Belfast Telegraph

Key role of part-time learning in Northern Ireland

By Stephen Farry

As Minister for Employment and Learning, the value of part-time higher education to Northern Ireland's economy and society is undisputed. At an event held by the Open University at Parliament Buildings yesterday, called The Power of Part-time Higher Education, I heard directly from students on the power part-time higher education had on their lives in terms of upskilling, reskilling and career enhancement.

For many learners, part-time study is the only option - particularly for older students, those in work and those with other caring and family responsibilities - to undertake higher education. It also supports growing our economy and enabling individuals to fulfil their full potential.

People who want to develop their careers can combine work and study, with many part-time students fitting studies around a job. Indeed, given the flexibility of part-time study, it is one of the main components of my department's new higher-level apprenticeship pilots, where apprenticeships will avail of, in the main, part-time academic study as part of their off-the-job training.

Part-time study is also an important agent of social mobility for adult learners, where students can access higher education. This gives people the tools to gain higher-paid and higher-skilled jobs, attaining their full potential.

It is, therefore, important that part-time provision is flexible and accessible in order to meet the needs of non-traditional learners. That is why an increase in part-time provision is an explicit aim of my department's higher education strategy, Graduating to Success.

Flexible learning is an inherent provision within our skills landscape which allows students to use their time to further develop their knowledge, skills and career prospects and, by extension, the knowledge and skills-base and the economy of Northern Ireland.

Indeed, given the importance of part-time learning, I am exploring options for supporting and further increasing the uptake of part-time study.

I commend our further and higher education institutions for their continued commitment in supporting this invaluable type of flexible learning provision and the vital role it plays in skills, employment and widening access.

  • Dr Stephen Farry MLA is Employment and Learning Minister

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