More than 2,000 students applied for just 160 places at one of Northern Ireland’s leading teacher training colleges.
Stranmillis University College, the main non-denominational training facility, received 2,092 applications through the University and Colleges Admission Service for September — a rise of 152 on last year.
In a stark indication of how many young people are trying to become teachers in a shrinking profession, the south Belfast college received 13 applications for every space available.
The surge in interest comes despite Education Minister John O’Dowd slashing the number of student training places available here for 2012/13.
This has happened because of falling pupil numbers have led to 85,000 empty desks here.
In May, the minister cut the total number of initial teaching education courses (provided collectively by Stranmillis, St Mary’s University College, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Ulster and The Open University) from 663 to 600.
Questions have been raised about the sustainability of five separate teacher training providers, particularly as pupil numbers are forecast to continue their downward trend.
Plans to merge Stranmillis with Queen’s have been shelved.
New Office of National Statistics figures show that more and more teachers are failing to secure jobs. In July 1,175 teachers here were claiming the dole — a 35% increase in five years.
Ulster Bank’s chief economist Richard Ramsey said: “It is fair to say we currently have one of the most skilled and qualified dole queues ever.”
According to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers only around one in eight of Northern Irish qualified teachers secures employment on qualifying.
Mervyn Storey, chairman of Stormont’s education committee, has voiced concerns about the number of teachers being trained given the lack of job opportunities in the profession.
The DUP MLA said: “This year’s application number to Stranmillis is yet a further indication of how teaching is still a valued profession and the college is seen as a popular choice for students to train at. However, we cannot continue to train more teachers than there are positions for them to fill.”
“It’s long overdue for the Department of Education to introduce a newly-qualified teachers entrance scheme, similar to that in Scotland. With the ongoing problems of numeracy and literacy ... it is time for teachers who have not yet got full-time posts to be put to work in a meaningful way in our schools.”
By next month 1,047 teaching jobs will have been cut in three years, unions claim at a cost of £38.9m.
‘Many have had to move away to get jobs’
Keely McBride (24), Belfast
Twenty-four-year-old Keely McBride recently qualified as a teacher.
She said it would be “a dream come true” to land a teaching post but is pessimistic of her chances in doing so in the next year.
Keely, who is originally from Londonderry, currently works in a bar in Belfast and is desperate to secure a teaching job after spending five years studying at Queen’s University Belfast — four years completing a degree in Physics, and one doing a Post Graduate Certificate in Education.
“At the minute I'm like many others, trying to find a job doing what I want to do,” she said.
“From speaking to other people I know on the course who have secured jobs, they have had to go to England or Scotland to get those jobs.
“A few people have got jobs here, but not many.
“I have been studying for so long and now I'm at the end of the road I'm desperate to make that next step.
“I love teaching and it's what I want to do for a long time to come.”