Higher education that’s open all hours
24 May 2004
By Dan Buckley

WHEN Nuala Willis wanted to go back to college, she had a problem. Her children were so busy with sporting and other extra curricular activities that she found herself always on the road, ferrying them to and fro. The solution was to enrol in the Open University (OU). “It’s amazing how much reading can be done, even by the light of a car,” says Nuala, a secondary teacher from Kinsale.

Last month, that time spent studying her notes in the car bore fruit when she collected her MA in English literature. “I absolutely loved it,” she says. “I would never have found the time to go to regular lectures. With two children and going between music and sports, I figured it made better use of my time to be studying.”

Her son Kenneth, 22, is studying to be a barrister at the King’s Inns in Dublin while daughter Jennifer is in transition year at Scoil Mhuire. Their mother’s achievement now rivals their own.

For years, Nuala’s focus was on her children, but the OU course allowed her concentrate on herself. “It has really enhanced my life. There comes a time when you need to do something for yourself, to stimulate the old brain cells.”

For over three decades, studying with the Open University has given more than 11,500 graduates an inspirational learning experience. While it is a British institution the OU has always been open to Irish people but it is only in the past few years that Irish residents have taken it to heart.

Among those who have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams is maintenance technologist John Coleman. Curiosity got the better of John, 49, from Kilmallock, Co Limerick. He joined the Open University to develop his maths skills in order to help his children with their homework.

“I was at a point in my career that required further development academically if I was to move on. My family was also growing up and I always had an interest in further study. I never thought at the time that I would follow through to collect a degree.”

John had the support of his employer and soon after he began his OU studies, he was promoted.

For Tom Kilcommins, a teacher from Dundalk, Co Louth, the Open University was a godsend. Busy at work and with three young children, flexibility was the key to his success. “I could work from home and at weekends. There was no travelling to university and I could study in my own environment. That was really important. I also found the tutors extremely good and that was probably because they were OU graduates themselves.”

Since Open University began in 1969, it has opened the door to higher education for more than two million people.

For further information, see www.open.ac.uk

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