Over 170 students will be honoured at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall today during a graduation ceremony hosted by the Open University.
The students have spent an average of six years balancing the demands of their studies, work and other commitments to reach this important milestone.
Over 6,500 people in Northern Ireland have graduated with the OU in Ireland since the first students were admitted in 1971.
The university’s new Ireland headquarters were officially opened in Belfast last month after £4.5m was invested in the listed building at 110 Victoria Street.
The expanded new headquarters accommodates 60 university staff who support 350 part-time associate lecturers and more than 7,500 students throughout Ireland.
Today is the first time that OU Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean will preside over the graduation ceremony in Belfast.
Dr Rosemary Hamilton, Director of the Open University in Ireland, said: “Degree ceremonies are always a special time for both students and their families, as they have all had to make sacrifices along the way.
“Many started enjoying the benefits during their studies as new career opportunities arose, or they achieved great personal satisfaction from developing a special interest.”
Among the students graduating at the ceremony today is Ann McCaul (49) from Belfast who will receive her Bachelor of Arts degree.
She said: “I joined the Open University because I went straight to work at 17 and didn't have the opportunity to avail of third level education at that time.
“Following a car accident in 2004 I re-evaluated certain areas of my life.
“I enrolled on a 10-week taster course at a local university in Philosophy as an introduction to the subject. This gave me the confidence to join the Open University and I have thoroughly enjoyed the Philosophy modules.
“I wholeheartedly believe it is never too late to undertake a degree programme. As well as opening up other opportunities and developing new interests it also provides contact with new and like-minded people.”
This year the OU will pay special tribute to one graduate, Emma Grimley from Armagh, by presenting her with the Sir John Daniel Award, which is given to students who have overcome difficult personal circumstances.
Emma said: “The OU enabled me to achieve my Diploma in Mental Health Nursing.
“When I lost my parents in my final year, my mentors, tutors and fellow students were of great support and encouragement to help me stay on track.
“They gave me flexibility when I needed it with coursework deadlines so I wouldn't feel overwhelmed.
“I'm so flattered to receive this award and will always be grateful to the OU staff for their empathy and kindness.”
Meanwhile, the OU is also due to award honourary degrees to the BBC’s Noel Thompson for his contribution to public services, education and culture in Ireland, and also to Reverend Harold Good for his contribution to public services.