Heythrop College to end in 'current form' and leave University of London

Future of the 400-year-old Catholic college is uncertain after decision to leave federal university in 2018

June 26, 2015
Stained Glass of the Last Supper in the cathedral of Salta (Argentina)
Source: iStock

Heythrop College is to withdraw from the University of London after admitting that financial pressures have made it unable to continue its current teaching.

The Catholic institution, which is located in Kensington in West London, will leave the federal university in the summer of 2018 after fulfilling its commitments to students, it announced on 26 June.

The news raises uncertainty over the future of teaching at the Catholic college, which specialises in philosophy and theology, and has around 660 students and 90 staff.

According to a statement released by Heythrop’s governing body, the governors and the Society of Jesus – one of its biggest financial supporters –  are “committed to finding a way in which the mission and work of the college, including the ecclesiastical faculties, will continue in a new form after 2018”.

However, they have “concluded that the college in its current form, as a constituent college of the University of London, will come to an end in 2018”.

The announcement follows the conclusion of talks spanning more than a year between Heythrop and St Mary’s University Twickenham – also a Catholic institution – about forming a potential strategic partnership that would help lower Heythrop’s administration costs.

The college said it did not have the funds to enter a partnership with St Mary’s or another institution.

Heythrop’s principal Michael Holman said the college, as a small institution, had struggled financially because it did not have the economies of scale available to larger institutions.

“The college has never been much larger in terms of student numbers than an average-sized university department and as a result maintaining it as an autonomous institution has been a challenge,” he said.

It has also struggled to compete on the “student experience” with respect to its technology infrastructure, college facilities and employability work because of its restricted size, he added.

“Meanwhile, government reforms have meant that the market for students has become more competitive and, specialising in just two subject areas as we do, the opportunities to diversify have been limited,” Father Holman said.

Heythrop last year suspended undergraduate recruitment for September 2015, saying it would focus on postgraduate provision and training for the priesthood.

Father Holman said it was “with great sadness” that the governors of Heythrop decided at their meeting on 25 June that it will cease to be a college of the federal university from 2018.

“In the meantime, we at Heythrop will continue to do what we have always done: we shall concentrate in the years ahead on giving our students the very best experience we can,” he said.

He added that the college was “grateful to the Society of Jesus for providing the funds that will ensure that all present students and those who are recruited to programmes in September 2015 will enjoy a high standard of student experience, and of teaching and learning in particular.

Heythrop was founded just over 400 years ago, in what is now modern-day Belgium, before moving to Britain in the late 18th century to escape religious persecution during the French Revolutionary wars. It has been part of the University of London for the past 45 years.

Teaching will continue at its Kensington Square premises until at least the summer of 2017, the college says.

“Heythrop College in its many incarnations has survived for more than 400 years because it has changed when change has been needed,” said Father Holman, who said that “although the college in its current form will come to an end, its mission and work will not”.

jack.grove@tesglobal.com

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