A new report commissioned by the Church of England with involvement from other faith communities in the UK says that university and college chaplains are making an important contribution to educational life and calls on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and the government to give them continued support.
Some 43 per cent of young people in England and Wales have experienced higher education, and issues of social cohesion as well as learning are at the centre f current concerns for the development of the sector.
"Chaplains actively demonstrate how religious communities can work alongside each other in an environment of mutual respect that promotes dialogue, builds community cohesion and so in turn challenges extreme perspectives", argues Chaplaincy for All: Faiths in Higher Education Chaplaincy, written by the Rev Jeremy Clines, chaplain of York St John University.
Examples of good practice highlighted in the report include setting up inter-faith societies, organising visits to places of worship, or mounting a ‘faith week’ to raise awareness about different world faiths.
The report points to the key role such projects play in fostering good relations between the future leaders of different faith communities in the UK. Secularist groups are likely to argue that this is 'propaganda on the rates'.
As part of the project, Clines undertook a survey among 111 of the 128 HEIs in England and Wales, supplemented by seven regional practice workshops. The findings, says the Church of England, illustrate how chaplaincies assist their institutions in shaping their vision, particularly in relation to internationalisation, widening participation and increasing community engagement.
The results of the year-long study were launched yesterday during a conference in London addressed by Bill Rammell MP, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further Education and Higher Education, in the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills.
Clines’ report urges the Higher Education sector to support the creation of a national ‘Faiths in Higher Education Forum’, to include senior representatives of faith communities and supported by a working group.
The report also recommends that training materials and guidance should be produced to assist those working in the sector to navigate this complex subject. It recommends collaboration between national chaplaincy advisors, chaplains, Universities UK, GuildHE, the Equality Challenge Unit, the Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education, the National Union of Students and the Inter Faith Network.
However there is little about the relationship between religious students and the growing number of non-religious students. The British Humanist Association has argued that more chaplains are needed from non-religious backgrounds, and that the government should address its lack of attention to the needs of the non-religious before setting up yet further faith fora.