Increasing student hardship has contributed to a dramatic 40 per cent drop in the number of candidates applying to train for the ministry, the Church of Scotland believes.
The committee on education for the ministry will report its concerns to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland next month. There were only 67 applications this year, compared with 108 in 1994 and 114 the previous year. The committee says that while contributory factors could include the standing of the church in society, "it is surely no little coincidence that grants are decreasing and the mature students' allowance has now ceased".
The Kirk is unique in having no seminaries of its own. It trains its candidates alongside other students in the divinity faculties of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews universities. Candidates for the ministry tend to be mature students, and about two thirds are married, with a third having children to support.
* Students at Glasgow and Strathclyde universities have been angered by a bursary scheme which requires applicants to produce a certificate from a minister confirming that they are Protestants.
The Clark (Mile-end) Fund offers grants of "variable value" to new entrants to the two universities, or graduates with first-class degrees going on to postgraduate courses or research.
Some students have called for a ban on publicising the award, which dates from 1867.
But a Glasgow University spokeswoman said: "Given the financial hardship students are experiencing, we feel that it is better that some have a chance to benefit from this bursary, thus reducing the number of students applying for other funds."