There was drama aplenty at this week's Employment and Learning Committee regarding the proposed merger between Stranmillis teaching college and Queen's University. Members' voiced their 'disgust' at the treatment of the Committee by the colleges, regarding a lack of notice and consultation. A merger claimed last week to be a 'done deal' by Stranmillis seems anything but.
The requirement for legislation to go through the Assembly to enact the merger seems to have been a small fact both Queen's and Stranmillis disregarded/forgot about in their discussions. All Members expressed their concern about voting through any such legislation - unionist members due to the prospect of the ending of the 'protestant ethos' of Stranmillis and nationalist members because of the bleak prospects for the future of St Mary’s teaching college, if the merger goes ahead.
The Department of Employment and Learning’s claims that the merger came as a complete shock to them seems somewhat off the mark. On the morning of the merger decision, senior DEL officials briefed Stranmillis and Queen's on how the Department would finance the merger!
Several Assembly questions have been tabled on the matter, specifically on what the Minister, Sir Reg Empey, knew and when. Considering he maintains that he knew nothing, it would seem that this matter is far from over. Either the Minister did know and was ‘economical with the actualité’ or his top civil servants were keeping him in the dark about their plans.