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March 24, 2011


W. N.

Aberdeen in particular has been able to enlarge (and possibly will be continuing to enlarge)certain faculties by putting a new "hiring methodology" into practice: hire big shots and underpay the lower end of the teaching pyramid. This last year has seen a huge decrease in the hiring of teaching assistants, teaching fellows and lecturers, i.e. the people that carry all the teaching load, this resulting in overworked lecturers. The teaching assistants and fellows they have hired are being paid anything from 20 to 50% of a normal salary for the same number of hours they would do for a 100% salary. The climate is tense and talk about money-restricions is constant. No research money, no offices for part-time students, no write-up year...no rubbish bins, for crying out loud!
But still they manage to increase the hiring of professors... something smells fishy...


That's an interesting perspective W.N -- Having a quick look at the Aberdeen Divinity webpage, I see that there are, at present, only 4 professors in a department of some 20 staff in total. That's not too top heavy when you compare that with Durham, for instance, with 15 professors in a staff compliment of some 26. I also see from the webpage that at the same time as they've hired these three new profs they've also got three new junior posts -- one in East Asian religions, one in Islam (being searched just now) and the Gifford fellowship in natural theology. It doesn't look like there's anything particularly *dastardly* going on.

If Aberdeen is like other British uni's I think you'll find that what accounts for the difference in teaching you describe is an simple difference in roles -- lecturers and professors are engaged to teach and do research, and give maybe up to half their time on the latter. Teaching fellows and assistants are only hired to teach so their classroom hours are much higher. There's no injustice in that, just different job descriptions really.

Certainly money is in short supply at the moment in universities here in Britain, but obviously people can chose to spend the money that is around one way or another. I suppose I wouldn't mind walking down the hall with my rubbish occasionally if it meant I could have teachers like Wannenwetsch, Greggs, Mason and Webster etc.in the building...


And there I was thinking they just came to Scotland cos it's a great place to live. Silly me. ;-)


The guys over at the theology forum had a similar post on this topic yesterday, and I should like to pose the same question I raised over there: Does/will academic recruitment reflect this trend? I completely agree that Scotland is THE place to be for systematic/dogmatic theology right now, but are schools (both in the UK and the States) increasingly hiring graduates from Scottish programs or does a well-honored alma mater (read: Oxbridge) still trump a superb department?

David Bunce

I think Catriona has put her finger on the button - Scotland is just the place to be! They do proper beer for reasonable prices, a nice range of whisky and the attraction of regular Ceilidhs.

Plus, coming from someone studying at a Scottish theology school - it's just good craic to study here. Especially with the huge Barth heritage we have here at St Andrews :)

Keith G Jones

certainly Scotland is a great place to be ! But it is not the only place taking theology seriously - look at the Vrije University in Amsterdam and at Prague. Western and Central Europe are establishing centres of excellence in theology !

Alan Mair

I thought it might have someething to do with the Scottish reputation for a top class education. If only the same could be said about the football and rugby teams!


I bet Czech beer is cheaper than Scottish beer, David...
I would recommend the Jeneralka pub just across the road from the IBTS in Prague...


There is one problem with all this however and that is that Scotland's divinity schools are virtually devoid of theologians who are not in the reformed traditions. Glasgow is a little different but Aberdeen for example has no Catholic on the staff currently. I find this tragic to say the least.

Furthermore the majority of PhD students in theology come from the United States. There are not that many Europeans.

I would prefer to see a little more balance on these two fronts. I speak from experience.


I think a key reason why Scotland is able to attract so many theologians and England isn't is the state of Higher Education funding in England. Theology isn't a massive money-spinner, and so English universities are divesting of it more and more. And, I suspect, prospective students just don't see it as worthy of a £27,000 investment, given that there are so few jobs at the moment.

In Scotland, HE is free for domestic students, and cheaper for English and EU students, so students wishing to do things like theology - which don't necessarily lead to a career - feel like it's less of a risk to do it. More students = better resourced departments = better professors.

Gordon Hudson

Part of the reason for the lack of Catholics is that the RC church no longer sends priests to university as part of their training, as they did when I was a student. They used to do BD and seminary training but there are now no seminaries in Scotland. They all go to Scots college in Rome.


I studied in the UK universities and used to work in one of them, so for obvious reasons am staying anonymous.
Here's my take on why so many theologians have gone to Scotland; it's seen as more conservative, therefore safer, and there's far less religious diversity in Scotland than in England. Thus people can try to recreate a safe little theology subculture there.

At the same time, what I observed was a marked tendency for people to go to university to do theology there in order to escape a confessional Christian environment where they held each other accountable for their attitudes and behaviour, i.e. sexual behaviour, obviously. Put in plain language, far too many post-evangelical overgrown teenagers having a protracted personal rebellion, who think small rules about the details of one's personal behaviour don't truly apply to them. This sort of immaturity can be found among students but also among faculty. Add to that the fact that universities reward research much more than teaching, so academics' time goes on the former more than the latter, and they start losing their social skills and sense of social reality.

In relation to this, you need to realise that Bernd Wannenwetsch has been found guilty of sexual assault as of August 2013, and will be sentenced soon. This has been reported on the BBC, the Scotsman, the Daily Express, and elsewhere.






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