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Adams to meet Empey on future of St. Mary's

16 June, 2008

West Belfast MP Gerry Adams MLA, will be meeting Reg Empey, the Minister for Employment and Learning tomorrow - Tuesday - to discuss the future funding of St. Mary's University College on the Falls Road.

Mr. Adams, who is working closely with the College, has already expressed to the Minister his 'very real and deep concerns that Ministerial decisions, particularly on limiting enrolment for the Liberal Arts course provided by St. Mary's, will have a serious and detrimental impact on the viability of the college'.

The west Belfast MP said:

"St. Mary's is an important educational resource in west Belfast. It makes a vital contribution to the catholic maintained school sector.

"In recent years the University College has demonstrated an increasing ability to adapt to circumstances and to respond to change. It is at the centre of An Ceathrú Gaeltachta, and the strongest, urban Irish language community in Ireland.

"The College has responded to the decline in demand for teacher training by introducing non-teacher training courses. Its Liberal Arts degree is one of the courses favoured by young people from west and north Belfast.

"As a result St. Mary's has earned the distinction of becoming the University with the second highest level of participation of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds in universities throughout the six counties, and Britain.

"The official statistics demonstrating this were released recently by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which measured the rate of participation.

"St. Mary's success in this is no accident. It is due to the location of St Mary's University College on the Falls Road, in the heart of west Belfast, and the affinity the local community have with this historic campus, since it was founded 100 years ago.

"Access to a local campus also helps local students overcome the substantial financial barriers which now face those who wish to go to university, but who cannot afford to travel or stay way from home.

"This is crucially important, and in the 26 counties and in Britain the governments understand the importance of widening participation and improving opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to have access to University courses.

"Reg Empey has indicated that he wants to limit enrolment in the Liberal Arts course at St Mary's. This view is at odds with education policy elsewhere. It is not in the interests of students; not in the interest of education; not in the interest of St. Mary's and not in the interest of west Belfast.

"I have already highlighted to Reg Empey the potential adverse impact that decision and his proposal to change the funding allocation to St Mary's could have upon the viability of the College and the ability of young people from this community to access university.

"And I intend expressing my concerns and objections forcefully tomorrow." Críoch

Note to editor:

The West Belfast MP will be meeting the Minister, Reg Empey at 1pm in Parliament Buildings tomorrow, Tuesday 17th June.

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