Monday, January 20, 2014

Catholic higher education in North under threat – University head

The principal of the North’s only Catholic higher education institution has expressed concern that an education review could pose a threat to the future of his college.

Prof. Peter Finn, head of St Mary’s University College, Belfast, has also accused the North’s Higher Education Minister Stephen Farry of being “on a mission” to shut the teacher training facility.

Minister Farry has said the existing system of five separate teacher training providers in the North is unsustainable and has appointed an expert panel to examine the case for reform.

Speaking to The Irish Catholic this week, Prof. Finn said the review is both “opportunist and politically motivated” and called on the Northern Ireland Executive to “uphold the right of a small Catholic higher education institution to continue to exist and to develop in a pluralist democracy”.

“The planned growth of St Mary’s through academic diversification was stopped by the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) in 2008 and replaced by a funding mechanism which included premia to acknowledge the small size and specialist nature of the institution,” Prof. Finn explained.

“To threaten to withdraw those premia now would be an act blatantly designed to force the closure of the institution or its merger, which amounts to the same thing.

“There is a very important principle at stake here, namely upholding consociationalism or accommodation of diversity which is at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The allocation of student numbers or a funding mechanism are levers which can be manipulated by those who have power so I have appealed to political and other leaders to not have the wool pulled over their eyes by the review which has been put in place by the DEL Minster,” he said. “Not for the first time in history catholic education has to defend itself,” he added.

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