IN DEEPEST Berkshire, a small college of Seventh Day Adventists is preparing for the second coming of Christ.
Newbold College, set in 80 acres near the village of Binfield and catering for some 350 students, is also preparing for the umpteenth coming of Sir Ron Dearing and his widely anticipated brave new world of higher education.
Although SDA's are not renowned for successful predictions - by their reckoning, Christ should have turned up in the 1840s - those based at Newbold are predicting a bright future in the university sector.
The Open University Validation Service validates two undergraduate courses: one in biblical and pastoral studies, the other in combined humanities. In these degrees, students study Greek, Hebrew, and specialist courses on Pentateuch, the prophets and "the old testament apocalyptic" Daniel.
For advanced students, Newbold offers postgraduate degrees from Michigan-based Andrews University, one of four SDA colleges in the United States. The students, who pay annual fees of between Pounds 3,024 and Pounds 4,284, come from over 50 countries. This breadth is expected to continue, but according to John Baildam, Newbold's registrar, the college will develop a more European identity by gradually shedding its status as Andrews' British campus. Already, the American undergraduate course is being phased out, and the five-year strategy includes plans to secure Open University validation for three new degrees: one in public health, one in business administration, and a masters in pastoral studies.
This will broaden Newbold's mission - although Dr Baildam is quick to point out that the college is not primarily a pastoral training college: "We teach subjects in a Christian context, but the vast majority of students have no intention of going into the church."
But the new subjects are not expected to fuel ideas of expansion. Newbold has told the local authority it does not intend to admit more than 400 students, and there are no plans to become an associate college of a local university.
"We want to keep our autonomy," Dr Baildam says. It is this, he thinks, which will allow Newbold to justify its existence in the post-Dearing world.