Belfast Telegraph

Minister criticises QUB for cutting link to college

Union Theological College in Belfast
Union Theological College in Belfast
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

The Presbyterian General Assembly was told yesterday of the sadness over the decision by Queen's University to break the link with the Church's Union Theological College (UTC).

Rev Nigel McCullough told the large group of clerical and lay delegates at the Assembly in Belfast: "We do not believe that the severing of the link was warranted or fair."

Queen's University ended its 92-year link with the college and closed the university's Institute of Theology after two critical reviews, in 2016 and 2018.

Issues raised included the "highly problematic" situation of a single denomination providing all theology provision, as well as a lack of female teachers.

Tracing the recent history of what happened, Rev McCullough reminded delegates that Queen's University and UTC had agreed in 2016 to undertake a BA in theology which comprised 70% of Union courses and 30% of courses from other Queen's departments.

He said: "This programme was due to commence in September 2018, and it did.

"It was the agreed solution to the diversity concern.

"Following last year's General Assembly and the media coverage which followed, a further review was announced by Queen's.

"A review at this stage was entirely unexpected, and we feel that no new review would have taken place were it not for the reaction to last year's Assembly.

"The review was conducted in September last, and although the college was a major stakeholder, no opportunity was given to it to respond to the report or its conclusions before key decisions were taken by the university.

"In December 2018, the intake for December 2019 was suspended, and then on April 9 past, the University Senate decided to withdraw all future undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

"Only after these decisions were taken did we receive the report."

In a strongly worded statement in a supplementary report made available to the General Assembly yesterday, UTC's management committee claimed that the Queen's report was based "on a flawed and confused review process".

It also stated that "UTC and the committee deeply regret that a way could not be found to continue work together".

"We are grateful for the long and productive relationships we have had with the university and (we) remain open to mutual co-operation in the future should the opportunity present itself," the statement added.

"While we regret that our partnership with Queen's University has been ended, we believe that the future provides new opportunities for Union College to deliver flexible and accessible programmes that will result in excellent training for our ministry students."

UTC confirmed that the college would lose £250,000 by 2021 if no new income streams were sourced and no new arrangements were made.

Rev McCullough confirmed that 13 new students for the ministry would start a postgraduate course in the college in September and that the UTC was actively looking for other ways to move forward.

He added: "We are very excited about our future."

He emphasised that "in 1881 the college was awarded a Royal Charter, giving it the ability to grant its own degrees, and these courses will be awarded through the Presbyterian Faculty Ireland".

"We are increasingly realising the charter to be a kind providence, and a crucial foundation for our future," Rev McCullough explained.

Following the address, Rev McCullough and other senior figures answered detailed technical questions about the college.

It was noted that there were as yet no women in the September intake of the college, and several speakers emphasised the importance of women applying for a role in the ministry.

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