Northern Ireland

QUB criticised for cutting theological college links

Union Theological College Image copyright Albert Bridge
Image caption Belfast's Union Theological College is run by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Queen's University (QUB) cut links to a Presbyterian-run college due to a church decision on same-sex relationships, it has been claimed.

A report for the church's general assembly accused QUB of a "flawed" review into Union Theological College.

"It is evident that the 2018 Review of the relationship with Union College was triggered by decisions made by the PCI General Assembly," it said.

However, QUB maintain that their decision was down to academic concerns.

At its general assembly last year, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) decided to deny full church membership to anyone in a same-sex relationship.

In 2019, after a number of critical reviews, Queen's decided to end its long-running relationship with Union Theological College (UTC).

General assembly

The relationship between the college and QUB is due to be debated by the church's general assembly on Thursday.

However, a report drawn up by a Presbyterian Church task group is strongly critical of the university.

"The decisions of the General Assembly relating to a credible profession and to our relationship with the Church of Scotland resulted in a period of intense reporting and speculation around the around the relationship between Queen's and UTC," it said.

"Subsequent statements have attempted to distance the university from linking the review to the decisions of the general assembly.

"But prior to June 2018 there had been no indication that a review of the theology curriculum at UTC was planned for 2018.

"The evidence points inexorably to the conclusion that, were it not for the intense reporting during the 2018 General Assembly and speculation following it around the link with Queen's no review would have taken place."

'Strongly refute'

The PCI report also claims that the college was not fully consulted by the university prior to its decision and would "strongly refute" many of the review's conclusions.

"It is disappointing that there was no engagement or discussion of the substantial issues raised last summer by the media and by vocal critics of the college," it said.

The PCI task group concluded that the university's decision was "based on a flawed and confused review process that did not permit engagement on the substantial issues".

In a statement to BBC News NI a Queen's spokesperson said the university had engaged with UTC in reviewing undergraduate teaching and the curriculum there.

'Academic reasons'

"The 2018 review and the preceding review in 2016 highlighted concerns regarding the breadth and diversity of the teaching and curriculum being delivered," they said.

"It is for these academic reasons that the university took the decision to withdraw degrees in the subject of Theology, following the completion of current students."

The PCI report also said that the college's deficit would reach £250,000 by 2021 due to the loss of theology students from Queen's.

As a result, UTC is considering links with other universities and offering online courses.

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