EDUCATION Minister John O’Dowd was guest speaker at the launch of the Aisling Bursary presentations held at St Mary’s University College last night.

The Minister was on hand to warmly congratulate students and business donors along with local individuals who provide sponsorship for the Bursaries, And he commended the young people who are striving to achieve their potential through education and further and higher skills development.

Now in their 16th year, the Education Minister described the Aisling Bursaries as “a positive way to help students with their education and training costs and I am very encouraged by the willingness of students to strive to be the best they can be.”

The Bursaries award cash payments to allow West Belfast students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to enter third-level education to continue their studies. The cash is donated by businesses, groups, families and individuals keen to give something back to the community.

Minister O’Dowd continued: “The achievements of everyone receiving Bursary awards proves that, given the right opportunities and support, our students can thrive and do well in their education. I have always believed that a young person’s financial situation should not influence their educational opportunities and I will continue to work hard to ensure that all pupils get the same opportunities to fulfil their potential – regardless of what school they go to or what background they come from.” 

CEO of the West Belfast Partnership, Geraldine McAteer, said: “The WBPB believes in the fundamental need to put education at the heart of regeneration – a sound education, good training and skills development contribute to the personal development of young people, to their confidence, their sense of fulfilment and personal growth and to achieving their aspirations and goals in life. But significantly, by acquiring the skills and competencies that modern businesses need, young people will help drive the economy and also local economic and social regeneration.

“The Aisling Bursaries provide significant financial support to young people during lean times and the donations of local businesses, families and organisations who contribute to the Aisling Bursaries make a real difference to the lives of the young people who receive them,” she said.

“The Aisling Bursaries are an invaluable and effective social justice tool which help provide a level playing field for people from West Belfast. The local businesses, families and individuals who contribute are to be commended for their commitment to empowering local people in west Belfast to achieve a better life for themselves and their families.”

Professor Peter Finn, Principal of event hosts St Mary’s University College, said St Mary’s were delighted to have been associated with the Aisling Bursaries since 2000.

“Widening participation in higher education has been the dominant feature of the university sector throughout Europe in the past few decades,” he said. “This process has sought to redress some of the socio-economic inequalities that exist in all jurisdictions and to promote greater social justice.

“Increasing participation in third-level education is particularly important in the West Belfast area and the Aisling Bursaries Scheme, delivered by the West Belfast Partnership Board, is one of the best examples anywhere of a commitment to help students realise their full potential.”