Northern Ireland

QUB will not admit new students to Union Theological College

Union Theological College Image copyright Albert Bridge
Image caption A review found that the college's full-time staff were male and predominantly from a Presbyterian background

Queen's University will not admit any new undergraduate theology students to the Presbyterian-run Union Theological College (UTC) in 2019, BBC News NI has learned.

The move was recommended in a university review that was critical of aspects of teaching and staffing at the college.

UTC is run by the Presbyterian Church.

It trains some students for the ministry, but also educates more than 150 QUB theology students.

A spokesperson for UTC was strongly critical of the university's decision.

In July, BBC News NI revealed that Queen's University was to conduct a comprehensive review of its relationship with the college.

It is understood that the review panel included both Queen's academics and a theologian from another university.

'Not sustainable'

The panel's report outlines a number of criticisms of academic practice at UTC.

"The undergraduate curriculum in theology, however diverse the subject matter, is taught almost entirely from a particular theological and religious perspective," the report said.

It also said that all full-time teaching staff "are male and predominantly from a Presbyterian background".

"A single denomination providing all the undergraduate theology provision for a research-based university is highly problematic and not sustainable in today's post-conflict Northern Ireland," the report concluded.

Image copyright Man Vyi

It also said that the college had no action plan to address the lack of full-time female teaching staff and that there was a "lack of diversity in staffing and the curriculum".

"The university should not permit an intake to the undergraduate programmes in September 2019," the report said.

"Therefore, admission to the undergraduate programmes will be suspended."

The latest report follows a previous review carried out by the university in 2016 that made some similar criticisms.

Only prospective Queen's theology undergraduates due to start courses of study in 2019 are affected by the student recruitment freeze.

Current QUB theology students will continue their studies, as will around 30 students in the college being educated by the Presbyterian Church.

In a statement, QUB said that it would consider the implications of the review for the longer term future of theology at the university.

College criticises freeze decision

The university also said that it was committed to ensuring that issues raised by the review were addressed, and that it would contact students who had applied to study theology in 2019 to help them find alternative degree courses.

However, a spokesperson for Union Theological College said they "very much regret and are disappointed" by the university's decision.

"The recommendations of this latest review in effect belittles the oversight of external examiners from prestigious UK universities and the effectiveness of the university's own quality assurance processes," they said.

"Some of the recommendations of this current 2018 review panel are very speculative and totally unsubstantiated.

"The review infers that a lack of diversity in the college staff and variable staff profiles has the potential to impact negatively on the student experience.

"These conclusions have no basis in fact and are not supported by student testimonials or the university's own monitoring procedures over many years," the spokesperson said.

"Is the real issue that there is no place for a Christian college linked to the Queen's University of today?

"Union College will consider its formal response to the review and will continue to support, academically and pastorally, our students who have embarked on their studies."

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