13/06/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News
Changes to the way teaching colleges are funded should not affect the independence of the specialist institution that trains staff for Catholic schools, graduates have been told.
Presenting St Mary's University College students with their certificate in religious education, Bishop Patrick Walsh said the institution was an "absolutely essential element of the Catholic education sector".
The bishop, who is chairman of the St Mary's board of governors, last night told graduates about Stranmillis University College's decision to merge with Queen's University.
The trustees and governors of St Mary's had also made a decision, he said.
"St Mary's will remain an autonomous institution because it is part of, indeed locked into, the total Catholic sector which is, of course, the largest education sector in Northern Ireland," Bishop Walsh said.
"It is an absolutely essential element of the Catholic education sector.
"Government recognises the specific position of St Mary's and has given us assurances that it in no way seeks to change that position but if this assurance is to be honoured then government must ensure that St Mary's remains financially viable."
Bishop Walsh added that proposed changes to the way the college is funded were "unacceptable".
The college receives a block grant from government, which is not directly based on its student population.
The Department for Employment and Learning, however, is working on developing a new model linked to numbers - any reduction will, therefore, mean less money.
"The senior management team of St Mary's, on behalf of the governors, has proposed to the department some amendments to it which would take account of the unique circumstances of the college and maintain its viability," Bishop Walsh said.
"We still await a response."