Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 03 September 2008

Review of Teacher Education

3 September 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:
Professor Richard Barnett ) University of Ulster
Professor Anne Moran )

Due to technical difficulties, the start of this evidence session was not recorded

Professor Richard Barnett ( University of Ulster):

That is the impact of simple formula funding. I can say, categorically, that we will not be doing that. The Department takes advantage of our commitment by not providing funding. Over the past few years, we have invested substantially in our learning resource centres — our libraries — in Coleraine, Jordanstown, Magee and, now, in Belfast. Had they been in just one place, the process would have been easier and more efficient. There are funding issues, and I appreciate that it is a political decision.

Simple formula funding may work in mass higher education systems where you have, say, 120 institutions. It does not matter whether a university in the middle of England closes campuses, because another institution will provide them. However, it does not work here and it raises issues that I hope you will consider. I am sympathetic towards the claim that St Mary’s is a special case but, in that regard, we are also special.

I emphasise that we are committed to education. We have excellent provision. If you talk to schools, you will hear that they are pleased with our graduates. I was recently talking to a primary-school teacher who told me that they really want people who have done the primary postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) with us because they are ready to teach — and ready to teach in the contemporary context of this part of the world.

Thank you for your indulgence in my presentation.

The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):

Thank you very much for that presentation, Professor Barnett; it was quite useful. It has opened up a number of issues, some of them around teacher education in general, on which the Committee will focus.

The multi-campus approach is an interesting issue, bearing in mind the funding formula. That had not struck me, and I appreciate your commitment that there will not be closures or a move to a single campus. I have taken note of that and dated it.

Professor Barnett:

It is an issue that we have been raising for some time.

The Chairperson:

There are other issues around the funding formula. It is easy to put a formula in place, but the question is about the real impact that it will have on the ground and on students. I appreciate that commitment.

Mr Newton:

I welcome the delegation from the university. I have a simple and straightforward question. You express concerns in your briefing document — if I can interpret it that way — about the ongoing work concerning Stranmillis University College and Queen’s University. What would be the implications if that merger took place?

Professor Barnett:

I am not sure. That is the business of the two institutions. In our discussions about the direction of that process, it seemed that at Christmas time things changed direction. That is their business; it is for others to say why things went that way. My main concern is that that entity would be one of what would then be four providers. The Open University has a distinct role; St Mary’s University College has a very clear and distinct role. We have outlined what we are doing, but I am concerned that all the discussions that are going on are about this merger and what may or may not happen there. We want to get on with the job that we are doing and push things forward. This review has been going since 2003. If it just has to sit and wait until those two organisations decide how and what they are going to do — because organisational change can take a long while — then that is unfair on us and on St Mary’s.

Mr McClarty:

Thank you for your presentation this morning. Before the summer break an announcement was made about an extra 29 places for St Mary’s University College and 20 places for Stranmillis, yet it seems that the numbers in real terms for the University of Ulster have been cut. Statistics show, however, that it is cheaper by far to train teachers at the University of Ulster than in the colleges. Would you like to comment on that?

Professor Barnett:

That is factually correct. Under the funding formula, we get less money. All the providers of initial teacher education have experienced cuts in line with demographics. If I may, I will return to the issue of demographics in a moment. We were subject to cuts, as were others. However — and quite late in the year — I have just received a letter saying that the Department of Education has decided to increase the numbers of places at two of the providers but not the others. I do not know the reason for that, but that is the case. We were not given any extra places when the others were given theirs, and we were subject to cuts.

The issue of planning the workforce is complex. The Department of Education plans the workforce as if Northern Ireland was an enclosed unit. Many students who do not get places on our PGCE courses go elsewhere to train, and of course they come back into our system. The only thing we are doing is exporting the income from those training opportunities. I know that it is a complex issue, and that we have trained many people here who could not get jobs. I have also been saying for some time that there is no PGCE provision in business studies in this part of the world. We are very strong in business studies, and we have been saying for some time that we should have that provision. There is a Bachelor of Education qualification in business studies, but no PGCE. Our students have to go to Galway to train.

We are part of a wider north, south, east and west. Manpower planning in a region does not, therefore, affect the number of people applying for jobs, because people are applying from the South and from England and Scotland. That is a concern. What you said about what happened, and the relative costs, is correct.

The Chairperson:

What are the figures for teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) courses, and the future projections?

Professor Anne Moran ( University of Ulster):

It is a Masters programme onto which we take about 20 students. However, we are, increasingly, offering modules for the programme, not only in Northern Ireland but also in the Republic of Ireland in order to help teachers to deal with the increasing numbers of students from other countries.

The Chairperson:

You highlighted your disappointment that the collaborative approach to teacher education had come to an abrupt end. What is the current situation with the review that began in 2003, and the document that the providers were pulled together to examine a number of months ago?

Professor Moran:

The answer is no, and that probably is our concern because, as Professor Barnett said, we are concerned about where we are going. We have a tradition of collaboration across the institutions, and are committed to continuing to collaborate with all institutions, irrespective of what structures emerge. That is what most concerns us, because, as Professor Barnett said, we have a lot of plans for teacher education, not for just initial teacher training but across the whole teacher education continuum. We are, in a sense, being held back because since January 2008, when the consultation document was issued to the vice-chancellors and presidents of colleges, we have not heard another thing. Therefore, we are anxious to achieve an outcome to a process that has been going on for five years, and which would allow us to innovate further and to implement some of those ideas, particularly with regard to the agendas that are developing in the school and further education sectors, and where we have strengths at the University of Ulster.

The Chairperson:

The emphasis that this Committee is now placing on teacher education will, hopefully, kick-start some people into ensuring that an outcome is achieved. It is not fair that organisations and institutions such as yours do not know what is happening, especially when a review has been ongoing for four or five years.

Ms Lo:

Should the Committee ask the Minister for a timescale for the review and when a report is likely to be published?

The Chairperson:

The Committee hopes to conduct a short review of teacher education, and that will probably be one of the issues to come out of that. Departmental officials will be on hand, and the Committee will, if necessary, get that information and incorporate it into its overall report.

Thank you all for attending. You have been very helpful to the Committee and its staff in recent months.

Professor Barnett:

Thank you.

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