According to an ECU report, the majority of HE institutions provide some facilities for prayer, meditation and reflection.
Some institutions have fantastic multi-functional facilities for students and staff to use. Others provide unused rooms, such as lecture theatres, for groups of students to use when needed. But at some institutions students have to pray in toilets or under stairwells. And many students choose to go off campus to local places of worship. There is a huge disparity between the facilities institutions provide for students and staff to pray, meditate or reflect.
Whilst there is no requirement for institutions to provide prayer facilities for students or staff, consideration should be given to the needs of students who do require facilities and time for prayer, meditation and reflection.
Deciding whether to provide prayer, meditation or reflection facilities is a decision institutions are increasingly being asked to make, in particular as the diversity of students increases, with different demands and requirements. This can put pressure on existing facilities and services.
However, tensions also arise about how these spaces are created, decided upon and how they are managed once in place.
Students should have the ability to access a space for prayer, meditation, or reflection if they need to whilst at university or college. At some universities or colleges there can be a significant number of students who need space, sometimes at the same time (for example Friday prayers for Muslims). There can also be different groups with different requirements, which may need to be managed if these requirements differ or clash.
It can therefore require careful consideration of the different needs of students, and identifying suitable space for these students. Sometimes it is not to provide facilities for prayer on campus but it is important that students have access to a space that is accessible, where they need it, so there is limited disruption to their studies and timetable. This may therefore involve providing information about local places of worship where students can attend.
Another reason problems seem to arise between different groups regarding prayer facilities is lack of clarity by the institution, and therefore the students, about what particular facilities are provided for.
Some institutions and students’ unions or associations assume by creating a multi-purpose space for multiple faith groups, good interfaith and belief relations between groups will naturally develop. This is not necessarily the case, and other strategies should be undertaken if this is the primary objective - see the section on good campus relations for further information.
If your institution is looking at creating or improving an existing space used for prayer, meditation or reflection, your students’ union or association should be involved in that process. You should consult with students about what their particular needs are so this can be considered in the development of the provision.