institution can remain secular in approach yet also ensure that students are able to attend examinations or meet course requirements without having to choose between education and religious observance. There are practical issues, such as making alternative arrangements where exams clash with holy days, that are not going to have straightforward solutions, but a willingness to explore the options with staff and students is vital.

The Equality Challenge Unit has commissioned a team from the University of Derby to undertake in-depth research and provide an empirical basis on which discussions about the role of religion and belief within the academy can proceed. This project is particularly interested in how staff and students' religious belief affects their ability to participate in higher education and whether they feel able to disclose their beliefs. It will also explore how institutions are able to accommodate religious observances and how they deal with any discrimination or harassment relating to religion or belief.

We look forward to these findings further informing this fascinating and ongoing debate.

David Ruebain, Chief executive, Equality Challenge Unit.

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