Reaching students at plate glass universities

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.

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