by Nuala McGuinn, Director of the Centre for Adult Learning & Professional Development
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Adult Learning and the 20th anniversary of the Access programme, it was my pleasure to introduce Seamus O’Grady as the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Literature at our recent Adult Learning conferring (9th November), where the accolades of his work were applauded by our graduands.
Seamus is the former Director of the Centre and for almost 40 years, he worked with the University’s academic community to extend the reach of our part-time courses across the western region, in towns and regions where they were needed most.
Seamus’ work initiated the University’s first formal outreach courses in Donegal in 1974, and in the late 70s and early 80s he oversaw the development of specialist courses in Health Education, Nursing, Community Development, Business Development, Music Education and a wide range of short courses in outreach locations such as Ballina, Ballinasloe, Ennis, Clifden and many others.
Unlike the online and blended-learning mode of our courses today, this outreach model of delivery involved academic staff travelling the roads of the West of Ireland late at night, sometimes in dangerous weather conditions, with less than friendly road systems and no modern GPS technology! Our academic staff were dedicated to the ethos of adult education and the presence of the University was hugely appreciated by these students.
Seamus’ work also pioneered the development of the Access programme in 1999 which provides an alternative educational pathway for students who experience educational, and in many cases, socio-economic disadvantage. Today, over 3,600 students have been supported into higher education through Access – a notable achievement for a group of learners who may not have considered third level education previously.
One of Seamus’ critical ingredients of success was establishing relationships with people and organisations who shared his vision of adult education and regional development. He was President of Aontas and a member of the Adult Education Committees of VECs within the western region.
Over Seamus’ working life at the University he was committed to the principle of access and participation for all learners. He is known to generations of NUI Galway alumni in Ireland and around the world whose contact with the University was through Extra-mural Studies, Adult & Continuing Education and, latterly, the Access Programme. I wish Seamus, his wife Bernadette, his daughter Aoife and son Niall every happiness on this wonderful achievement.