Monday, November 9, 2009

A shake up for theological education in NZ?

Here in Aotearoa NZ we have a complex and bewildering array of possibilities to obtain a theological qualification, and, arguably, it is even more confusing when talking about fulfilling requirements for Anglican ordination (because there are no national standards). Here I want to focus on theological qualifications, but will mention ministry formation.

We have four main university level routes to obtain a degree in theology: the University of Auckland, University of Otago (Dunedin), Carey Baptist College (Auckland), and Laidlaw College (until a few years ago known as the Bible College of New Zealand). Auckland is beginning a path towards its degree being obtainable by distance/online learning; both Carey's, Laidlaw's and Otago's degrees are obtainable in this way. The college I am currently involved with, Bishopdale Theological College in the Diocese of Nelson, offers studies towards a Laidlaw College degree. Laidlaw, incidentally, has its main campus in Auckland, and a branch campus in Christchurch.

It is also possible to obtain theological qualifications through Maori educational institutions, though my understanding of the focus of the subjects offered is that it is geared towards a Maori perspective to the extent that few non-Maori are likely to be drawn to these courses.

The Ecumenical Institute of Distance Theological Studies offers the possibility of obtaining an L. Th. via distance learning (and some block courses). This course, as best I understand its standing in relation to a 'university degree', is that it is of a university standard while not being equivalent to a degree. This is particularly worth noting because one issue in education concerns the portability of credits, and my understanding is that someone part way through an L. Th. who wished to transfer credits to a university degree poses interesting questions!

Other angles to note are Roman Catholic education, some of which falls within the University of Auckland, and some of which, for priests in training, is connected with Australia. The latter country also figures in relation to the University of Otago which offers entry to a Doctor of Ministry degree accredited by the Melbourne College of Divinity.

From a diocesan ministry education perspective I note that there is no nationally accessible certificate or diploma level qualification below the level of university degree studies, save for EFM (Education for Ministry). I mention this because such qualification might be accessible time and fees wise in a way in which university level courses are not. For example, typically a person undertaking a distance university course for a semester requires $500-$600 and 6-8 hours available time per week. This is off-putting for people with tight household budgets and full-time work.

Finally, from a strictly Anglican perspective, our residential college, St John's College (Auckland) has developed a Diploma of Anglican Studies which is a ministry formation course, and Bishopdale Theological College is developing a proposal for a Graduate Diploma in ministry formation. Among differences between the two is that the former, for the most part, will be a pre-ordination qualification, obtainable through full-time residential study, while the latter will be a post-ordination qualification obtainable through block courses along with active reflection on the practice of ministry between block courses. Perhaps in this same paragraph we could mention the Master of Ministry programme offered by Otago for people who have been in ministry for a few years - a popular programme across a number of denominations.

Already I can imagine a commenter pointing out something significant I have missed!

In the midst of this description of the 'formal' side of theological education and ministry formation, another narrative can be told, for both Pakeha and Maori, of a trend away from national centres of ministry education to localized training in regions. Thus various dioceses are showing an interest in local initiatives which could lead to locally provided qualifications (with or without NZ Qualifications Authority accreditation).

Then there is the statistical narrative of which of the above institutions are growing in enrolments, which are stable, and which are declining ... rumour has it that X is struggling, Y is facing a government imposed cap in numbers, and so forth.

Is it time for a shake up for theological education in NZ?

Here is a quick thought:

How about two national theological providers: an Auckland College of Theology (incorporating all current Auckland degree providers, and diploma providers) and an Otago College of Divinity (incorporating the EIDTS L.Th.)? Two are proposed because a bit of competition is a good thing for the avoidance of complacency.

Each College would offer possibilities for residential and for online learning, from at least degree level to Ph. D level. Each would have flexibility to provide for shades of difference in perspective (evangelical/pentecostal/Roman Catholic/etc)

Each College could develop a 'special interest' such as a Master of Ministry, or a Diploma of Ministry Formation.

At least one College would provide opportunity for Certificate and Diploma level studies below university level (in respect of costs and of time commitment). Anglican and Roman Catholic dioceses, Presbyterian presbyteries, and the like would have a welcome invitation to develop local courses within a framework set and supervised by that College towards certificate and diploma qualifications.

Proliferation of accredited providers would cease. Portability of credits obtained would be enhanced. Other advantages would accrue.

How and when might we talk about this at a national level?

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