OfS reaches agreement with the Archbishop of Canterbury

It's destined to be a quiz question - who is permitted to award research degrees in England but does not have university title and is not registered with the Office for Students?

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

That’s right – by virtue of section 3 of the 1533 Ecclesiastical Licenses Act, the Archbishop of Canterbury has the power to award academic degrees (and apparently “licences dispensacions faculties composicions delegacies rescriptes instrumentes or other wrytynges”).

You’ll know that this is all set out in section 55 of HERA, which does prompt the question as to why it has taken six years to come up with a memorandum of understanding between the regulator and the Archbishop.

In 1990 Former Archbishop Robert Runcie established an MA programme, and in 2007 Rowan Williams started the practice of awarding MPhils and PhDs, and in doing so the Archbishop’s Academic Board set out to ensure that these maintained equivalence and comparability with similarly named awards everywhere else.

There was clearly no interest in complying with the requirements of Office for Students regulation – but this also means (as the document sets out) that there is no access to the benefits of registration (stuff like public funding, access to the student support system, or a Tier 4 license). And in the same way the Archbishop cannot claim to be regulated by the Office for Students (he may claim he is regulated by a Higher Power than even James Wharton), the Office for Students cannot claim to regulate the Archbishop of Canterbury – however much the fringes of the Conservative Party may take issue with the churches’ approach to freedom of speech issues.

In practical terms this means very little, other than establishing a yearly catch up wherein Director of Monitoring David Smy at OfS gets a trip to Lambeth Palace to meet the Reverend Canon Kim Hitch to chat about matters of mutual interest (the “boots on the ground” investigations and that bit about “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven” spring, unbidden, to mind).

But why now? The OfS moves in mysterious ways

One response to “OfS reaches agreement with the Archbishop of Canterbury

  1. Reading between the lines (and with a PhD in Anglican Theology and 25 years working in the sector, I am experienced in reading between the lines in both Church and HE texts), I would say that the degrees covered by 6(a) are uncontroversial, as HERA explicitly states that nothing in it alters the ABC’s right to confer degrees not requiring a programme of study or examination. I suspect that there has been a lot of wrangling over 6(b) – degrees that do require a programme of study and/or examination – with the ABC perhaps maintaining that nothing in HERA explicitly removed this right, and OfS perhaps maintaining that as this wasn’t part of the explicit carve out in HERA, this right has been removed. If that’s the case, it would seem that the ABC’s view has prevailed.

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