Education: Funding denied for cross-border body

David Sterling

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has turned down an appeal to restore funding to a cross-border education body.

David Sterling revealed the decision in a letter seen by the BBC on Tuesday.

He wrote to the Standing Conference on Teacher Education, North and South (SCoTENS).

The organisation was previously funded by both the Department for Education (DE) and the Department for the Economy (DfE).

It currently only receives funding from the Department for Education and Skills (DES) in the Republic of Ireland.

SCoTENS is a cross-border network of over 30 organisations responsible for all aspects of teacher education.

Queens University
Image captionSenior academics from Queen’s University and other institutions are part of the body

Its committee includes senior academics from Stranmillis University College, St Mary’s University College, Queen’s University and Ulster University as well as from a number of institutions in the Republic of Ireland.

SCoTENS brings teachers and those who train them together on a cross-border basis through conferences and research projects.

It also runs a student teacher exchange scheme to enable some student teachers from Dublin and Belfast to do teaching practice in each other’s schools.

The organisation receives €30,000 (£25,950) a year from the Republic’s Department of Education and Skills.

Until 2017 and 2018, the organisation received £25,000 a year jointly from the education and economy departments in Northern Ireland.

However, that Northern Ireland funding was withdrawn in July 2017 due to budget pressures on education.

Noel Purdy
Image captionDr Noel Purdy is the co-chair of SCoTENS

The co-chairs of SCoTENS – Prof Kathy Hall from University College Cork and Dr Noel Purdy from Stranmillis College in Belfast – wrote to Mr Sterling in late September appealing for that funding to be restored.

That was after they had made a verbal request to Mr Sterling at a conference held by the Centre for Cross-Border Studies.

“The symbolic value of this from NI government departments far exceeds its material value in terms of North-South co-operation and mutual understanding,” they said.

However in his letter of reply Mr Sterling said that neither Northern Ireland department was in a position to restore the funding.

‘Financial pressure’

He wrote: “Regrettably, both departments, like all the Northern Ireland government departments, remain under significant financial pressure and as a consequence neither department is in a position to provide funding for SCoTENS at this time.

“I would again like to express my thanks for the contribution which SCoTENS provides in relation to north-south co-operation and mutual understanding.”

Despite Mr Sterling’s letter, Dr Purdy said it was vital that the Northern Ireland departments thought again.

“At this time of heightened uncertainty over the future of north-south relations, and as the only network of its kind in the world, support for SCoTENS from both governments is more important than ever before,” he said.

“I would therefore urge the permanent secretaries of the Department of Education and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland to reconsider their decision, which was taken in the absence of ministerial direction, and to restore their funding immediately as a sign of their continued commitment to north-south relations.”