Teacher training budget cut ‘unprecedented’

General views of Stranmillis University College which is considering a complete merger with Queen's University in Belfast due to the fall in pupil numbers
General views of Stranmillis University College which is considering a complete merger with Queen's University in Belfast due to the fall in pupil numbers

The Stormont budget has “serious implications” for the future of Northern Ireland’s teacher training colleges, Stranmillis University College has said.

The budget revealed in the Assembly on Monday would see an “unprecedented” cut in the funding to both Stranmillis and St Mary’s University College, a move which St Mary’s has claimed is a back door attempt to force the Catholic and state colleges to merge.

Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry — who is supportive of a merger — has denied that claim and insisted that the cut is out of financial necessity.

On Thursday there were protests at St Mary’s college, with Sinn Fein — which voted for the budget last week at the Stormont Executive — vocally opposing the budget cut for that institution.

In a statement, the governing body of Stranmillis said it was “concerned about the serious implications surrounding the removal of the Premia Funding from 2015-16, which is in addition to the 3.95 per cent cut in 2014-15 and the proposed 10.8 per cent cut in 2015-16”.

In a response to the draft budget — which last week was formally approved by DUP and Sinn Fein ministers despite opposition from the UUP, SDLP and Alliance — Stranmillis principal Anne Heaslett said that the cuts would “damage the current teacher education infrastructure in Northern Ireland to the detriment of the future economy and the future of our society generally”.

She also said that since the college had been reclassified as a non-departmental public body (NDPB) in 2012, the college had been hampered by “the bureaucracy of a government system that has seen the cost of the various projects in our Estates Strategy increase significantly over the robust arrangements for procurement which the college had access to previously”.

She added that “government needs to acknowledge that our hands are often tied and that government involvement has actually given rise to inefficiency rather than facilitating its removal”.

She said that it was losing 32% of its funding in a single year, despite “no discussion in advance of publication of the draft budget...about the removal of the Specialist and Small Institution Premia”.

And the Stranmillis principal said that the department was treating itself more favourably than the college, as there had been “no consideration given to the impact of this on the college or on any form of transitional arrangements to minimise the impact of the cut.

“This is in sharp contrast to the arrangements put in place by your department when introducing formula-based funding.”