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Community Organisations offered expanded study opportunities with The Open University

The Open University is offering local community organisations the opportunity to offer university level education, with OU support, to those in their local area.

The Open University’s unique Community Partnerships Project will enable community organisations to provide a local learning space for people to undertake Open University study.

The Open University’s open access policy means that potential participants' lack of previous qualifications, age or background does not hinder those who want to learn. Open to people, places, methods and ideas, The Open University works to widen access to higher education in unique and broad reaching ways.


Maggie Bates, Senior Manager for Widening Participation at The Open University said;

“We are delighted to be able to further develop our Community Partnerships Project, thanks to additional Department for the Economy funding. Over the past few years, we have been able to witness first-hand the benefits this opportunity brings to both participants and the wider community. Now, more than ever, seems like the time to work together to promote educational opportunity and engagement within those communities with the most to gain.” 

The Department for Economy has part-funded this work and will allow up to 12 community organisations across Northern Ireland to take part in the project. 


Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said:

“I am delighted that my Department has been able to support The Open University’s Community Partnerships Project. It will bring opportunities to adults in some of the lowest income and most socially deprived areas in Northern Ireland. Giving them access to higher education and the chance to not only improve their own lives but also those of their families as well.  

“Higher education brings many benefits including employment, financial and personal and I wish the participants every success in their next steps and hope they achieve the confidence and skills needed for a better, brighter future.

“Lifelong learning is key to our economic success and prosperity and as we drive forward plans for economic recovery from the effects of Coronavirus, these opportunities are all the more important.”


The project will enable participants to study an access module – which is an ideal introduction to what study is like at university level. This module also builds confidence and digital skills and will provide participants with the skills and knowledge required to progress to degree level study.


Shankill Women’s Centre is one organisation who recently participated in the project. Joan Mercer, Shared Education Co-Ordinator for the Centre, said;

“Shankill Women’s Centre’s experience working in partnership with the Community Partnership Project has been invaluable to ourselves and the students.  It is an ideal opportunity to offer students a chance to achieve their full potential and aspire to their ambitions, which were previously only a dream.”


Rasha Mourd, is a previous participant with the project through the Falls Women’s Centre. As a Syrian refugee, the project enabled her to create a new opportunity for herself that she previously believed wasn’t possible.

“When I came to Belfast, I joined a WhatsApp group for Muslims. One day I received a post telling me that The Open University offer a free Access module.  I asked some friends and they told me that this university has an online teaching system. I decided to register as studying online will be perfect for me and my family.” 

“Studying at the OU has boosted my confidence and I have discovered that I have determination to achieve my personal goals despite some obstacles such as trying to find time for studying and looking after my children at the same time.”


Rasha has now progressed on to study a full degree in Computing and IT and is achieving excellent results.

If you are a community organisation and are aware of people/groups in your local area who would benefit from participation in this programme, then get in touch with The Open University to express an interest.


For more information about the scheme you can visit our website here: Community Partnerships Project

Or you can read more about Rasha's story here: A second chance for Syrian refugee, Rasha

For media enquiries:

Contact Christine Murphy

Communications Manager
Tel 028 9053 6219