New higher education options offered by Northern Regional College

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As A-Level and vocational Level 3 students across the province prepare to take the next step on their academic journey, Mel Higgins, Principal and Chief Executive of Northern Regional College is encouraging talented and ambitious young people to consider all their available options, including those at their local Further Education (FE) college.

He said: “Choosing the right path can be daunting and I would urge school leavers to consider all their options very carefully so they can make an informed decision about what to do next.

“Like all FE Colleges, Northern Regional College offers many university-accredited courses. These have been designed in partnership with prestigious Higher Education institutions, such as Queen’s University, Belfast, Ulster University, The Open University and Pearson and include HNCs, HNDs, Foundation degrees with pathways through to Honours degree, as well as Higher Level Apprenticeships across a range of vocational areas.”

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Northern Regional College is introducing a number of new Higher Education courses for the 2024/2025 academic year. The courses have been specifically designed to meet identified skills shortages in employment growth areas. Subject areas include Hospitality and Tourism Management, Healthcare Practice, Cloud Computing with Cyber Security and Housing Practice.

Peter O’Neill (left) with Industrial Robotics WorldSkills UK medallists,  Karla Kosch NRC lecturerPeter O’Neill (left) with Industrial Robotics WorldSkills UK medallists,  Karla Kosch NRC lecturer
Peter O’Neill (left) with Industrial Robotics WorldSkills UK medallists, Karla Kosch NRC lecturer

Highlighting the advantages of studying at an FE College, the Principal said they allowed students to study locally and provided access to regional progression opportunities, in terms of both continued study and employment.

He continued: “All our higher education programmes at Northern Regional College are developed in line with industry demand to ensure that they provide students with the necessary skills for progression to further study or employment.

”Students also will benefit from smaller class sizes allowing for a focused teaching approach; lecturers have industry experience in their specific subject area, tuition fees are lower and our industry standard facilities and equipment will help students gain valuable skills and industry accredited qualifications which in turn will improve their employability.

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Peter O’Neill (26) from Ballymoney completed a Foundation Degree in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Northern Regional College in Ballymena, graduating with Distinction in December 2023.

With A-level Maths, Physics and Chemistry under his belt, Peter accepted a place at university, but struggled to cope with the transition from school to university and left after first year. He subsequently trained as a welder and was employed by McAuley’s Engineering.

“Although I enjoyed working for McAuley’s, I was disappointed not to have taken my education further and realised I would need additional qualifications to progress my career. When I investigated my options, I felt the Foundation Degree at Northern Regional College would be the best option for me,” he explained.

Having successfully completed the Foundation Degree, Peter was able to progress directly into second year of a BEng. Honours degree at Ulster University.

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“The Foundation Degree was a great preparation for university, not just because of the technical skills I developed, but all the other skills like research, time management and team working. Another bonus is that the smaller class sizes allow lecturers to interact better with their students and ensure they are coping.

Peter acknowledged that he benefited enormously from the strong industrial experience of his lecturers, and he is appreciative of the opportunities he got as a student at Northern Regional College.

“For example, we were encouraged to get involved in the WorldSkills UK competitions,” continued Peter, “although this really pushed me out of my comfort zone, it was a great learning experience.”

Peter and his Foundation Degree classmate Hannah Currie, who is a manufacturing technician at Wrightbus, represented Northern Regional College in the Industrial Robotics category at the WorldSkills UK 2024 national finals and came away with gold medals. The finals are the culmination of a series of regional competitions across the UK with only the eight highest scoring competitors in their skill area going through.

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As gold medallists, Peter and Hannah maintained Northern Regional College’s excellent record in Industrial Robotics in WorldSkills UK. In recent years students representing the College in the national finals have won gold, silver and bronze medals.

Given his positive experience at Northern Regional College, not surprisingly Peter is now a strong advocate for FE Colleges.

“I would have no hesitation recommending the Foundation Degree as an alternative route for school leavers. The skills and knowledge I developed as a Foundation Degree student at Northern Regional College have certainly made the transition to the second year of my engineering degree at university much easier.” He added that being able to add ‘WorldSkills UK gold medallist’ on his CV should improve his future career prospects as an engineer.

Applications for courses starting September 2024 are now open. Please visit the College website at for detailed information about each course, admission requirements, and the application process.