Something rotten? Row over Wales' validation of 'fundamentalist' BAs

Overseas accreditation of private Danish courses leads to unholy clash. Melanie Newman reports

December 10, 2009

A row has broken out over the University of Wales' accreditation of theology degrees offered by two private evangelical institutions in Denmark.

The university validates theology BA programmes at the Lutheran School of Theology in Aarhus, known as the Menighedsfakultetet, and the Copenhagen Lutheran School of Theology, known as the Dansk Bibel-Institut.

Reports in the Danish press have claimed that the institutions teach a fundamentalist form of theology and that the degrees do not meet Danish standards.

It has also been reported that as a result of Wales' validation, the University of Aarhus is now obliged under the Bologna Process to accept students holding the BAs on to its masters programmes.

It is claimed that this has led to growth in the number of people taking the courses as students seek to take advantage of the "loophole".

In Denmark, there is no accreditation system for private universities, leaving them little choice but to seek validation overseas.

The Menighedsfakultetet has lobbied politicians for a change in legislation to allow it to be considered a "free" university with a right to hold examinations in theology, but so far without success. It also applied to the Danish grants and student-loans scheme for approval of its course but was rejected.

Nigel Palastanga, pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching at the University of Wales, said the programmes at both institutions had been validated "in accordance with the university's detailed and rigorous procedures".

"The process of validation included a rigorous review undertaken by an expert panel of assessors at each institution," he said. "In both cases the panels were made up of senior academics from a number of UK universities."

But Else Holt, professor in the faculty of theology at Aarhus, said the university "does not approve of these institutions' view of the Bible or their way of employing tutors. Teachers have to agree to mission statements which include certain views on the Bible.

"However, we approve of the Bologna Process and if they are accredited by a university that is in the process, we must accept them."

Both Lutheran schools have denied that they teach fundamentalist theology.

Ingolf Henoch Pedersen, principal of the Menighedsfakultetet, said: "We do have an evangelical standpoint concerning the Bible, but we in no way consider ourselves to be fundamentalists."

Martin Holm Bangs, co-ordinator of studies at the Dansk Bibel-Institut, said the institution's view of Scripture "is the same as is well known from internationally highly respected evangelical institutions, a short explanation of which would be the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy".

The Chicago statement, drawn up by evangelical leaders in 1978, says that "Holy Scripture, being God's own word ... is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires".

Times Higher Education reported last year that Wales was validating degrees at an unaccredited US Bible college against the advice of the Quality Assurance Agency.

The Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Indiana is not accredited by any agency recognised by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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