By Sarah Mac Donald - 13 February, 2015
The future of Belfast’s Catholic teacher training institution, St Mary’s University College, looks more secure following a decision by the Stormont Executive on Thursday.
The college had been in danger of closing because a special payment was to be withdrawn under a proposal drawn up by Northern Ireland’s Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry.
Minister Farry proposed to remove the small and specialist institution premium funding for both St Mary’s and Stranmillis College as part of his plans to streamline teacher training in Northern Ireland
However, on Thursday that plan to claw back £2m from the budgets of St Mary’s and Stranmillis training college was overruled.
St Mary’s has been receiving a special premium payment of £1.1m which it has been getting to compensate for its small scale and specialist status.
It has less than 1,000 students and an income of £4.7m a year.
Protesters angered by the proposed cuts warned that the removal of the small institution premium, coupled with a general cutback in Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) funding, would mean the college would lose 31% of its budget and would be forced to close.
However, an extra £32m for the DEL, revealed in this week’s overall budget improves the situation somewhat.
At a meeting of the NI Executive it was agreed the funds for St Mary’s College and Stranmillis College should be retained.
Responding to the news, Bishop Noel Treanor, chairman of the board of governors of St Mary’s, said he was “strongly encouraged” by the Executive’s decision to retain the small and specialist premia in the funding model for St Mary’s.
“This decision recognises the distinctive and high-quality contribution of service and excellence made by this autonomous Catholic institution to higher education in Northern Ireland,” he said.
The bishop added, “The College’s model of faith-based teacher education, in the Catholic tradition, is consistent with the principle of choice which is the hallmark of our school system.”
Alex Attwood of the SDLP also welcomed the decision, saying “For west Belfast it means a major employer, a flagship institution and an economic driver in an area of great need. The college can now continue to teach, serve and employ.”
“The leadership of the staff and students in the colleges has been powerful and purposeful.”
St Mary’s was established in 1985, when it amalgamated with St Joseph’s Training College.
However, St Mary’s traces its foundations back to 1900 when it was set up as a training college for women.
It continues to offer courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels for teacher training, especially for a Catholic ethos, including a PGCE for Irish Medium Education. It offers a BA degree in liberal arts.