The head of the UK’s only Orthodox Christian higher education institution has called attention to “a major incoherence in government policy that threatens the future of all ministerial education colleges”.
David Frost is principal and administrator of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, based in Cambridge and part of the Cambridge Theological Federation. In a letter published in this week’s Times Higher Education, he points to the disastrous – yet little-noticed – impact of the current visa regime on institutions such as his.
Given the demographics of Orthodox Christianity, Professor Frost explained, his institute has “always been stronger on international students than local [ones]”. This used to amount to “a steady stream”, mainly from Russia, Eastern Europe and the US, but the flow was significantly reduced following increases in fees for international students. It is only distance-learning certificates and diplomas that have enabled the institute to “keep our head above water”.
To secure its long-term future, the institute – and many other colleges which specialise in training for the ministry – have worked together to attract international students on to common BA, MA and doctoral awards in the subject.
But this plan is now being scuppered, said Professor Frost, because of delays in gaining a visa licence from the government. Although the Cambridge Theological Federation has “close links” with the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, it is not formally part of the university and needs its own visa-granting powers.
In general, said Professor Frost, the institute would expect the international students it recruited “to return home afterwards and not add to the migration figures in any significant way”.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to get visas for reliable students,” he said.
“We would like a coherent policy for assessing and giving decisions on which bodies are to be trusted to give visa decisions. We’ve been waiting for a year.”
Should this impasse not be resolved rapidly, added Professor Frost, “it is likely this will bring us down, as we are unlikely to get the students we need to survive”.
A Home Office spokesman said it did not comment on applications submitted by potential visa sponsors.