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Union College's new university link-up after break with QUB

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Lead role: Gordon Campbell

Lead role: Gordon Campbell

Lead role: Gordon Campbell

The Presbyterian Church has appointed the Reverend Professor Gordon Campbell as the new principal of Union Theological College in Belfast.

He will take over in January for a three-year term and will succeed outgoing principal the Very Reverend Dr Stafford Carson, who took up the post in 2013.

The Church also confirmed that it will operate a new undergraduate partnership with St Mary's in Twickenham, one of the UK's oldest Catholic universities.

Prof Campbell grew up in Belfast and was a pupil at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

He graduated from Queen's University with an honours degree in modern languages. Prior to entering the ministry he taught languages at Bangor Grammar School.

The partnership between Union College and St Mary's was first mooted in February this year, and the PCI's standing commission approved this week, on behalf of the General Assembly, the new 'Vision for Union Theological College'.

St Mary's, which was founded in 1850, has around 5,500 students. The arrangement means that St Mary's will validate undergraduate degrees offered by Union College. The college will, however, retain control over what is taught.

The PCI's clerk of the General Assembly the Reverend Trevor Gribben said that the partnership "has the potential to lead to a new and exciting future for Union College".

He added: "This was the aspiration of the 2019 General Assembly, especially in terms of flexibility for training in ministry, an increased student experience and broader academic outcomes."

Union College principal Dr Carson said that the partnership would "conserve Union College's confessional identity and restore the option for young people from all backgrounds, including different denominations from across Northern Ireland, to study theology at undergraduate level".

The new partnership has been agreed following a turbulent time for Union College in the recent past. In April 2019 Queen's University ended its 92-year academic link with the college.

This decision was deeply regretted and described by the PCI as the result of what it claimed to be a "flawed" review by the university, and there were further claims that the link was cut partly because of the Church's conservative attitude to same-sex relationships.

However, Prof Richard English, Queen's pro-vice-chancellor, said the university had concerns about the college's "diversity and breadth of curriculum, and about the range of opinions that people were exposed to".

The PCI estimated that the break with Queen's would cost the college an estimated £250,000 in the medium term.

However, the fees resulting from the new link with St Mary's will significantly help the college's finances in the future.

Meanwhile, the PCI standing commission, which consists of 25 Church figures meeting by video conference and chaired by new Moderator the Rt Rev David Bruce, is carrying out the essential business of the Church following the cancellation of this year's General Assembly because of the pandemic.

It had been scheduled to meet this week.

There may be a special assembly later, depending on Government advice on the virus.

Belfast Telegraph