A decision to “prop up” Stranmillis and St Mary’s teaching colleges at the expense of Northern Ireland’s two universities could end up in the High Court, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Both Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and University of Ulster (UU) are understood to be unhappy after their post-primary post graduate certificate in education (PGCE) places were slashed by the Department of Education this week.
St Mary’s and Stranmillis — which are subsidised to the tune of £10m by the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) — have escaped the cull.
It has been claimed that the move has been done to safeguard the future of the Stranmillis, historically perceived as the teacher training college for Protestant students and St Mary’s, traditionally the place of choice for Catholic students.
Concerns for the financial viability of both colleges have already been raised with Stranmillis forecast to be in deficit by 2015.
“This is a political decision as the department has cut the most cost-effective form of teacher training to prop up Stranmillis and St Mary’s,” said a source.
“The pressure is on the department to explain its rationale and
ultimately this could end up as a judicial review.”
Queen’s will have 35 less post-primary PGCE places available this September while University of Ulster has lost 21 post-primary places and a further seven in the primary sector.
The decision will cost Queen’s almost £300,000 in DEL funding next year and University of Ulster just under £200,000 at a time when both have already had vast sums wiped from their budgets.
A reduction in teacher training places was not unexpected as newly qualified teachers here are struggling to find jobs.
Of the 678 graduates who registered with the General Teaching Council in Northern Ireland in 2010/11, just 6.4% were employed.
But it had been expected that all providers would have had their numbers reduced instead of Queen’s and University of Ulster bearing the brunt of the 10% cut of 663 places down to 600.
Vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster, Professor Richard Barnett, said: “We have requested information from the Department of Education about the objective criteria it used in coming to this decision. We have not received a reply, but will comment further once that information is provided.”
Queen’s, which said it was “disappointed” with the decision, added that it is seeking “an urgent meeting” with the Education Minister to discuss the matter.