In the OU Students Association’s 50th year, we are more committed than ever to ensuring that the voice of OU students is heard in the corridors of power across the UK. That’s why we’ve published our OU Students Association manifesto for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections that take place on 5th May 2022.
The OU in Ireland provides an amazing way for people from all backgrounds to learn and gain qualifications flexibly and at their own pace. However, we want our students in Northern Ireland to have parity of esteem with full-time students, which is why we are asking for the next Northern Ireland Assembly to address specific issues that create barriers to access and reduce the quality of student experience for current and prospective part-time supported distance-learning students in Northern Ireland.
The inequity in the student finance system presents the single largest barrier to accessing part-time study. Part-time students are not eligible to receive any of the Maintenance Loan, Special Support Grant, Childcare grant, or Parental Learning Allowance that full-time students are entitled to. Recent legislative changes in Wales have demonstrated the hugely positive impact a fair funding deal for part-time students can have, with significant increases in both new students and continuing students a result of the Diamond reforms.
Making education more accessible to everyone also means ensuring that technological barriers are removed, so that when someone decides to study via supported distance-learning, their experience is engaging and enjoyable. That’s why we want the next Northern Ireland Assembly to prioritise high-speed broadband availability in every community to enable students to be better connected with their studies, each other, and potential employers.
We believe that the policies in this manifesto will make a real difference to OU students, local communities, and the wider economy, and we hope that all candidates will show support. But we also want OU students living in Northern Ireland to get involved and help to amplify these messages to local candidates and to your fellow OU students. There are OU students in every single Northern Ireland constituency, which makes us a potentially influential interest group. So please read the manifesto and share it as widely as possible so that we can bring about the changes that will enhance the OU student experience for current students and extend the opportunity to study flexibly to many more.