The ruling senate at Queen's University has backed a controversial plan to close its classics department despite intervention by Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney.
A majority vote by the senate last Friday backed vice-chancellor Sir George Bain's proposals for closure. The proposals, which had been endorsed by the academic council, are part of a wider restructuring plan for Queen's, which promises investment of some £84 million over the next four years.
Mr Heaney, one of a group of high-profile figures protesting at the proposals, said it was "a retrograde step which would deprive students of access to the heritage stored in the classical languages". The group, which includes the poet Michael Longley and former Stormont minister Basil McIvor, intends to continue its fight.
The decision means that Latin and Greek, both taught at Queen's for more than 150 years, will no longer be available. Local schools are angry that their pupils will have to leave the province to do a degree in classics.
Sir George said that only six students had been directly admitted to the university to pursue degrees in Greek or Latin in the past six years. He said that dwindling demand for classics in schools had undermined the case for provision at Queen's.
He added that the study of ancient history in English, Latin and Greek remained a key component of the university's history programme. Both Greek and Latin continue to form a central part of the university's Institute of Byzantine Studies.