Higher Education after Brexit

Here are a few brief observations from Chaplaincy on the uncertainty created by Brexit for  UK  Higher Education.

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Chris Hale, Head of Policy at Universities UK spoke at the HE Chaplains annual conference in January 2017.  He outlined  the general uncertainty that now affects staff and  students, as well as threatening future research funding and partnerships.It is a picture chaplains see in thier own universities.

I have had conversations with staff from EU countries worried about whether they can stay in the UK. Some have been working here for decades.There is now much evidence that the usual right to remain procedures don’t work for existing EU nationals. See the LSE Brexit blog on this.

At Imperial about  20 per cent  of  students and 25 percent of staff  come from EU countries other than Britain. Student applications from EU countries are down by 7%.

A significant  amount of research funding comes from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. The UK Government has now agreed to meet any loss of funding to these projects when the UK leaves the EU. This may do something to maintain collaborations between EU and UK  universities.This area is being watched closely. What will happen to science funding after 2020 is not yet clear.

 

See also Universities UK Brexit round-up.

 

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Long reads

I want to share some longer articles that I and my colleagues at the Imperial College Multi-Faith Centre are finding useful.

While much of what we read digitally are bite size posts, news items and tweets, here are some long reads (and long listens) that ask for our time and attention. No ‘listicles’ here!

“When we pray for our enemies… we are also less able to demonize another human being.”

“I used to be a human being too.” by Andrew Sullivan.

 

books-for-long-reads

Tom Beaudoin: speaking a second religious or secular langauge.

thomas-beaudoinAs a team of Buddhist and Christian chaplains at Imperial we were really excited to hear Tom Beaudoin’s key-note talk at the Conference of European University  Chaplains  in the Netherlands last year.

Tom is Associate Professor of Religion at Fordham University. In his talk he was looking at life in a globalized world. He argued that there would be great advantages if we were all to learn to speak a second religious or secular  language.

Language, as a metaphor for our worldview, suggests that we all have a religious or secular ‘first language’ for talking about how we see the world and what we believe, for example Christianity, Islam, Buddhism  or atheism, humanism, agnosticism.

To learn a second ‘religious language’ does not mean  giving up our first language, our ‘mother tongue’. In a world were we are constantly meeting people whose world view is very different from our own it is good to be able speak even a little of another language.

So, while Christianity is my first language, I can ‘speak’ a little Buddhism. I have learned this second language from working with colleagues, sharing silent meditation together and hearing about their traditions. I am not fluent and I am not a native speaker.  But I know enough to be a good ‘house guest’ and (I hope!) to travel courteously  with my second language. This way I learn more, and see a little from the Buddhist perspective.

The other gift of learning a new language is returning to our first language with new eyes, and a better ear for the language itself. I now have a better understanding of my mother tongue for having started learning a second language!

La rentree

The start of our new academic year is just a week away at Imperial. I have been remembering my holidays in the summer and getting ready for the new start.

I really like the ‘process of return’ expressed in this French word I kept seeing on my holiday. “La rentrée” sums up the whole phenomena of ‘back to school and back to work’.

Supermarkets stockpile new school bags, pens and stationary required for “la rentrée”. The newspapers talk about politicians making their  “rentrée” – with new policy announcements and campaigns. I am told it is also the excuse for late deliveries because well…people have been away and are just coming back to work… “c’est la rentrée!”

We can’t avoid the end of the holiday. We do have to go back to school or work and all the stuff of daily life. So what I like is the way “la rentrée ” suggests that this is a process, and it can take some time, and we should probably all just bear with one another because it is going to take a while to get back to life as usual.

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In one sense returning from holiday is straightforward. Just get home, get back in the office and start getting on with things. But like the space shuttle’s “re-entry” it can be a dramatic process returning to the familiar atmosphere and the gravity of work.

And in the course of the holiday and the return journey we may have changed a little. Maybe we are for the moment more relaxed, or returning with a new vision.

In daily life, and in the practices of spirituality that we weave through our daily lives, it can take time to pick up all the patterns and routines. It is good to do this slowly if possible. Maybe, after the break there might be some new things to try, some things to ditch and some re-ordering of the work.

I also found that “à la rentrée ” is  a way of wishing someone a ‘good return to work’; blessing for the ‘process of return’.

Whether you’re getting back to work, about to start the annual academic cycle, or exploring new patterns of spirituality, ‘Bon courage!

Warning – contemplation in process!

