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This is a series on reaching students at the various kinds of UK higher education institutions. On Monday we thought about reaching students at ancient universities; and yesterday those at red brick universities. Today’s post is on plate glass universities.

York UniversityExample Universities: York, Lancaster, East Anglia

Plate glass universities in a nutshell: Plate glass universities date from the 1960s, and were mainly built as landscaped campuses on green field sites found at the periphery of cities. They typically have a higher percentage of state school students than both ancient and red brick students, still attracting a large number of international students (who are particularly congregated in certain departments). They offer degrees in a wide range of subjects: some more ‘vocational’ degrees are world renowned.

Opportunities at plate glass universities: Plate glass universities are often based on completely self-contained campuses based around bustling walking corridors – making them friendly, safe and social places where students enjoy spending time and available for the whole of the working day. There’s also often plenty of public space that can be booked. Lunchtime events can work particularly well, and hall groups can be very effective. Many first year and postgraduate students live on campus, making evening campus-based events (including international cafes) accessible to them. Some first contact initiatives can be run across the campus, capturing the wider university’s imagination. The campus is discrete, and this can focus Christians’ minds about their mission field.

Challenges at plate glass universities: It’s often difficult for returning students to live on campus, placing initiative on first year students to make the most of missional opportunities within on-campus accommodation. Many students often live a good distance away from the campus (sometimes needing to catch a bus to get to it), meaning that evening events essentially need to be pitched at one group or other to be accessible. It can be difficult to cater for evening events on campus as student kitchens become a limiting factor.

UYCUIdeas for mission for CUs at plate glass universities:

1. Plate glass universities are a type of university in which lunch bars can work very effectively, engaging a large number of non-Christians and training the CU in conversational evangelism
2. Campus-wide first-contact events (such as a campus-wide text-a-toastie) can realistically engage a huge percentage of those living on campus, sowing seeds and acting as an advertisement for other upcoming evangelistic events
3. Plate glass universities are often world-renowned for certain vocational degrees (particularly law, international business management, accounting and finance, computing etc.) amongst others. Arranging for a Christian who is successful in this world to share their story can be very effective, especially in engaging international students on these courses
4. CU small groups are well worth investing in strongly at these universities – campus life can be something of a bubble, and it’s possible for non-believers to get to know a wide range of Christians, to hear the gospel and to see the goodness of the gospel lived in community. These can be particularly powerful during events week, when a well-advertised series can become known about across the university
5. Consider running two follow-up groups after a major set piece event (such as a carol service or an events week) – one on campus and one in the city: that way, the course can be accessible to students wherever they live

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to plate glass universities – this can be quite hard, given that the campuses are often self-contained and miles out of the city but, beyond encouraging students into the local CU, here are a few ideas:

1. Many international students at plate glass universities are extremely lonely – the self-contained nature of the universities can draw international students away from experiencing life in the wider city. Many live on campus even outside of term time. Christian hospitality in real homes in these contexts can be extremely powerful
2. Arrange for lifts to and from campus to church, particularly for key church gatherings and guest services – without these, many non-believers will consider church too far away and effectively non-accessible
3. Offer to host or cater for a CU event – as mentioned above, the students will be severely restricted in their own food preparation on campus and will seriously value your help!
4. In some cities, churches are better placed to reach students on a night out in the city than the CU is, given that not all students live in the city. Liaise with the CU and with other churches to see if you might catalyse a late-night club ministry
5. If your church has the correct licences, consider showing major cultural and sporting events on a large screen – students may not have anywhere very exciting to watch these events on campus, so it shouldn’t be hard to make them attractive, and to use them to get to know some students

Next time, we’ll think about the ex-polytechnic or ‘new’ universities.

This is a series on reaching students at the various kinds of UK higher education institutions. Yesterday we thought about reaching students at ancient universities; today we’re considering those at red brick universities.

 University of Leeds

Example Universities: Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol

Red brick universities in a nutshell: Red brick universities were founded towards the end of the Victorian era in key British cities. Originally specialising in science and technology, they now offer a range of courses in many traditional academic disciplines, plus also in a few key vocational areas. International student numbers are high. There is a higher proportion of state-educated students than at some ancient universities. There is normally a ‘precinct’ of university buildings close to the city centre; first year accommodation is normally in halls of residence some distance from where lectures take place. Christian Unions are relatively large, and there is normally a wide range of local evangelical churches spread across the city.

