Mr Robin Swann, the Ulster Unionist North Antrim Assemblyman and Chairman of the Stormont Employment and Learning Committee, has encouraged the community “to develop their skills by getting involved with part-time higher education”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is UUP Chief Whip and North Antrim UUP Chairman, issued his appeal as The Open University held a reception in conjunction with the Committee for Employment and Learning to update MLAs and Assembly and department staff about the university’s work and to highlight the power of part-time higher education.
Mr Swann welcomed The Open University’s winter reception to Parliament Buildings. The North Antrim representative is not unique amongst MLAs in being an OU graduate himself.
Mr Swann said: “Access to higher education is paramount in Northern Ireland, if we are to equip our citizens with the skills and competencies they need to participate fully in civil society, contribute to economic life, and ultimately achieve their potential.”
He referred to the debate in the Assembly that had wrapped up just prior to the OU event. The motion for that debate noted: “That this Assembly acknowledges the power of part-time higher education in Northern Ireland to contribute to economic growth, to boost productivity and to increase social mobility; recognises that it enables citizens to fit their studies around their employment and caring responsibilities, apply their knowledge to the workplace immediately, and to upskill and reskill to meet the skills needs of employers in key growth areas; and calls on the Minister for Employment and Learning, and his Executive colleagues, to prioritise the growth of part-time higher education in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Swann referred to the need for investment in higher education to support the predicted demand for skills in light of any reduction in corporation tax.
Mr Swann added: “The OU as is the largest provider of part-time higher education in Northern Ireland, with almost 4,000 students spread across the 18 constituencies.
“It is necessary that those living in rural areas who cannot travel to our main cities to a campus-based university, are not disadvantaged; 73% of those students are also working, either part-time or full-time.
“The majority of OU students in Northern Ireland are over 25 and many have family and caring responsibilities; 15% of the OU student community in the Province has a disability, requiring specific support,” said Assemblyman Swann.
Mr Swann said he urged as many people as possible in the constituency to develop their skills and experience by embarking on part-time higher education.