Sign for Secret Garden - a space for quiet contemplation and study

I have been watching the Facebook  posts from chaplains in London, around the UK, from the US and other parts of Europe.

Here at Imperial we have five more days to go till the start of the new academic year.

Five days before the great whirlwind of welcome events, orientation sessions, BBQs and hall parties.

I look forward to the great wave of energy that comes crashing in with the start of a new year, from the arrival and return of thousands of students.

Out for a walk at lunchtime in the early Autumn sunshine I saw this great sign at the entrance to Imperial’s ‘secret garden’. It is a hidden patch of green space in the middle of the city.

I love the idea that our urban, globalized, hyper-active academic community has this officially sanctioned place for ‘quiet contemplation’.

Even if it comes with a warning exclamation mark!

Secret Garden 2

New year and a new role!

30 B TorringtonNot many posts this last year!

The reason – I spent six months temporarily acting as  lead Higher Education Chaplain for London Diocese. Then, since the retirement of our boss Stephen Williams in March, I was asked to continue in the role. It is an ‘additional responsibility’ and not a new job!

So I am also continuing in my present role as Chaplain to the Colleges here in South Kensington (which is the calm way of saying I have been trying to compress an extra full-time post into one day a week! – the reason that blog posts have stopped!)

It is a great opportunity to support our Diocesan team of nineteen highly talented HE chaplains.

Looking forward to a new year year ahead.

Space for Spirit, Room for Religion

Here is a copy of a post about the European Conference coming up in June ’15 for ‘Thinking Chaplaincy’ – a blog for university chaplains.

Hi, as the UK and Ireland rep for the Conference of European University Chaplains I want to invite all of you working in HE Chaplaincy to  our conference in the Netherlands, June 8-12th 2015.

All the practical details are on the website and there is a very ambient trailer to watch too!

The theme is ‘Space for Spirit, Room for Religion’.DSC_0225

As Higher Education Chaplains we are always talking about space. “What kind of space do you have?” is a frequent question we ask each other- some of us work from a desk in student services, some of us manage multi-faith centres, some of us have space ‘off campus’, and while some dream of what could be done with ‘more space’, others deal with the daily caretaking issues of ‘shared space’.

Along with these very practical issues the conference will explore the question “Is any space left for Spirit in contemporary, secular society?”

I like the approach of the organisers when they say,

“We won’t approach secularity as a problem nor as something to regret. Rather, we consider it as a given fact that shapes both our context and our work. In the keynote speeches, we will be considering society, secularity and the changing role of religion and spirituality. Among the many related themes we will consider some contemporary tasks of theologians, the room we give to our ‘clients’, as well as the rooms we are given and spaces we claim for ourselves.”

There is information on the conference website about the key note speakers but here is my own summary of what’s going to be on offer in the Netherlands.

Hope to see you there.

Andrew Willson, UK and Ireland representative for the Conference of European University Chaplains  a.willson@imperial.ac.uk

The conference will be opened with an address by Karin van den Broeke, Chair of the Protestantse Kerk in Nederland (PKN).

The first key note speeches are on ‘Exploring chaplaincy in a dispossessed world’  with Prof Tom Beaudoin, from Fordham University, New York, USA and Prof Theo de Wit, Faculty of Catholic Theology, Tilburg University, the Netherlands.

There’s a trip to Amsterdam, where we will hear Prof Mechteld Jansen, Protestant Theological University, ask ‘Why does society need theologians?’

Followed by a visit to ‘De Nieuwe Poort’, a pioneering chaplaincy Center at the Amsterdam Financial Center and a meeting with its founder the pastor and social entrepreneur Rev’d Ruben van Zwieten. (There is free time in the great city of Amsterdam too!)

There is also a key note talks on “chaplaincy, theology and innovation – what can we learn from internet marketing and customer feedback?” by Florian Sobetzko, Innovation Evangelist and teacher at University of Bochum, Germany.

Finally, Prof Martin Walton (who has a great reputation for using singing, drama and artistic improvisation in his talks), will reflect on these themes from his perspective as professor in spiritual care and chaplaincy studies at the Protestant Theological University, in Groningen.

Interfaith Action for Social Justice

News flash! You need to follow the link to see the pictures and get the details

I have just seen details of this great project ‘Sukkah’ at St Jame’s Church Piccadilly who are working with the Jewish Social Action Forum at West London Synagogue. It’s  joint celebration of the Church’s Harvest Festival and the Jewish Sukkot Festival. With food donations going to local food banks.

