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Student Story: From retail to IT with 1 A-Level and The Open University

Orlagh, from Armagh, finished college with only 1 A-Level. As a young mum at the time, she thought she would never get the chance or time to study a degree. After working in retail for a decade she was made redundant and, while in part-time agency work, decided she wanted a change. She had always had a passion for IT and wanted to make that dream a reality.

That’s where The Open University (OU) came in.

With no previous qualifications required and a flexible approach to study, it was an opportunity she couldn’t refuse.

Orlagh was one of over 250 students who crossed the stage at the Waterfront Hall as part of our Belfast Degree Ceremony on Friday 9 June.

“I always wanted to study for a degree and change my career from retail.” She said. “When I was made redundant in 2012, it was the motivation I needed to finally apply. I am glad I began studying and only regret not beginning the process years earlier.”

The flexibility of OU study offered her an opportunity to continue working and raising her family, but she still wasn’t where she wanted to be.

“I got another job as a supervisor in a filling station for a couple of years but was laid off without pay while they were being refurbished. This was the final straw which prompted me to get out of retail for good.”

Whilst studying for a degree in Computing and IT, she landed a job as a Data Administrator and continued to look for opportunities in her field. Eventually, a student placement role advertised on the University’s Opportunity Hub, came up in the Estates and IT department of the Belfast Health and Social CareTrust. It was a role that would have previously been out of reach but because of her study, she jumped at the chance.

“I went to the interview, which I thought went badly but was delighted when I was offered the role, finally the first step in my IT career was beginning. I started my placement in September 2020 and worked so well I was offered another year. A permanent role at a higher band then became available. I applied to this role and was successful, beginning my current role of Information Officer.”

Orlagh is like many OU students and a prime example of why the flexibility of OU study can help change lives. Over the course of almost 10 years, she changed track on her degree, went through multiple jobs and eventually got to a place where she felt like her dream career was within sight.

Reflecting on her time studying with the OU she said: “I changed my degree pathway to Computing and IT (from Computing, IT and Mathematics) and had to double back to take some more modules. I’ve taken some time off and deferred some modules a number of times over the years. Even though at times I wanted to just give up, I am glad the OU’s flexible study has enabled me to continue and complete my degree. I feel it has helped me grow as a person and given me the problem-solving skills and knowledge needed for my future.”

“I have really enjoyed my OU journey and am glad to have eventually finished. I am so proud to have achieved my goal!”

While the OU has helped Orlagh to achieve a dream she once thought impossible. The impact her study has had on her family goes beyond just changing career. In fact, it’s now something that runs in the family.

“My friends and family are proud of how I have stuck to studying. My son is now studying for an OU foundation degree via his local college alongside an apprenticeship so my studying must have rubbed off!”

The Open University has helped over 2 million people fulfil their potential and open up their future. What doors could it open for you?

For media enquiries please contact:

Christine Murphy, Communications Manager

Tel 028 9053 6219