You’ve got to have faith – in the value of universities

Core principles underpin both the church and higher education, and we mustn’t be afraid to shout about them, writes Joy Carter

It’s often said that higher education fails to connect with much of the public, and that universities are not as articulate as they should be in highlighting their value to society.

One way to address this could be to make more of the ethics, values and even (where appropriate) the religious grounding of many of our higher education institutions.

With newspaper headlines focusing remorselessly on value for money and the so-called graduate premium, students are being encouraged to base their decisions on earning prospects, or dubious data on the jobs that graduates hold six months after completing.

There is nothing wrong with taking note what one might earn, of course; in fact it’s entirely rational. But it should only be part of the picture.

All the evidence shows that getting more people into higher education isn’t just good for the economy, it also leads to a happier, healthier society (which in turn saves money).

But somehow this message has failed to get through, so universities risk seeming to be a drain on public resources rather than a powerful engine for social and economic good.

The reforms of recent years have caused unprecedented turbulence for universities and students, particularly the shift of funding from the state to the individual through student loans.

But as chair of the Cathedrals Group of universities, I’ve also been acutely aware of another sphere of public life going through a period of upheaval: the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist churches, which provide the origins to our 15 member institutions.

Despite this, the ethics, morals and values which underpin these churches remain solid.

Higher education too has core principles which are unshakeable, despite the turmoil that may be going on in terms of funding arrangements or government policy.

Fairness, equality and opportunity underpin both religion and higher education.

And there are countless examples of religious institutions, students and universities working together to improve lives and contribute to society.

Capitalising on this, and these shared values, will do far more for universities than simply churning out press releases: we need to throw open our doors and invite the public in.

It is only through a direct conversation that we will make the case for expansion and investment, using real examples that mean something to the individuals who live and work beside us day in day out.

In his inaugural lecture for the Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion, delivered last year, Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, described higher education as “the equipment of a healthy, self-critical society”.

The Cathedrals Group will continue to make this case by putting ethics, morals and the values of our faith at the heart of what we do.

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