Yesterday, a range of MLAs, Ministers and civil servants attended The Open University's Winter Reception at Parliament Buildings to celebrate the power of part-time higher education in Northern Ireland.
The event, which was sponsored by the Assembly's Committee for Employment and Learning, demonstrated that part-time higher education, as provided by the OU, plays a huge part in helping individuals achieve their potential. The event also informed MLAs how part-time study can grow the economy by enabling students to ‘earn and learn', develop higher-level skills and as a result, gain higher-paid jobs.
Three OU students told their stories at the event, about how OU study helped them to develop their skills and confidence as they balanced their studies with their work and family lives.
Graeme Millar, who completed an MBA with the OU, is now developing a whiskey distillery, aiming to make it a global business.
Christine McMahon, juggled her studies around work and caring for her father and her BA (Hons) Open Degree in health and social care, which helped her achieve more in her role caring for elderly patients.
Andrea Craig, who was a health care assistant when she started studying with the OU, progressed through a Diploma in Higher Education in Mental Health Nursing to become Deputy Ward Sister.
"Part-time study has changed every aspect of my life" Andrea says.
Robin Swann MLA, Chair of the Committee for Employment and Learning said: "The Open University is a vital component of the higher education system here in Northern Ireland, providing flexible, online and distance learning opportunities across the whole region. Part-time study is often the only way many individuals can access higher education - for example those juggling work and family commitments - and we need to recognise and acknowledge the work of the OU in supporting and motivating its students to achieve their full potential for the benefit of Northern Ireland's society and economy."
John D'Arcy, Director of the OU in Northern Ireland, said: "We are delighted that the Committee for Employment and Learning has sponsored our Winter Reception. The Open University has around 4000 students across Northern Ireland, combining work, caring responsibilities and all the other aspects of their busy lives with their studies. Gaining recognition from our MLAs, Ministers, MPs and civil servants as the largest provider of part-time higher education, and as a key contributor to the Northern Ireland economy, is a great achievement for us today."