Brenda Gourley: Learning programme straddles the divide

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The Independent Online

There is a growing recognition that knowledge no longer resides (if it ever did) in one place; increasingly learning is a partnership between the university, the student and other organisations, both public and private. The Open University has many partnerships, one of its most recent being the Cross Border Openings Project which began in September 2004 with funding from the European Union Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland. It was formally launched by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, in February and has three main objectives: to make new learning opportunities available to individuals from disadvantaged and divided communities so that they can, in turn, make a positive contribution to their communities; to contribute to peace-building and to the development of good relations; and to foster a culture of learning in the workplace. The Cross Border Openings Project serves participants from both sides of the Irish border by making available 250 free places on Open University "return to study" Openings courses. In line with Open University policy, it has no entry requirements.

The project brings together three strong partners: the Open University, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Centre for Cross Border Studies. By working with trade unions and employers to foster workplace learning agreements and to provide advice and support to employees, the project seeks to encourage participants to return to study and realise their full potential. The concept of learning partnerships in the workplace is further promoted by other means, such as the provision of personal advice on individual progression.

The project offers students additional support through day schools which bring together people from diverse and previously divided communities along the entire Irish border region. It also provides the opportunity to participate in workshops designed to promote good relations between people from diverse religious, political, ethnic and other communities. It encourages and enables them to make a positive contribution towards peace-building and to widen horizons by promoting cross-border learning and labour mobility.

"The Cross Border Openings programme," Mary McAleese said, " is about making sure the door to education is wide open, easily accessible and welcoming. When higher education is at its best it not only makes a difference to the individual. It contributes to the creation of national and global citizens. This programme is an example of such aspirations - and points the way for other programmes elsewhere in a divided world. It deserves all our support."

Brenda Gourley is Vice-Chancellor of the Open University