Church 'disappointed' at leak urging QUB to sever college link
The Presbyterian Church has expressed dismay that a recommendation by Queen's University to end its link with Union Theological College was seen by the media before its own staff.
An internal university review - seen by the BBC - has advised cutting the links to the Presbyterian-run institution that dates back to 1927.
Around 150 theology students are admitted each year, with some being trained for the ministry.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland said yesterday: "We have been awaiting the final outcome of the university's review for some time now, the report of which senior staff at Union Theological College have still not received.
"Needless to say, we were disappointed to find that the report, which we understood to be part of an internal process, was given to journalists who appear to have a full copy of the text."
The Church added: "While we appreciate the opportunity to respond, it would be inappropriate to comment further on the outcome of a review that we have not seen."
Queen's University said it was "currently considering" the implications of the review.
"The university is committed to ensuring that issues raised by the review will be addressed and its priority is to continue to support students who have already begun their course," it said.
"Prospective students that have applied to affected programmes for 2019-20 entry have been contacted and supported to find suitable alternatives."
Two previous Queen's reviews about Union Theological College in 2016 and 2018 have already raised concerns. The 2018 report said that admission to undergraduate programmes would be suspended, as a single denomination providing all theology provision was "highly problematic and not sustainable in today's post-conflict Northern Ireland".
The lack of female teachers was also criticised.
If the latest review is approved, there will no longer be any affiliated colleges that teach theology to undergraduate students at Queen's.
A small number of students take postgraduate courses at Union Theological College, Edgehill Theological College, Irish Baptist College and Belfast Bible College.
Queen's will also end its links with these colleges once students complete their studies.
Religious teaching, in some form, is expected to continue at Queen's through other departments, such as English and history.
In December Union Theological College said it was not by choice that it had become the sole provider of undergraduate courses.
"As to why Northern Ireland's three other theological colleges found themselves unable to work with Queen's University is, of course, an open question," it said at the time.
"Is the real issue that there is no place for a Christian college linked to the Queen's University of today?"