Catholic college moves into Glasgow

April 2, 1999

Scotland's only Roman Catholic education college merged yesterday with Glasgow University to create a new faculty of education.

Mergers are often seen as an attempt by an ailing institution to seek protection, but Bart McGettrick, principal of St Andrew's College, stressed that the motivation for this one has been academic - including the aim of raising students' options - not financial.

The college's health was recently underlined by a per cent increase in its student intake. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has highlighted the "urgent need" for more teachers in Catholic schools.

Scottish Catholic schools transferred into the state system in 1918 under legislation that maintains church responsibility for approving the teachers. By extension, Professor McGettrick said, there must be a Catholic training college. But he believes it must participate fully in the education system rather than being seen as separate or anachronistic. Catholic education is distinctive rather than unique or necessarily different, he said, and part of that distinctiveness is social inclusion.

"If you take seriously the Christian message to love one's neighbour, the role of the Catholic school is not to make someone a Catholic but to build up your neighbour and make them a better person within their own context," Professor McGettrick said.

The senior staff of both institutions have consistently supported the merger, and the college's full integration within the university will be emphasised by St Andrew's moving from its suburban site to purpose-built premises in the heart of Glasgow's campus.

But there has undeniably been some disquiet within the college that its ethos could be eroded within a larger institution. The faculty will also include a range of university units, such as the department of adult and continuing education, the teaching and learning service and the centre for science education.

Nor has the merger been universally welcomed by the university. After some coyly cryptic debate, Glasgow's senate tackled the issue of sectarianism head-on, revealing anxieties about interference from the Catholic church. The church already funds Glasgow's St Kentigern chair for the study of the child and society, and there was reassurance that it had never attempted to exert pressure over research projects.

Professor McGettrick rejects allegations that the merger could threaten academic freedom.

"Those engaged in Catholic education should be open to all ideas, so long as these are tested against truth," he said. "This raises questions of what is truth, but I don't believe Catholic institutions come at this from an inhibited point of view. They include some of the great universities of Europe and (in the US) Georgetown University and the University of San Francisco, which can't be thought of as places that are somehow crippled by narrow thinking."

The education colleges have not had a strong research tradition, and there has also been concern that St Andrew's was rated only 2 in the research assessment exercise, with education at Glasgow rated 3A. The new faculty has won almost Pounds 650,000 for staff development from the SHEFC and has a target of at least 3A at the next RAE.

Again, the faculty is likely to have a distinctive approach. Academic research generally means developing new knowledge, but research in teacher education is often about applying new knowledge, Professor McGettrick said.

"We have to be research-minded, but the danger is that you drift off, driven by the RAE, into areas where you're pursuing the funding and not the service of the teaching profession."

Sir Graeme Davies, Glasgow's principal, is pleased that the university will at last have a faculty of education, particularly given the increasing focus on the philosophy and practice of teaching and learning.

"To have the pedagogy of education within the university is very much a good thing in terms of the academic community," he said. "It is particularly opportune because the prospect of a Scottish Parliament will stimulate debate on Scottish education and give it clear direction for the future."

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