Stranmillis University College: Financial Viability

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 3rd March 2015.

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Photo of Jimmy Spratt Jimmy Spratt DUP 2:30 pm, 3rd March 2015

T3. Mr Spratt asked the Minister for Employment and Learning to explain the future financial viability of Stranmillis University College, now that the Executive have reinstated its premia payment, and taking into account the 2013 Grant Thornton report. (AQT 2203/11-15)

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

The Executive have, regrettably, overturned my proposed decision on the premia. The teacher training system in Northern Ireland, however, remains financially unsustainable. There is a pressing need for reform, but reform does not need to be based just on finances. We have to look at how we can ensure that we deliver to world-class standards, address equality issues and teach our students in a shared learning environment. The current system is not delivering on all those points as it should.

The two teacher training colleges are heavily subsidised in three ways. First, they are the only teacher training colleges in the UK to receive premia payments. Secondly, they provide non-initial teacher education subjects as part of a conscious decision to give them other business to maintain their viability. Thirdly, the Department of Education essentially increases the teacher demand model to an artificially high level by giving the colleges more business than the local market can sustain. Even with those subsidies, the colleges' financial sustainability will gradually erode over time. The restoration of the premia will lengthen their future prospects, but we cannot escape the issues and the need for reform.

Photo of Jimmy Spratt Jimmy Spratt DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. Have there been any discussions between the board of governors of Stranmillis University College and his officials, and, indeed, is there still a suggestion of a merger with Queen's University?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I have not had a direct meeting with Stranmillis in the couple of weeks since the Executive took their decision. We are, however, continuing to engage with other stakeholders about the future system because the process of reform, and seeking consensus on reform, has to continue. I have received correspondence from Stranmillis about its emerging thinking on the way forward, and my officials continue to work with it. The possible merger of Queen's and Stranmillis, which the Member seems to advocate be reconsidered, was on the agenda in 2011. However, at that stage, his party was very clear that it was not prepared to contemplate such a merger outside wider reform of the teacher training system. In that context, if I had moved the legislation to facilitate the review, it would have tabled a petition of concern to block it. If the Member and his party are reconsidering their position, I would be very pleased to meet them to discuss their change of heart.