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Graduates of The Open University in Northern Ireland see £219,000 additional career earnings

Those with GCSEs or below as their highest prior attainment completing a part-time degree at The Open University in Northern Ireland are estimated to earn an average of £219,000 more in real terms over the rest of their career.

This is according to The economic and social impact of The Open University in 2018-19 report from London Economics, which found that the institution’s open entry policy, allowing students below the usual entry level requirements of traditional universities, offered potentially significant financial benefit over the course of a career.

Those with GCSEs or below completing a part-time degree at the age of 37, the average age of an OU graduate, are estimated to earn an average of £219,000 more in real terms over the rest of their career (equivalent to an NPV of £114,000 at Government discount rates). The research also found that those with A Levels (or equivalent) as their highest prior qualification also saw an estimated average benefit of £141,000 overall (equivalent to an NPV of £71,000).

The report, in addition to quantifying the benefit to the individual, demonstrates the significant economic impact of investing in flexible, lifelong learning in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The benefit of The Open University’s formal teaching and learning activities in Northern Ireland for the 2018-19 cohort is £21.3m, with a further £11.8m being returned to the public purse via income-based taxation.

In total, across teaching and learning and operating expenditure, The Open University’s activity in Northern Ireland boosted the UK economy by £50.4m in 2018-19.


John D’Arcy, National Director of The Open University in Ireland, commented: Investing in flexible, lifelong learning will be a key part of helping the workforce and the economy as a whole bounce back as we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic. By being equipped with skills and improved employability, graduates open up their options in this challenging time.

It is particularly noteworthy that those arriving with GCSEs as their highest prior qualification see such a significant boost to their lifetime earnings. Offering work-based, distance learning – both formally and informally – helps the University reach a broader pool of part-time students eager to engage in higher education and boost not only their income but their sense of job satisfaction and wellbeing in the long-term too.”


Breadth of reach is a key factor in where this money goes, and distance learning means The Open University operates in communities across the whole of Northern Ireland. The vast majority (85%) of graduates of The Open University remain in the location where their study was undertaken. This means their investment in talent and skills benefits local communities and helps stimulate recovery across the nation.

Partly driving this is the flexible education delivered via the OpenLearn and FutureLearn platforms. The Open University is proactively supporting the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland to help those impacted by Covid-19 by offering a range of free online courses through the OpenLearn platform. This has also been reinforced with provision of 250 fully-funded postgraduate courses by the Department through The Open University.

Looking at the UK as a whole, two in three Open University graduates (66%) reported improvements in their working life and professional prospects – across factors such as job satisfaction, pay and promotion opportunities and employability. Of this group, 91 per cent said The Open University had helped them achieve this.

Beyond what ends up in graduates’ pockets, almost all respondents (94%) said that study at the OU had improved at least one aspect of their personal development. Crucially, in an ever-changing jobs market, flexible distance learning had an impact on graduates’ attitudes to lifelong learning, with 84 per cent feeling that they had become more enthusiastic about education.

Similarly, 86 per cent of respondents said that their time with the OU had contributed to an improvement in their personal wellbeing – including increased confidence, self-esteem and general quality of life.

Meanwhile, in terms of its workforce, The Open University supports 210 FTE jobs in Northern Ireland. As with graduate locations, the majority of staff expenditure (55%) was dispersed around all areas of the country, outside of the main Open University offices and locations.


You can view the report in full here: 

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