Opportunities at red brick universities: Whilst life in a hall of residence isn’t quite of the quality of life in college, halls do make it easy to make a wide range of friendships which can be maintained over three years. There is often a very rich extra-curricular emphasis based around a thriving Students’ Union building. Whilst in the evenings, students can be spread out across the city they are often within a close proximity during working hours, making lunchtime events particularly easy to run. Like their colleagues at ancient universities, students at red brick universities enjoy ideas and aren’t frightened to think. Christian students are often spread across a wide range of churches, often reducing church ‘politics’ and making inter-denominational unity attainable.

Challenges at red brick universities: In the evenings, students can be spread across a wide area, sometimes making it difficult to find a venue that is easily accessible to a wide range of students. Security concerns in larger cities also put some students coming in the evenings, if they think they might need to walk home alone. Red brick university cities often have a strong music scene, lively nightlife options and a range of other activities offered by both the university and the city – if students perceive a lack of quality from Christian activities, they’re much less likely to come.

sheffield CU logoIdeas for mission for CUs at red brick universities – like CUs at ancient universities, there are lots of possibilities here, but here are five key ideas:

  1. There are normally loads of clubs and societies at red brick universities – encourage each CU member to join one
  2. CUs at red brick universities can arrange some large set pieces and can be creative with venues: people are used to go into town in the evening, and so a carol service in a cathedral or even events week activities in central venues allows more creativity than venues on campus
  3. It’s not unusual to be able to get several hundred people to a lunchtime event if it’s held near the most bustling point of the university precinct (often the Students’ Union Building): these apologetic events can engage with people’s real questions and train the CU for personal evangelism
  4. There may be opportunities to engage certain university departments – perhaps those with large numbers of Christian students, or those who Christian academics on the faculty. Lunchtime events can be particularly effective here
  5. International Cafes often thrive at red brick universities – there are vast numbers of international students who appreciate British hospitality in a city that can often feel large, threatening and impersonal

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to red brick universities:

  1. Like at ancient universities, there are lots of international students (and their families) who come to red-brick universities. Yet the larger city environment can mean that international visitors get swamped by the city and are desperately lonely; Christian hospitality has an amazing role to play here
  2. Quality both matters and appeals to students at red brick universities, who are used to being offered quality in everyday life in the university and in the city more widely. Who is gifted to a high quality within your congregation – in media, in design, in music, the arts etc.? How could these gifts be used in mission? Could they be offered to the CU to use too?
  3. Students will be likely be accommodated over a wide geographical area, some of them quite far away from where you meet – how can you make ‘guest services’ more appealing to students who may need to make quite an effort to get there? A free shuttle service? Walking buses? A meal afterwards? These little gestures demonstrate a commitment to non-believing students
  4. Red brick universities often maintain something of their original scientific specialism. A high-quality church day themed on Christianity and Science, featuring input from a Christian academic in science, will be of massive help to the Christian scientist students (as well as your wider church family), and may catalyse all sorts of other outreach in science departments
  5. Red brick CUs can sometimes struggle to attract enough ‘CU Guests’, graduates who work voluntarily alongside the CU during an events week, seeking to support and catalyse mission. Offer ministry trainees or members of your church staff for the whole week – they can then help to act as a local form of ‘follow up’ after the events week has finished, and personally invite seekers to church.

Tomorrow we’ll think about the universities founded in the 1960s – the so-called ‘plate glass’ universities.

This is Part 1 in a series of reaching students at the broad range of UK universities, and concerns ancient universities.

Durham University
Example Universities: Oxford, Cambridge, Durham

Ancient universities in a nutshell: These institutions have a global reputation. They are normally centuries old, collegiate-based and are concentrated into a small geographical area. There is a wide spread of traditional academic subjects offered, and a strong emphasis on research. Students are high achievers and are more likely to have been privately educated. Very high numbers of international students are in the student cohort. There are often well-known churches in the town, and a sizeable Christian Union with an influential history.

