Courses criticised

29th May 1998 at 01:00
Education has always been close to the heart of the Church of Scotland. The General Assembly last week heard debates on state funding for religious schools, school closures, theological training and university tuition fees. Neil Munro reports

THE MOST unexpected controversy at the Assembly was generated by an innocent reference in the report from the education committee on the obscure Highland Theological Institute, based at Moray College in Elgin. The committee cast doubt on its academic standing for training Church of Scotland ministers.

This infuriated Rev Peter White, a Glasgow minister who helped to validate institute courses. He said: "They cover the range you would expect in a theological course and are certainly better than what I experienced at Glasgow University".

He accused the education committee of making "a false statement damaging to HTI's reputation. The least that could be done is to withdraw that section of the report and then apologise."

Mr White was supported by Rev Graham Houston, chaplain to Heriot-Watt University, who agreed that "all rigorous academic controls are present".

But an attempt to commit the Church to a full investigation of the position at the HTI was defeated. Andrew Blake, the education convener, said the criticisms were "out of proportion". The remarks about the institute were based on views from experts at Aberdeen, St Andrews and Stirling universities.

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