A failure to recognise faith groups on college campuses is driving some students into the hands of extremists, the Church of England claimed yesterday.
Alan Murray, the Church of England's national adviser to further education, said colleges that did not include multi-faith chaplaincy services were failing to provide youngsters with their entitlement to religious expression. As a result, they were being forced to look elsewhere, making them vulnerable to radical organisations.
He said: "There is an issue about extremism in colleges. The point is if you have a chaplaincy team in the college, that means you have somewhere that students can go if they have worries about their faith or if they are being targeted by extremists.
"What ever it is, there should be someone in the college to cater for people's beliefs. It doesn't matter what faith they are from.
"If not, it pushes you straight into the hands of extremists who are on campus." Mr Murray made the warning during the Association of Colleges annual conference at Birmingham's International Convention Centre yesterday.
Earlier this month, a Government report warned that universities had become a "recruiting ground" for violent Islamic extremism.
It claimed some students were "vulnerable to 'grooming' by individuals with their own agenda as they search for friends and social groups".
Colleges have traditionally left matters of faith outside their doors. But Mr Murray claimed times had changed and in today's world religion was an important aspect of many people's lives that needed to be addressed.
"Do we expect people to leave their gender or sexuality at home?" said Mr Murray. "That would be ridiculous."
Mr Murray said college leaders were failing to pick up the new trend within society. "The secularists are out of touch," he said. "They are thinking back to their own childhood of the 1960s when it looked as though religion was in decline and they thought it was right to keep it out of campuses.
"But the opposite has happened. There is a huge religious revival going on and this is as much part of that as anything else."
Failing to respond to the demand to have people's religion recognised in colleges potentially posed a danger to the state, maintained Mr Murray. According to the Church of England, more than half of colleges now have chaplaincies.
It highlighted Warwickshire as a good example where six out of seven colleges in the county are developing chaplaincies.
However, Mr Murray singled out for criticism Matthew Boulton College in Birmingham, which earlier this year expelled two students for criticising a ban on religious clubs.
"The Matthew Boulton College situation is totally misconceived," he said. "These students are being sold short by the college."
The Government, however, appeared to rule out making chaplaincies an entitlement to students in further education.
Responding to a concerns raised by Mr Murray at the conference, Education Secretary Alan Johnson replied: "I will listen to the arguments, but at the moment I don't think that is going to be a factor in our debate." firstname.lastname@example.org