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Archbishops' Council and Durham University sign historic agreement

Posted on: April 26, 2013 10:34 AM
Related Categories: education, England, ministry, ordinands

 The Archbishops’ Council has linked with Durham University in an historic partnership to provide a suite of higher education awards for ordinands, lay ministry students and others studying in colleges, courses and dioceses in England.

Durham University Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Higgins and Archbishops’ Council Secretary General William Fittall will sign the Common Awards agreement on Thursday, April 25 at Church House, Westminster.

In the initial cohort, there will be around 1,000 students studying for the Durham University awards, which will be available from September 2014.  Church of England, Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Church students are included, making this a significant opportunity for ecumenical cooperation.

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, who chairs the Ministry Division as well as the working group that led to the partnership, welcomed the signing of the agreement.

He said:  “These Common Awards are a real opportunity for the church to develop its theological education in a more coherent and collaborative way and to secure validation with an excellent higher education partner at a time of change and uncertainty in the sector.”     

Under the arrangement, theological colleges and courses will continue to be responsible for the learning and teaching of students and their preparation for ministry. On successful completion of their studies, students will receive a Durham University degree or diploma. In some cases students will continue to study towards a higher award in their first years of ministry after ordination and licensing.

Professor Higgins said: “Since Durham University’s foundation in 1832 we have aimed to foster education and research in theology and religion which is second to none in the world, and we are immensely proud to be able to broaden our reach through this historic partnership with the Archbishops’ Council.”

As part of the agreement, a new professorial post has been created in Durham University’s Department for Theology and Religion, which is listed as the UK’s number one department of Theology or Religious Studies in the 2013 Times Good University Guide.  In the UK’s most recent Research Assessment Exercise it was rated as the top department in the field.

Dr Mike Higton has been appointed to the new post of Chair of Theology and Ministry with effect from September 2013.

Dr Higton has for the past three years been Academic Co-Director of the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, where he had responsibility for developing a number of collaborative research projects, including a two-year study of Religion and the Idea of a Research University. Before that he was head of the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter, where he worked very closely with the South West Ministry Training Course.

He teaches and writes on a variety of topics in modern Christian theology, with recent books including A Theology of Higher Education (OUP, 2013), The Text in Play (with Rachel Muers; Wipf and Stock 2013), and Christian Doctrine (SCM, 2008). He is a member of the Church of England's Faith and Order Commission.

Dr Higton will have a key role in the development of the new partnership, and the Bishop of Sheffield warmly welcomed his appointment: “Dr Higton will bring to this new role an excellent blend of high academic achievement and commitment to ministerial education as a vital part of the life of the church. I am sure that a good partnership will develop under his leadership between Durham, the theological education institutions and the churches.”

Professor Alec Ryrie, Head of the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, said: “I am delighted that Dr Higton is joining Durham at an exciting time in developing our partnership with the Church of England and other participating churches and furthering our existing scholarship, research and collaborations in ministerial education.   

“Dr Higton is well known nationally for developing collaborative scholarship, and his appointment signals Durham University’s commitment to fostering a solid and creative dynamic within the partnership drawing on the complementary strengths and interests of the University and the theological education institutions.”

Notes for Editors:

More information from

Steve Jenkins, Archbishops’ Council press office: +44(0) 20 7898 1326;

Durham University Media Relations Office: +44(0) 191 334 6075;

About Durham University: Durham University is a world top-100 university with a global reputation and performance in research and education. The most recent UK league tables place Durham in the top echelon of British universities academically. Durham is ranked in the top 5 UK universities in the influential Sunday Times University Guide 2013; is 26th in the world for the impact of its research (THE citations ratings) and 20th in the world for the employability of its students by blue-chip companies worldwide. We are a residential Collegiate University: England’s third oldest university and at our heart is a medieval UNESCO World Heritage Site, of which we are joint custodians with Durham Cathedral. Durham is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive UK universities.

About the Archbishops’ Council: The Archbishops' Council provides within the Church of England a focus for leadership and executive responsibility and a forum for strategic thinking and planning . Within an overall vision for the Church set by the House of Bishops, the Council proposes an ordering of priorities in consultation with the House of Bishops and the General Synod and takes an overview of the Church's financial needs and resources. The Church of England recommends an average of more than 500 men and women each year to train for the priesthood and more than 300 to train for lay ministry.