Universities with Church of England foundations have been told to emphasise their Christian credentials to make it easier to dismiss staff who don’t share those values, reports The Times Higher Education Supplement.
Universities have been advised by the Council of Church Colleges and Universities (CCCU) to mention their 'Christian ethos' in employment contracts so that staff who “openly flout” their ideals can be said to be in breach of contract.
Senior staff, chaplains and teachers of theology are most likely to be affected.
The news follows concerns already raised by The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), which has called for significant changes in employment policy relating to faith schools, which allows church schools in particular to discriminate on the basis of faith.
It also follows hot debate earlier this year after two universities with Church of England foundations asked staff, in their articles of governance, not to undermine their Christian ethos. The Vice-Chancellor and chair of governors of one of the institutions - Canterbury Christ Church - defended the move by arguing that no action had been taken against anyone, and no one had been disciplined, because of such a restriction. The director of research also argued that she had been unable to uncover any action that had stopped any particular research going ahead.
But the new advice from CCCU to emphasise Christian credentials to make it easier to dismiss staff will greatly heighten concerns.
“If an employee acts in a way that is detrimental to the employer, by openly flouting the ethos...it may be possible to conclude that there has been a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence,” the new advice adds.
But Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that the advice was deeply disturbing.
“This report obliquely suggests ways of ensuring that some positions are not held by those whose lifestyle is at odds with some Christian doctrine, presumably in terms of sexual orientation, attitudes to abortion and maybe even to marriage”, the Times reports.
Requiring employees to hold particular religious beliefs would normally breach employment rules, but if a university can establish a “genuine occupational requirement”, employers could discriminate on religious grounds where there is a genuine need for the person to have certain beliefs.
The CCCU's remit is "to advance and develop public education in the Church and Associated Colleges".
The guide is targeted at universities such as Chichester, Canterbury Christ Church, Gloucestershire, Winchester and York St John, reports the TES.