Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, which has responsibility for Union Theological College, said:
After a long and mutually beneficial academic relationship that has lasted for nearly a century, we are naturally disappointed and deeply regret today’s decision by the Senate of Queen’s University, Belfast (QUB).
We recognise that the University authorities have the right to make their own decisions about their Institute of Theology, which is currently made up of four different local theological colleges. Queen’s has now concluded that the Institute is no longer viable with just one of those colleges, Union Theological College, teaching undergraduate degrees. Nevertheless, we regret that other options were not more fully explored and a different solution found.
It is important that we acknowledge that this has been a difficult and unsettling period for both institutions - especially in the context of last summer’s intense reporting and speculation around the relationship between Queen’s and Union College. It was during this time that the senior leadership at Queen’s first informed their counter parts at Union College that, “the university is taking active steps to review the nature of the relationship with Union Theological College.” This was formalised several weeks later and the Senate announced the results of that review today.
Union continues to maintain the high academic standards for which it is known, and remains committed to active engagement in teaching and research that extends our theological understanding of important issues in contemporary life. This also includes exploring the hard questions that relate to religious faith and belief.
Along with QUB, Union College is also committed to ensure the very best education provision for existing Queen’s undergraduate students as they complete the remainder of their theological studies. The College will be working constructively with Queen’s to achieve this.
After such a long and fruitful relationship this is indeed a sad day. It is our hope and prayer, however, that these long-established institutions, which are literally side-by-side, will continue to prosper, working to further understanding as communities of learning and attracting students from home and overseas to study here.
In a seperate statement Mr Gribben said:
Union Theological College will have a positive and exciting future. While today marks the beginning of the end of its relationship with Queen’s University, it also marks the beginning of a new stage in the College’s journey, one that has already lasted for nearly 173 years.
For some months now, anticipating the decision that Queen’s seemed likely to make, a specially appointed Review Group has been looking at a variety of options for the College moving forward. Some of those plans are already in place for the new academic year that starts in September 2019, when students will continue to be taught by academic theologians of the highest standing, some of whom are indeed world leaders in their field.
While we are disappointed with today’s announcement, the staff and Management Committee at the College are working towards that new future that ultimately the Lord has for us.
I would like to pay a special tribute to the principal, academic and support staff who have not only worked through these past difficult months, but are giving of themselves to ensure that students from home and overseas will continue to benefit from theological study in a warm and positive Christian environment.