Tribal politics are blocking the amalgamation of 'unsustainable' teacher training colleges in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.
Integrated education chiefs and politicians have appealed for political progress as the cost of maintaining separate teacher training colleges is exposed.
St Mary's College and Stranmillis College already command 82% of the funding for teacher training here – also provided by Queen's University, University of Ulster and the Open University.
A report by consultants Grant Thornton revealed that St Mary's and Stranmillis colleges are the only teacher training establishments in the UK to receive additional money on top of core funding.
"The research concluded that Stranmillis and St Mary's are the only teacher training establishments in the UK which receive premia additional (money) to their core funding," Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry (right) said yesterday. "The cost of these in 2011-12 amounted to £2.16m."
Mr Farry has committed to keep funding the colleges in the short-term, but he warned that St Mary's and Stranmillis Colleges will not be financially sustainable within 10 years.
"If they do nothing, they will be unsustainable in the next decade," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
Of £9.3m core funding allocated to Northern Ireland's five teacher training institutions in 2011-12, Stranmillis received £3.8m. St Mary's College was close behind, with £3.7m funding.
Professor Linda Clarke, head of the University of Ulster's School of Education, pointed to the report's finding that it costs the Government 32% less per year to fund teacher training at the University of Ulster and Queen's.
It comes at a time when prospects for new teachers are scant.
Around 1,500 people who graduated in the past five years are not employed here. An international expert will start mediation with teacher training institutions, students and business leaders –and present findings to Education Minister John O'Dowd.
Tina Merron of the Integrated Education Fund appealed to nationalist and unionist politicians – who would naturally support the respective interests of St Mary's College and Stranmillis College – to leave party politics behind.
"If we are to genuinely move towards a shared future, our political parties need to move beyond sectoral interests and address the underlying structural reform that needs to take place in our education system," she said.
The Department of Employment and Learning provided £9.3m funding to Northern Ireland's five teacher training institutions in 2011-12. Stranmillis College and St Mary's College received £3.8m and £3.7m respectively. Queen's University received £852,000 while the University of Ulster received £692,000 for its teacher training provision. The Open University got £156,000 of the funding. In 2011-12, funding allocated to Stranmillis College per student per year was 38% above English and Northern Ireland's universities, and St Mary's was 31% more.