HavingÂ completed both my primary degree and a masters part time, I was very pleased to speak this weekÂ in support of an Assembly motion about protecting part-time higher education.
Learning is certainly a lifetime journey and there are a huge range of issuesÂ which find people in higher educationÂ part time: perhaps due to a careerÂ change, the decision to up-skill, or simply the personal development and fulfilment of education and a deeper exploration of an issue of interest â€” in my own case, it was because I knew everything when I was 18 and it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I noticed a small number of gaps appearing in my knowledge!
Further and higher education isÂ very clearly an economic issue,Â ensuring our population has access to the skills and knowledge needed to attract high quality jobs to NIÂ andÂ putting people in a position to get them â€”Â and in this context disinvestment in further and higher education in Northern Ireland, when all otherÂ jurisdictions in these islands are going in the opposition direction, is worrying.
The SDLP hasÂ called for a bespoke Part-time Higher EducationÂ Strategy for NIÂ which ensures thatÂ providing and facilitating part timeÂ education makes itÂ a realistic, attractive choice andÂ makes sure thisÂ issue does not get lost when the current Department of Employment and LearningÂ is dissolved.
In my contribution,Â I singledÂ out the Open UniversityÂ (OU) as being very muchÂ in tune with the needs of part-time learners, andÂ in this,Â its fiftieth year,Â there’s no better timeÂ to reflect on the imagination, the vision and the courage which led people like Michael Young and Jennie Lee, to conceive and to bring into being the concept of an Open University.
InÂ recognising education isn’t just for school leavers,Â the OU is one of the most imaginativeÂ and creative projects ever undertaken by a government for the improvement of prospects for people. It has widened access to the highest academic standardsÂ for people from all walks and stages of life â€”Â making part-time education arguably one ofÂ the most important and cost-effective engines for social mobility.