The Employment and Learning Minister has paid tribute to the Open University for its role in producing highly skilled graduates.
Speaking at the Open University (OU) graduation ceremony, Dr Stephen Farry said: “The higher education sector in Northern Ireland is central to the future development of the region’s economy.
“I recognise the critical role that our local institutions, including the Open University, play in producing graduates with the necessary skills to meet existing and new economic opportunities.”
Pro-vice-chancellor of the university, Professor Tim Blackman, handed out degrees to 155 people - including its first cohort of social work graduates in Northern Ireland - at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on Saturday.
Among those graduating was James Smith from Portrush, who decided to go back to formal study after a break of 13 years, whilst working as an education welfare officer for the North Eastern Education and Library Board.
Although the father-of-three said that juggling the demands of working full time, with study and family commitments was not easy, he explained it was worth it in the end.
“I have gained self-confidence and a renewed enthusiasm for my field of employment. It has also allowed me to link 14 years of practice experience to my previous study experiences. It has taught me the value of reflection on my own practice as a social care line manager.”
John D’Arcy, the director of The Open University in Ireland, said: "Studying with the OU requires determination and self-discipline, as students manage their own schedules, often juggling academic work with a regular job and family commitments. We’re proud to celebrate their success on this inspiring day.”
Dr Farry also announced that funding for the Open University in Northern Ireland will transfer from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to the Department for Employment and Learning from the beginning of the next academic year.