St Andrew's merger wins over doubters

13th February 1998 at 00:00
Glasgow University staff sceptical about the amalgamation with St Andrew's College have been won over by changes to the safeguards for Roman Catholic education. The merger, which is expected to take place on August 1, will now go to the Secretary of State and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council for approval.

The board of Catholic education that will be responsible within the university for the Church's interests especially in pre-service training will be advisory only.

John Oates, chairman of the governors at St Andrew's, said the board would be "an influential and effective body". But a meeting of the university senate last week was told that the university's institutions would remain autonomous. Staff had earlier expressed doubts about the relationship of denominational needs to academic freedom.

The board's responsibilities will include "maintaining an overview of teacher education for students preparing to teach in Catholic schools" and ensuring that "courses in RE for students and teachers in Catholic education meet the requirements of the Bishops' Conference". It will also advise the senate and court of the university over approval of staff appointed to the education faculty to teach in the area of Catholic education.

Bart McGettrick, principal of St Andrew's, told The TES Scotland that he was comfortable with the arrangement. He expected the board to be a "de facto decision-making body" and was confident that the needs of Catholic education will be respected by the senate and court of the university. The Church would be appointing "people of calibre" to the board.

Professor McGettrick said the merger was "a positive move providing an opportunity for academic work that would otherwise be difficult to achieve. Being part of a wider education faculty will lead to an exciting future. " The Catholic "mission of witness will have certain values to transmit in the university".

The new faculty will comprise four departments: religious education and pastoral care, curriculum studies, education studies and adult and continuing education. It will be led by a dean who in the first instance will be nominated, but later will be elected like other university deans.

Eric Wilkinson, head of the university education department which at present concentrates on postgraduate work and will be part of the new education studies department, also welcomed the merger. But Dr Wilkinson said that inevitably "white water rapids lie ahead".

The effect of merger on the university's research strength has been a concern in the negotiations. The senate was told of fears that "bringing in the new staff will dilute to a harmful degree the proportion of research active staff for the next and future research assessment exercises". But the redeuction will be from 76 per cent to 73 per cent. The merger of Moray House Institute within Edinburgh University will reduce its figure from 94 per cent to 87 per cent.

The education faculty will eventually be housed in a new building at Gilmorehill assuming that the St Andrew's campus at Bearsden is sold for Pounds 9.95 million or more. The planned date for relocation is 2001.

Glasgow University is due to lose 180 academic staff in a cost-cutting exercise. But this will not affect staff at St Andrew's which already has a planned reduction dating from its funding difficulties.

* Negotiations are taking place about the future of Northern College with Aberdeen and Dundee Universities. The target date for an agreement in principle is August. James Graham, chairman of the Northern College board, said progress was being made "at a measured pace". The split-site nature of the college and the need to talk to two universities meant that negotiations were complex.

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