Northern Ireland news

Queen's University considering ending all theology courses

Union Theological College in Belfast

QUEEN'S University Belfast is proposing ending its links with theological colleges saying courses are "unviable in a post-conflict Northern Ireland".

The institution's academic council yesterday considered a report which recommended it no longer award degrees in the subject of theology.

The ruling senate will make a final decision later this month.

Undergraduate degrees are delivered by the Presbyterian Church-run Union Theological College (UTC).

There are three affiliate colleges providing postgraduate taught and research provision to small student cohorts.

UTC prepares some students for the Presbyterian ministry, but also educates those of other denominations who take theology degrees at Queen's.

It was founded in 1853 as the Assembly's College on Botanic Avenue in Belfast. The newly formed parliament of Northern Ireland met in Assembly's College from 1921 until 1932 while Stormont was being built.

An internal review carried out by Queen's in 2016 raised concerns about UTC. It found that the curriculum was "largely based on Protestant evangelical teaching" with little input from other perspectives.

A further comprehensive review of Queen's relationship with UTC was conducted last year. This came after the Presbyterian Church was criticised for deciding anyone in a same-sex relationship could not be a full member of the Church.

The second review confirmed "ongoing serious concerns" regarding the lack of breadth and diversity in theology elements of the undergraduate curriculum.

Evidence from external examiners confirmed UTC was not in a position to change its modules to meet the requirements of the review.

Queen's said as these had not been met by UTC, it rendered "the delivery of appropriate undergraduate programmes in Theology unviable".

Academic council has now endorsed the recommendation for senate approval "that the collaboration with the four theological colleges through the Institute of Theology be discontinued, subject to safeguards for students".

In addition, the senate will consider that the "university no longer awards through the loT degrees in the subject of theology, following completion of current students".

Queen's University said it was "currently considering the implications of the review of the Institute of Theology's Agreements and Relationships via the relevant governance processes".

"The university is committed to ensuring that issues raised by the review will be addressed and its priority is to continue to support students who have already begun their course," a spokeswoman said.

"Prospective students that have applied to affected programmes for 2019/20 entry have been contacted and supported to find suitable alternatives."

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland said it was awaiting the decision of the forthcoming senate meeting and was unable to comment further at this time.

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