Press Release St Mary's Welcomes Decision

12 February 2015

St Mary’s University College welcomes the decision taken today by the Northern Ireland Executive to retain the premia for the University Colleges.

When the small and specialist institution premia were introduced by Sir Reg Empey, then Minister at DEL in 2008, with the endorsement of the Executive, this was based on practice in Great Britain. The primary objective was to ensure the sustainability of the two University Colleges, St Mary’s and Stranmillis. Removal of the premia, as proposed by Alliance Minister Stephen Farry, would have made the Colleges not viable.

The key issue for St Mary’s is to secure its present level of autonomy which enables the institution to deliver its mission of faith-based higher education.

“Aspiring to Excellence”, the report commissioned by the Minister, sets out a definition of the faith-based approach, as follows in section 6.4:

“The proponents of faith-based teacher education maintain that the process of becoming a teacher is not simply a form of intellectual engagement with relevant academic and pedagogical studies, combined with the acquisition of a repertoire of skills and strategies through which pupils’ learning is progressed. In addition, they argue, it is an integral feature of learning to teach that students come to espouse certain values, which give point and purpose to the whole professional undertaking. These values are absorbed through the lived experience of participating in an educational community; they are exerted by, and implicit in, that community’s whole mode of operation.”

St Mary’s is clearly a proponent of this model and the institution requires autonomy to have the authority to make decisions on strategic matters such as priorities, ethos and identity.

The autonomy which St Mary’s seeks, as a Catholic institution, is however balanced by a sincere commitment towards partnership and cooperation within the framework of the evolving shared approach to education in Northern Ireland. The College expressed this commitment to the International Panel and it is a component element of the vision statement for the future of ITE infrastructure approved by the governing body. St Mary’s has never sought separateness, as has been suggested by the Minister. In this regard St Mary’s is most willing to play its part in an inclusive and fully consultative process to consider ways of enhancing sharing in teacher education. But that is from the starting point of a clear recognition that any system for cooperation guarantees the distinctive role of an autonomous Catholic institution of higher education.

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