A major new report has recommended increased funding for university chaplains after finding that they have a significant impact on the welfare of students.
The report, Chaplains on Campus, is based on a study carried out jointly by academics at Coventry, Durham and Canterbury Christ Church Universities.
They conducted interviews with over 400 university chaplains, managers and religion or belief organisations, and nearly 200 students.
The researchers found that chaplains play a vital role in supporting students "to integrate, progress with their university studies, develop their identities and practice their religion".
While the researchers commended the contribution of volunteer chaplains, they said that chaplains who were paid to be on campus full-time could better support universities and their student bodies.
"Chaplains provide a huge amount of voluntary labour to universities," they said.
"Volunteer chaplains play a vital role, but full-time and paid chaplains are better equipped for chaplaincy work and more embedded within their university structures."
The academics said universities should step in to fill the funding gap because many religious institutions are struggling to resource their own university chaplains.
"As student pastoral needs grow, universities increasingly depend on chaplains to supplement other student support services," the report reads.
"As religion and belief groups are becoming unable to sustain their current levels of funding for chaplaincy, universities need to increase budgets for chaplaincy across the sector. Universities should, in particular, commit to providing funds for chaplains' salaries."
Report co-author and Professor of Sociology of Religion at Coventry University, Dr Kristin Aune, said a lack of funding was holding chaplains back from meeting their full potential on campus.
"Our research has found that chaplains are doing a great job supporting students pastorally and responding to an increasingly multi-faith environment," she said.
"What is letting them down though, is how under-resourced they are, so one of our 15 recommendations is that universities increase their funding for chaplaincy to continue this vital service."
The study found that three-quarters of chaplains believed their presence had made an impact on individual students in the last 12 months, while two-thirds said there had been a change in atmosphere or sense of community on campus.
Students were also positive about the presence of chaplains on their university campus. Over a third of students who had visited the chaplaincy said they had done so to seek guidance or advice about their spiritual development, a personal problem, ethical concerns, or "life in general".
One student said chaplaincy had been "central to my university experience" while a student services manager at another university said that chaplaincy was making a "significance difference" to the campus experience and lives of individual students, "particularly students who may be vulnerable, or be looking for some support."
The Bishop of Winchester and Church of England lead bishop on higher education, Tim Dakin, welcomed the findings.
"This ground-breaking research provides churches and other religious bodies with a hugely important resource for supporting chaplains and chaplaincy in their ministry," he said.
"Chaplains are on the frontier of our engagement with young people and with universities as leading social institutions."