Let me tell you a dream.
It begins in the real world. I first visited Utah when I was 15, at an age when I was first considering my future, what I wanted for my life, who I was, who I would be. I felt very Mormon and was beginning to accept that part of my social identity.
I found BYU truly amazing. Partly because I had never been to a university before and partly at the sheer size of the place. Here was a shining city of learning full of people like me.
Well, not quite . . . and there is the rub. The vast majority of the students were American. I was not, and while a path to BYU was technically open for a boy from the Shire such as myself, it would not be a natural nor an easy choice. This great campus was largely built to the benefit of Mormons who already lived in Zion. I remember feeling sad.
Since then I have been lucky to have received a good education in the great institutions of my homeland and elsewhere. I also rode the uncertainty of young adult Mormon life and arrived at a grown up commitment to the church. All without BYU! As I think about my own kids’ education I think about Oxford or Cambridge, or one of the civic “redbricks” in the English towns, or perhaps the happy EU tuition reciprocity available in universities in Holland or Germany. However, there are many Mormon families more worried about the social stress a gentile education might place on their children’s faith than I am. I do not share their worry but I understand it and so, like them, I wish BYU was more readily available here. I am sure there are Mormons in developing countries who feel this even more acutely, given that BYU represents the chance not only for a Mormon education but also for a quality American education, one which might unlock remarkable doors otherwise barred.
This is a post about a dream so we will have to return for a discussion of the data — foreign students, funding for foreigners and so on. For now, let us accept that the BYU campuses’ geography mean that they will always favour the American whatever our wishes to the contrary. That is just a fact.
And so, the dream:
BYU currently has a London Centre, a rather splendid building near Hyde Park. Like other centres across the world, it serves the study abroad ambitions of BYU students. And there’s the rub: local students are very unlikely to ever darken its doors. BYU thus has a presence in London that is of no use to the locals. I believe plans are afoot to expand BYU’s influence in places such as the UK — a hope and not yet a reality.
There is of course a thriving Institute of Religion in London but that is a rather different beast, serving the wider YSA community and not just students.
How about this, then:
BYU builds a dorm in London for students enrolled at colleges in the capital. British Mormon kids take classes by day at their universities and come back at night for happy Mormon socialising. They could take their Institute classes there too, led by a small team of resident professors. Maybe some other electives. This would would act as a higher education hub for LDS students across the UK and Europe and could provide the model for other cities.
I confidently predict it would be a roaring success.