Opportunities at ancient universities: Plenty. It is easy to make a range of friends, both in quality and quantity. Shared college life accelerates the process of making friends, and there is often a developed extra-curricular and sporting programme (both in college, and across the university). The layout of the university means that students are never very far away from one another – it is relatively easy to draw a crowd of students either at lunchtime or in the evenings. Students at these universities often enjoy thinking (even beyond their own academic discipline) and can be willing to discuss ‘big issues.’

Challenges at ancient universities: The busyness of life at these universities can spread students very thin. The presence of a large cohort of Christian students often spread across a small number of local churches can sometimes lead to an unhealthy ‘competition’ between evangelical churches. Churches and CUs compete for time in what is an already crowded marketplace. ‘New atheism’ is at its strongest and most vociferous in some of these universities.

DICCUIdeas for mission for CUs at ancient universities – there are too many here to list, and here are just five:

  1. There’s an opportunity to engage a high proportion of the entire university through a well-planned and advertised events week or carol service
  2. Those living in college will probably never have the number of good friends that they are sharing life with in college: college CU groups have one of the best opportunities for sharing their lives as they share the gospel anywhere in the UK – make sure they’re well-resourced
  3. Regular lunch bars will give you the opportunity to intrigue non-believers and train the CU to answer their friends’ questions – almost certainly you will have an accessible venue, and fellow students will genuinely want to hear how a response is made
  4. Have an alternative ‘Freshers Fair’ after an early central CU meeting, where CU members share the clubs and societies they are part of. Encourage everyone present to join at least one more – witness is much easier when there’s more than one Christian present
  5. The CU is probably big enough and well-enough resourced to be able to support and arrange evangelistic events to particular groups – within departments, those with particular interests, creatives etc. Encourage CU members with shared passions for these groups to get together and give them permission to try new ideas in engaging these groups

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to ancient universities:

  1. Start a ‘local link’ scheme through which church members offer hospitality to international students (and their families, where appropriate). As a church it might be possible to arrange excursions for international students too
  2. Encourage postgraduates and academics within church to informally mentor undergraduate students in their discipline – demonstrating how they have found satisfactory answers to the intellectual challenges within the discipline, and sharing opportunities for witness
  3. Let the Students Union and Volunteering Society know about community projects your church is involved in – these groups are often looking for local projects to support, and may give you contact with a range of students (Christian and non-Christian)
  4. Host a guest service the Sunday after key CU outreach points (e.g. Freshers’ Week, the carol service, events week), arranging a meal afterwards and making it easy for seekers to hook into church life
  5. The CU is normally poorly placed to reach the vast number of postgraduate students at ancient universities. Talk to the postgraduate students in your churches about how the church might better catalyse mission amongst postgraduates.

Tomorrow, we’ll think about red brick universities.

Going to university in the UK is far from a uniform experience. The type of university that a student attends strongly affects the sort of people that they will meet, the sort of activities they will spend their time in, and the sort of person that they are being shaped to be. In their book, Christianity and the University Experience, Mathew Guest and his team suggest that there are, in fact, five different ‘sorts’ of universities (ancient universities, red brick universities, the ‘plate glass’ universities of the 1960s, ex-polytechnic universities and the ‘cathedral group’ universities). I want to add a sixth – the specialist higher education college – which fell outside of their remit, but which is different in flavour again to the other types of institution.

To many outside of the university world this comes as quite a surprise: most people think that the university experience is effectively the same for all students. In particular, churches (and even Christian Unions) can overlook the particular challenges and openings that different sorts of universities bring for the gospel. Though I work for UCCF, this isn’t any sort of ‘official’ position; it’s just the reflection of someone who’s been in student ministry in the UK for more than a decade, who’s had the opportunity to work with each of these university types in some measure.

These descriptions will, naturally, only be brushstrokes. I’m particularly aware that they’ll apply to some contexts less than others. London, for example, requires a completely different strategy, given that so few students live close to where they study (and so many students commute in from their parental home). But I’m hopeful that these posts might stir some thought on how we might more adequately reach students across the nation.

I’m convinced that student mission works best when local churches are themselves active, but also when they encourage their students to be active in mission through their local Christian Union. This partnership also works best when churches don’t try to replicate ministry that the CU can do better, and vice versa. For that reason, I’ll suggest activities that both of these groups might undertake which can be of mutual benefit to each other.