Almost 300 students were today to receive degrees at the Open University’s annual graduation ceremony in Belfast.
The awards — to be presented at the Waterfront Hall — range from certificates and diplomas through to full degrees and postgraduate qualifications.
Among the students today is Dorothy Nelson from Holywood in Co Down.
Dorothy is one of three graduates selected by the OU each year to receive the Sir John Daniel Prize in recognition of their dedication in completing a degree under extremely difficult personal circumstances.
Dorothy Nelson completed a BSc (Honours) in Psychology after deciding to enrol with the Open University to enable her to help her son.
She said: “I started studying with the OU in 2002; 18 months previously my marriage ended and I was out of work and homeless with two young children.
“During this time it had become evident that the problems my son was having at school were not just related to the family breakdown; they were pre-existing and not improving.”
Dorothy knew there was something wrong, but grew frustrated by the responses she received when asking for help.
“I decided to take matters into my own hands and do a psychology degree.
“Within three years of studying with the OU I was more aware that his problems were developmental and not emotional.
“Eventually, three months before his 17th birthday, he was diagnosed with Asperger's and Attention Deficit Disorder without Hyperactivity. This degree has helped me cope with my son's condition and get my children through a very painful time in their lives without being emotionally damaged.”
Talking about her OU degree, Dorothy said: “It has enabled me to have a very close relationship with both my children that is full of trust, understanding and acceptance of our individual differences.
“It has also given me back my confidence and self esteem and allowed me to go back to work with an attitude that I never had before.”
Dr Rosemary Hamilton, Open University Director for Ireland said graduation ceremonies are always a special time for individuals and their families.
“All of the students graduating in today’s ceremonies have been studying part-time,” she said.
“They have been juggling work, family, friends and other life commitments while also studying for an award from the UK’s largest university, so graduations not only mark the end of studying for the graduand, but also the start of a new career for many.
“Today’s graduates have not only enhanced their skills such as time management, priority setting and negotiation but they will also be graduating with a qualification from one of the UK’s best teaching and research universities.”
Over 80% of this year’s graduates have combined study with their work commitments – something which Dr Hamilton believes illustrates the great demand for flexible delivery of higher education.
“We live in an era when more people want a university education, and more people need to return to university throughout their lives to fulfil their career and personal ambitions,” she said.
Eighty-six of the students graduating agreed to their names appearing in the paper today.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Open University.
Since 1969 more than 15,000 students in Ireland have benefitted from the OU’s supported approach to learning and skills enhancement.