Theologians resist second degree cuts

December 21, 2007

It may be time for the Government to start praying for divine
intervention.


As opposition mounts to the decision to scrap state funding for students
taking second degrees at an equivalent or lower level, an unlikely
Christmas uprising may be on the cards.


Speaking at the Universities UK inaugural annual lecture last week,
Richard Lambert, director-general of the Confederation of British
Industry, said: "I was warned in Cambridge that 'the theologians are
mobilising'. Large numbers of them will be affected, for obvious reasons,
and will no doubt be going on a rampage." A high proportion of theology
students already have degrees, including 75 per cent of the 1,500 Church
of England students studying to become priests at any one time.


An online petition against the £100-million cut has already attracted more
than 16,000 signatures. In Parliament, an early day motion urging the
Government to reconsider the move's impact on lifelong learning and the
skills agenda has the backing of 206 MPs - more than any other early day
motion.


Martin Percy, principal of the Oxford theological college Ripon College
Cuddesdon, said that cutting equivalent or lower-qualification funding
could kill off some institutions.


"It will add significantly to the cost of theological education and make
some institutions unviable. The Government seems to be deaf or indifferent
to the impact this will have on us. My main concern is that there are
quite secularist forces at work in new Labour that do not comprehend the
subtle and rich relation between social and spiritual capital.


"I am not expecting the Government to invest in theological education. But
to impede it, as these proposals would do, would have a deleterious effect
on the future of theological education, which will in turn impact upon
society and eventually on some of our neediest and most neglected
communities."


In a recent House of Lords debate, Lord Griffiths, himself a Methodist
minister, said he could have been affected by the new arrangements. He
said: "After a mini-career in university teaching I went to get my degree
in theology ... I would have fallen foul."


Mr Lambert said the withdrawal of equivalent or lower-qualification (ELQ)
funding also had serious ramifications for management programmes and
business schools - a major concern to the CBI.


"There is a broad public-interest case for helping well-qualified
graduates to attain high-level management education as contributors to the
UK's competitiveness," Mr Lambert said.


"We should be encouraging scientists, engineers, doctors and others to
study for a masters qualification in business at a later stage in their
careers as they move into managerial roles. This change will have the
opposite effect."


Jonathan Slack, chief executive of the Association of Business Schools,
said: "The removal of funding for ELQs flies in the face of both the
Leitch proposals on higher level skills development and the Government's
overall competitiveness agenda.


"If the Higher Education Council for England proceeds with this, then the
opportunity for job-related management education will be denied to many
aspiring managers who would undoubtedly benefit from it.


"We share Richard Lambert's views and urge the Government to rethink this
proposal."


Leader, page 12.

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