The Common Awards partnership includes students from many different denominations studying for many different purposes, but the origins of the partnership lie in the Church of England's deliberations about the training of its ordained ministers.
The Church of England's ordination training is provided by a number of institutions around the country – though many of those institutions also train students for other forms of ministry as well. Before the introduction of Common Awards, each of those Theological Education Institutions (TEIs) made its own arrangements for validation, ensuring that its students could emerge with a recognised academic award backed by a University.
That situation began to change in 2011, when a pair of Church of England reports proposed that, although the Church should continue to expect its ordinands to gain awards accredited by a Higher Education Institution, there should now be a single partner validating the majority of the training offered around the country. That would mean that students from all these TEIs would emerge with awards from the same provider: hence the title 'Common Awards'.
The Church invited tenders for that validation contract, and in 2012 Durham University’s bid was chosen. In 2013 a contract was signed between the Church of England and the University, and (after several months of hard work and extensive consultation with all of the relevant stakeholders) a suite of programmes designed by the Church of England's National Ministry Team was approved by the University. During the 2013/14 academic year, a Durham team visited each of the TEIs that were to become part of the scheme, and contracts between each of those institutions and the University were signed.
The delivery of the Common Awards began in the autumn of 2014.
Since then, a small number of additional TEIs have joined the scheme, the number of students taking Common Awards programmes has increased, and the range of programmes available has expanded.
In 2019, the contract between the Church of England and the University, and the individual contracts between the University and the TEIs, were renewed.