Very pleased to see the involvement of

  • RCA sculptor and alumni Anna Sikorska
  • the Trussell Trust
  • scriptural reasoning

Great event!

Memorial Service for a well loved and much respected engineering entrepreneur

Colin with Turbine editedIt was a great honour to assist at the memorial service for Prof Colin Besant, who died suddenly during the summer. The service was an opportunity for friends and colleagues to pay their respects and give thanks for the part that Colin had in their lives and work. Colin was a highly creative engineer, and engineering entrepreneur. He began working to develop nuclear reactors in the 1960s. In the late 1960s he saw the potential for Computer Aided Design for engineering and manufacturing. He also worked on power generation, heat exchange and electro-magnetic imaging. Colin was one of the pioneers of what is now known as ‘the spin-out company’, the way of developing ideas from PhD research into businesses. You can read more about his career in this obituary.

With all memorials – whether for someone with religious or philosophical beliefs – we want to prepare an event that is true to the values and beliefs of the person being remembered. So, for Colin, this was something very traditionally Anglican. He was a member of his local Church and a Church Warden – one of the key elected lay leaders. Yet, with academic colleagues coming from a wide range of world views, we also explicitly say that everyone is welcome, and that we do not presume that everyone has the same beliefs. Those attending are, I hope, then free to use the liturgical space and time for their personal reflections, thanksgiving and farewells. That’s not exactly rocket science. But it is, I hope, a rooted, and open, expression of Anglican Christianity.

For those who are interested, the engine in the picture is an Auxiliary Power Unit for a Vulcan aircraft. This was discovered by Colin in Derby and brought back to the department of Mechanical Engineering for experimentation!

Colin Besant, may he rest in peace, and rise in glory

Not one but two Buddhist colleagues?

DSC_1533 Zafus - Buddhist meditation cushions, black with white labels saying chaplaincy

Here is an article I have written for  ‘Kalyana Mitra – Caring for others through Spiritual Friendship’,  the newsletter of The Buddhist Chaplaincy Support Group.

The Church of England Chaplain at Imperial College, Andrew Willson, talks about Higher Education Chaplaincy and working with two Buddhist colleagues.
In the Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre at Imperial we have four key areas to our work. The first is the multi-faith approach – using the Centre as a place where students of different faiths can practice their religion.
The second area is pastoral care. Sometimes this relates to a person’s religious life, but often it does not. The third area is interfaith – promoting better understanding and co-operation between people from different religious groups. The fourth area is offering opportunities to reflect on meanings and values arising from studies or work. For example, supporting medical ethics teaching, facilitating staff and students to share together their motivations and inspiration as civil engineers, or reflecting with animal care technicians about the stresses of their work in bio-medical research. In reality these four key areas all overlap!
For me, working with chaplains from religions different to my own has been the best way to do chaplaincy in education. Collaborative work between Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Christian and Muslim colleagues demonstrates our commitment to interfaith co-operation and dialogue in our own lives.
For the last 6 years at Imperial we have used our budget to employ part-time chaplains who have a generic role serving anyone who comes to the Chaplaincy, as well as those from their own faith tradition. We have had Hindu and Lutheran chaplains, who have supported Chaplaincy in the four key areas. A year ago we invited Karuna Priya, our volunteer Buddhist Chaplain, take on a paid role as a generic chaplain in this way, as well as continuing to support the Buddhist communities at Imperial.
Sixteen months ago Hogetsu Baerndal came from ‘Kalyana Mitra’ for a voluntary placement to learn about HE Chaplaincy. My Lutheran colleague, Rikke Juul, and I were already running a non-religious mindfulness group. When she returned to Denmark we were able to employ Hogetsu for one day a week to lead our mindfulness work. As a trained Zen Mindfulness teacher, Hogetsu strengthened our mindfulness programme. Given the great interest in mindfulness in Higher Education we are in a good position. Together we offer a mindfulness programme that includes introductory sessions, workshops, and a weekly group. We also offer Buddhist and Christian meditation. I sense that staff and students like seeing people from different religions working together. It demonstrates that both sides respect each other, and that creates a safe, respectful space for others to enter.
Working closely with my Buddhist colleagues has energised my own Christian meditation practice. It has sent me back to the sources of my own contemplative tradition, especially to read those Christians who have a deep understanding of Buddhism, like Thomas Merton, Anthony De Mello, and James Finlay. Buddhism has helped me see the integration of mind, body and spirit that is deep in the tradition of Christian prayer and meditation. And that only deepens my understanding of Jesus and his teaching.