Big thank you from

 John D'Arcy, director of The Open University, Ireland

JOHN D'ArcyJOHN D'Arcy, 50, has lived in Lisburn since 1988. He took up his new role as the Director of The Open University in Ireland last October and is based in the university's new building in Victoria Street, Belfast. The Open University recently celebrated its 40th birthday and has offices in Belfast and Dublin. Prior to joining The Open University, John was Chief Executive of Colleges Northern Ireland for almost eight years, a Director of Management Consultancy at BDO in Belfast between 1997 and 2003 and also spent seven years as Head of Research and Statistics with the NI Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment. John lives in Lisburn with his wife Jackie and they have a son called John who is an up and coming musician.

A typical day for me at present, as I begin my new role, involves meeting staff and teams throughout The Open University in Ireland and Great Britain to get a real understanding of the full range of provision available to students as well as the systems and processes underpinning the university's delivery to students. I normally start work around 8.30 /9am. Since taking up my post, I have been really impressed by the highly motivated and dedicated staff we have across Ireland, all of whom actively strive to meet the needs of our growing student population. The quality of provision is reflected in the high rankings which The Open University receives in surveys of student satisfaction. In 2010 The Open University was in the top three places for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK for student satisfaction, maintaining its position at the forefront of the National Student Survey ratings since they began in 2005.

A key area of activity is to ensure that The Open University's innovative approaches to learning and learner support are at the forefront of people's minds when they consider their own learning whether for their careers or for their individual development. The ways in which people can take our courses is a real plus. The University is acknowledged as a world leader in distance learning and it recently reached a milestone as the first university to hit 20 million downloaded tracks on iTunes U, a dedicated area within the iTunes Store. With an average of over a quarter of a million downloads per week, the Open University's popularity has soared since content was first made available on iTunes U in June 2008.

My role usually involves evening meetings and travelling to national meetings and I regularly go to Dublin on business too.

As well as leading The Open University in Ireland, I have a number of wider civic roles. As a member of Sport Northern Ireland's Board and also a representative on the NI Commonwealth Games Council, I have taken an active interest in the excellent performances of the Northern Ireland team in the Delhi Games. On top of that, as Chairman of Oh Yeah Music Centre, many of my evenings and weekends are spent planning the development of the centre which now features a live venue, offices, rehearsal space and a recording studio. I love my job. It really is a dream come true. I am delighted to take up my role in a time of a lot of change in higher education.

Ulster Star