A new centre has been opened at the North West Regional College in Derry to mark 40 years of helping almost 2,000 students gain access to third level education.
The College this week opened a new Access Learning Centre for current programme learners and staff, with new classrooms and modern learning support areas.
Former students from the Access Diploma in Combined Studies spoke of how the course changed their lives for the better during the launch.
The Access Diploma is validated by Ulster University and is aimed at persons aged 19 and above who have not been in education for at least one year, and offers qualifications equivalent to three A-Levels.
The unique course began at Magee in the early 1970s before it was transferred to NWRC several years later.
The unveiling of the new centre was attended by current learners, graduates, representatives from Ulster University and those who have been teaching on the course over the years, including Frank D’arcy, the course originator.
It soon became quite clear to me that Derry was a city full of people who were as bright as buttons.Fran D’arcy, course originator
Early students of Frank included the late BBC Presenter, Gerry Anderson; Women’s Aid founder Cathy Harkin and the leading Trade Unionist, Jackie Nash.
Speaking at the event, he recalled how it all came about: “I moved to the city in 1973 to set up ‘The Institute of Continuing Education’ in Magee, having been previously involved in Adult Education in Dublin and America.
“It soon became quite clear to me that Derry was a city full of people who were as bright as buttons. I managed to convince the Senate that there was a need to create an Access course in the city as I believed many adults did not have the opportunity to complete their education or avail of a complete education. Thankfully they agreed and set up the Access course, which was the first of its kind in Ireland.”
Emer O’Sullivan, Curriculum Manager for Business Services & General Education and Course Director at NWRC said: “The course has produced almost 2,000 graduates since it transferred to NWRC from Magee, attracting learners of all ages and from all backgrounds. The course offers students a wide range of subjects to experience and enjoy, and the opportunity to find where their particular talent lies, and more importantly, introduce them to the kinds of academic working practices that they can expect at University.”
Seamus Melaugh, a former student of the course commented on how the course benefitted his career.
He said: “I was hoping to do a degree at Magee University as a mature student but needed entry level qualifications. I heard about the access course from a friend who highly recommended it.
“Having been out of higher education for a long time I was anxious about returning to full time education but the teaching staff were very understanding and patient.
“Once I received the Access Diploma I was then accepted to Magee University on Computer Science course and following my graduation, I managed to secure a post as a Graduate Software Developer for Fujitsu. None of which would be possible without the Access diploma course at the North West Regional College.”
The Access Diploma in Combined Studies is available as a full-time and part-time course at the College’s Derry and Limavady campuses. Full-time course applications are currently available and part-time enrolment is scheduled to be available from early June.