A panel from the University of Chester, England, recently validated the new B.A. Honors degree course by Bhaktivedanta College, based in the ISKCON Community of Radhadesh, Belgium.
Chester has already validated Bhaktivedanta College’s sole degree course so far—a B.A. in Theology and Religious Studies. The new program, a three-year degree in Educational Studies, Theology and Religion, builds on its predecessor. It offers a comprehensive understanding of education, an overview of the principal world religions, theological insight especially drawn from Vaishnava teachings, and practical preparation for a diverse range of ethical and fulfilling careers in education.
Three members of the University of Chester faculty, and one from Manchester Metropolitan University, visited Radhadesh on June 14th, 2012, to hold a validation panel for the course.
The panel’s Chair Garfield Southall, Faculty Representative Lynda Moore, Academic Representative Matthew Collins, Principal Assistant Registrar Colin Taylerson, and External Adviser Jane Bates arrived at Bhaktivedanta College at 10:30am.
They were welcomed by Program Leader Rasamandala Dasa, his wife Abala Dasi, and Principal Yadunandana Swami.
Their day began with refreshments and a tour of Radhadesh and the Bhaktivedanta College campus.
“The panel members appreciated the castle and gardens, and were particularly impressed with the Bhaktivedanta College library, which carries over 8,000 books,” says Yadunandana Swami.
After the tour, panel members met to examine and evaluate two validation documents, prepared by the College’s new department of Educational Studies under Rasamandala Dasa.
They then interviewed several College staff members including Yadunandana Swami, Rasamandala Dasa, Theology and Religious Studies Program Leader Mahendra Dasa, Career Guidance Leader and teacher Abala Dasi, and College Administrator Visakha Dasi.
Next, the panel enjoyed lunch at the Radhadesh Govinda’s restaurant, where they were joined by College librarian Jahnava-lila Dasi and secretary Lalita Manjari Dasi. The conversation turned to Krishna consciousness.
“The panel’s Chairman Garfield Southall was particularly favorable, because he had visited ISKCON London’s Soho Street temple in the late 1970s,” says Yadunandana Swami. “He is now a practicing Buddhist, and told us that ISKCON had contributed to his spiritual life.”
One of Mr. Southall’s favorite aspects of Krishna consciousness was kirtan—he still cherished a Radha Krishna temple record he had purchased in the ‘70s.
“So that afternoon, after lunch, we took him to the temple boutique, and I helped him to choose two traditional kirtan albums: Radhadesh Mellows and Vrindavan Mellows,” Yadunandana Swami says. “He also purchased a Bhagavad Gita As It Is, had me sign it for him, and promised to visit Radhadesh with his wife for a spiritual retreat.”
Next, the validation panel met privately once more to evaluate the responses they had received from the Bhaktivedanta College staff.
Finally, at around 5:30pm, they called the College representatives in and informed them that the new Educational Studies degree had been approved for validation by the University of Chester.
The validation panel commended Bhaktivedanta College for its passion and commitment, and the course for its originality and for responding to a defined student need.
While a new degree program is often approved subject to specific conditions, the Panel members were so satisfied with Bhaktivedanta College’s Educational Studies program that they approved it without any conditions.
They did, however, give some recommendations to be considered by the College when starting the new program.
“They suggested that mentors and personal academic tutors (PAT) keep formal records for students and program leaders,” Yadunandana Swami says. “They also recommended that we take advantage of the University of Chester’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), and suggested training opportunities for our teachers in how to use it.”
The validation from the University of Chester is, of course, a major endorsement for the academic pedigree of Bhaktivedanta College’s B.A. Honors in Educational Studies, Theology and Religion.
A progressive, up-and-coming institution, Chester recently moved up the Guardian League Table for UK Universities from position 80 to 52, out of 120 institutions, putting into it well into the top half. This is a big boost for Bhaktivedanta College, whose previous validating University, the University of Wales Lampeter, sits at position 110.
The validation also means that Bhaktivedanta College now has the green light to launch its three-year course immediately. The program’s first year will run from September 17th, 2012 until June 2nd, 2013, while the entire three-year run will end sometime in June 2015.
Eleven students have already registered for the degree program, hailing from Australia, the US, India, Belgium, South Africa, Swaziland, Ghana, the U.K., Slovenia and Mexico. Four to five more seats are still available for qualified students who apply promptly.
“The degree will equip ISKCON members who enroll with an educational foundation so that they can become teachers in ISKCON schools and beyond,” says Yadunandana Swami. “In this way, we expect that it will contribute to the improvement of ISKCON’s educational programs and systems.”
Lalita Manjari Dasi, one of the graduates from Bhaktivedanta College’s first degree course, a B.A. in Theology and Religious Studies, has already gained employment at the Krishna Avanti School in the UK. She is also studying for an MA in Religious Education at the prestigious Warwick University.
By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News