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St Stephen’s gives up PPH status to exclusively train priests

After a review by the University, St Stephen’s House will lose its status as a Permanent Private Hall (PPH) in September 2023. This move follows the closure of St Benet’s Hall in September 2022, which failed to renew its PPH license for the current academic year due to financial hardship.

Unlike St Benet’s, St Stephen’s is losing its PPH status because Oxford will no longer allow a PPH to deliver another university’s qualifications. Since 2014, St Stephen’s has offered the Church of England’s Common Awards programmes, which are validated by Durham University.

According to the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, the decision to forsake PPH status “represents a loyalty and commitment to the Common Awards system to which the majority of [Theological Education Institutions] subscribe,” and “this shift is by no means understood as a negative move by the House Council, nor by the Principal and Staff, nor by the University of Oxford.”

Despite the loss of its PPH status, St Stephen’s will continue to operate as an Anglican theological college and will continue to offer Oxford’s graduate qualifications in Theology and Religion. However, the House will no longer offer other graduate qualifications and will only consider candidates who are “ministers of religion, genuine candidates for the ministry, or exercising lay ministry.”

Robin Ward, Principal of St Stephen’s, reflected in this year’s edition of the House’s newsletter that “one of the more challenging aspects of the decision” was that “the focus moving forward [will] be solely on ordinands and those already ordained.” However, this change has “secured a future for the College” and allows St Stephen’s to “maintain relationships with both Durham and Oxford Universities and in turn offer the widest range of courses to ordinands.”

Founded in 1876, St Stephen’s is the oldest unamalgamated training institution in the Church of England. It has delivered Oxford qualifications since 1970 and became a PPH in 2003. Currently, the House comprises around 80 mature students: about a quarter are training for priesthood while the rest are pursuing a variety of graduate qualifications.

Robin Ward says that St Stephen’s new relationship with the University marks the beginning of an “exciting new chapter”: “I believe it is the trajectory which stays truest to the College’s founding – and still core – mission: to train priests in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.”

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