Ask Brian: I never went to university. Can I return as a part-time mature student?

There are options, though part-time access to mainstream degrees can be limited

Most universities  offer some part-time options, but they may not always lead to a full degree award. Photo: iStock

Most universities offer some part-time options, but they may not always lead to a full degree award. Photo: iStock


Question: I left school in the 1990s and never went to university. I’ve always regretted this. I’d like to study for a degree, but a full-time course isn’t an option given my work commitments. Is there option you can recommend? Answer: Part-time provision in Irish universities in mainstream degree programmes can be limited.

DCU has an online programme, Oscail, which can meet the needs of certain part-time learners.

Both Trinity and Maynooth offer some part-time options, but they may not lead to a full degree award, but you should contact them to explore what they may be able to offer you.

Other universities have a variety of other part-time options. It’s worth checking out their websites for more details.

There’s an interesting development at UCD, which has recently developed a new way of studying part-time called “open learning”.

It gives all sorts of opportunities to potential students who cannot study full-time because they are, like yourself, working or have child-care or elder care responsibilities. It also suits those who are managing chronic health conditions and are not ready to enter university full-time.

It is a supported way of easing an individual into study at university. If you choose this option you will quickly discover if you like the subjects you’ve chosen and get a real sense of study in a university. Another big bonus is that you will have a student card, with all the benefits it brings.

The pace of this programme is slower than a full-time work load, where students typically register for six modules. Modules in university are the units of study that students accumulate towards their degree.

The flexibility of the open learning option may suit you as you can register now for the second semester, which means you won’t have to wait until the next academic year to get started.

You can register for any of over 250 modules and take them for assessment (credit) or just for interest (audit). The modules are all stand-alone so can be taken in any order, and you can determine your own workload by deciding on how many modules you wish to take. If you find that you like the module you’ve completed, you could keep going and accumulate credits towards an award. You could end up with a certificate in open learning (30 credits) or a diploma in open learning (60 credits).

As this initiative is expanding, UCD has opened up two pathways to their degrees. Students who complete the certificate can apply, through the CAO, to enter the arts and humanities degrees (DN520 or DN530) or they can enter the social sciences degree (DN700).

The flexibility of this system also highlights the benefits of a modular system in higher education.

The application is straightforward, open to everyone and can booked online directly via UCD (

The student pays for each module (€500 for credit/€375 for audit) they register for. However, there are a number of Open Learning scholarships available in UCD that you can apply for. Check the website for details.