£200k set aside to support Spurgeon's College students caught out by regulator's decision

Spurgeon's College, London is one of the UK's leading Baptist theological colleges.Facebook

The Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) has allocated £200k in emergency funding for students at Spurgeon's College after England's higher education regulator refused its application for registration. 

The shock decision by the Office for Students (OfS) means that anyone commencing study at the college from September is not eligible for a loan or financial help from the Student Loans Company. 

Returning students will be able to access a reduced loan, but it also affects existing students who changed courses over the summer as OfS is treating them as new students, therefore disqualifying them from any loan at all. 

The BUGB said it was concerned for students affected by the "difficult and exceptional situation", some whom "have given up jobs to follow God's call on their lives". 

The fund is intended to replace the financial assistance that the students would otherwise have received from student loans and grants available to registered institutions. 

BUGB General Secretary Lynn Green said that there had been unanimous support for the creation of a fund to enable students to continue with their studies as planned.

"The work of our Baptist colleges in training men and women for Baptist ministry is essential to our Baptist family," she said. 

"One of our four key areas of work is investing in godly leadership, while one of our cultural values is that we aspire to feel like one team.

"Spurgeon's is an excellent college whose alumni are working across the world to support their communities. It has bold and innovative plans as it seeks to train men and women for Christian ministry and mission in the contemporary world.

"Trustees were therefore united in their decision to support the college and its students in this way." 

She defended the college against what she called the "flawed decision" of the OfS. 

"This is an exceptionally difficult situation for the College, and particularly for those students directly affected by what we believe to be a flawed decision," she said.

"We believe this funding will be sufficient to ensure that all those training for Baptist ministry can continue their studies as planned."

The OfS is the official regulatory body in England for higher education institutes.  Colleges need to be registered with the OfS in order for their student bodies to qualify for access to loans from the Student Loans Company or public funding grants from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

The regulator passed Spurgeon's on four out of five tests for registration but concluded that it did not meet the financial sustainability test, a position strongly refuted by the college, which has asked Jo Johnson to launch a review.

College Principal the Rev Professor Philip McCormack said that the college could "comfortably" ensure financial viability for the next three years - one of the requirements of the OfS.

"The OfS requires an institution to have the financial viability to operate for three years," he explained. 

"The reason why we are so amazed by this is that we have a robust balance sheet. We have the liquidity to offer it comfortably and deliver our primary ministry, which is training men and women for Christian ministry in the contemporary world.

"Bizarrely the OfS does not believe the money we have in our account we can use in order to deliver our ministry.

"We don't understand why they have come to that conclusion." 

Rev McCormack said welcomed the promise of financial assistance from the BUGB. 

"This is an encouraging and uplifting response of the Baptist family to an unjust and urgent situation.

"The college is now working on the implementation of this fantastic expression of love from our Baptist Union. We are meeting with each student to determine what they would have received from the Student Loan Company."