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Celebrations in Newport as learners graduate with The Open University in Wales

Kirsty Williams, Louise Casella and Gillian Clarke in graduation robes

On 27 May, the International Convention Centre (ICC) Wales in Newport, was full to overflowing as over 400 students graduated from The Open University in Wales and celebrated their outstanding achievements with their family and friends. The morning and afternoon ceremonies were the first Open University graduations held in Wales since 2019, after the 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled following the Coronavirus outbreak. 

“Our students have achieved something truly special today,” said Louise Casella, Director of The Open University in Wales. “Despite the Coronavirus outbreak leading to one of the most difficult, challenging and uncertain periods in recent history, they’ve stuck with their studies and reached their potential. Many will have faced challenges throughout their lives or thought that university wasn’t for them. They may have commitments at home, such as raising a family or caring for a loved one. Each of them has a unique story, which is what makes today so special. Well done and congratulations! Da iawn a llongyfarchiadau!”

The event saw the first students graduate from the OU in Wales’ innovative nursing degree programme, as well as the first group of students who have accessed Wales’ maintenance grant for part-time learning, introduced in 2018.  

Most of the graduates enrolled with the OU part-time, often balancing their studies with work, family life of caring for a relative. 

Over 14,500 students from virtually every community in Wales are currently studying with The Open University, and more than two thirds are in employment while they study.

In the course of the ceremonies, the OU also presented the honorary degrees of Doctor of the University to former Education Minister Kirsty Williams and former National Poet Gillian Clarke.  

Kirsty Williams served as the Senedd Member for Brecon and Radnorshire for 22 years. She was the first women to lead one of the four main political parties in Wales. From 2016 to 2021 she was Minister for Education, leading a national mission of education reform. This included introducing the most progress student finance system in the UK, ensuring that maintenance support was available across all modes and levels of study.

Gillian Clarke was the National Poet for Wales from 2008 to 2016. She has published several books of her own poetry and prose, as well as a translation of 7th century Welsh poem Y Gododdin. She is also President of Tŷ Newydd, a Welsh writers centre in Gwynedd which she established alongside her husband. In 2011, she joined the Gorsedd of Bards. 

"I remember the OU being formed by Harold Wilson’s government thinking what a wonderful, new, creative opportunity it was,” said Gillian Clarke. "At home with my small children, my magic time in Cardiff University, straight out of school in the 1950s, behind me, I knew how rich those three years had been, and rejoiced to imagine all the women and men who could now regain what they had lost.”

I am thoroughly honoured to receive this award from The Open University in Wales – an institution who has provided so many opportunities to so many people in our nation. Throughout my time in public service the OU in Wales has had a relentless focus on ensuring that lifelong learning was accessible to all and has supported students, many from our most deprived communities, to reach their full potential. They are a crucial part of the higher education landscape in Wales. To be able to share in celebrations of their latest graduates is very humbling.

Kirsty Williams CBE
former Member of the Senedd and Education Minister

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