A Q&A with Hetan Shah

Birkbeck Alumnus Hetan Shah, the Chief Executive of the British Academy, talks about his experience of studying at Birkbeck.

Why did you decide to come to Birkbeck?

I was working in a law firm in the City, and was pretty bored! I wanted to keep my mind active and keep learning, so I would sneak out twice a week to my History and Politics Masters. I enjoyed it so much. I then left the law sector, and started working at a think tank. I felt the need to learn some economics, so I then spent a year doing the Postgraduate Certificate in Economics.

How did you balance your work and studies?

The Postgraduate Certificate in Economics was tough – three hours a night for three nights a week. It was a year that didn’t leave me a lot of time for a social life!

Why did studying in the evening appeal to you?

Studying in the evening quite simply meant that I could work and earn a living during the day!

Do you have any special memories from your time at Birkbeck?

The most inspiring part of my time at Birkbeck was studying Professor Mark Mazower’s course on the 20th century, empires and nation states. He had extraordinary breadth – we would study an empire (Habsburg, Ottoman, British etc) each week. Life has come full circle as he was recently elected a corresponding fellow of the British Academy, where I have just begun as chief executive!

Can you tell us a little more about your career journey since Birkbeck?

I worked in the think tank world for several years, helping to bridge academic research and policy. It was a stimulating time, working on agendas including behavioural economics, social enterprise, and well-being measures. After that I became chief executive of a charity focused on global citizenship education in UK schools: improving critical engagement with international development and environmental sustainability in the curriculum. Around eight years ago I became executive director of the Royal Statistical Society, a membership body concerned with improving evidence and the use of data in public life. And I have now just been appointed chief executive of the British Academy, the national academy for humanities and social science.

Based on your experience at the Royal Statistical Society, what skills or experiences are important to the future job market?

One of the things that I’ve learned from my time at the RSS is the increasing importance of data analysis. We are living in a world of ubiquitous data, and so making sense of what the data tells us is really important. This will be increasingly demanded across many job roles. Our education system needs to take the teaching of basic statistical literacy more seriously.

What are you excited to implement/ take on at the British Academy?

The BA is an extraordinary organisation. It is a fellowship of some of the brightest minds, it provides funding for humanities and social science research, and it also convenes thinking on the big issues of the day. As you can tell from the subjects I have studied (my first degree was mostly philosophy) I have a strong affinity with these subjects, as they help us make sense of the world we live in. My aim is to build on the great work the BA already does, and to help bring the voices of the humanities and social science communities into the big issues of the day. I have recently written a piece in Nature showing why these subjects are vital for meeting many of the challenges we face in the upcoming decade.

I look back at my three years at Birkbeck with fondness. It was very stimulating to continue with some formal study after I’d begun my working life. I’d recommend it to anyone!

Cambridge House Telephone Campaign – meet the student fundraisers!

The Birkbeck Autumn Telephone Campaign 2019 has now begun. A team of Birkbeck current students will be in contact with alumni to update their contact details, and talk to them about a new a College priority project, Cambridge House.

During recent research into the student experience at Birkbeck, we were able to gather feedback from our students on their study environment, and discovered that there was an urgent demand for more Birkbeck teaching and social spaces. Cambridge House will be a new learning space created to meet this demand, and allow Birkbeck students to be taught in Birkbeck buildings.

The space will be a community hub to over 600 people at any one time, and will enable students to come together in a way no other Birkbeck space can currently provide.  It will have much needed classroom space, offering nine classrooms – each divided by retractable walls allowing academics to customise them to their requirements.

The autumn telephone campaign will be raising funds for the new building which will also be equipped throughout with state-of-the-art equipment, such as video lecture capture, a digital video wall, and audio-visual equipment. Read about the student callers and why they decided to get involved with the fundraising campaign below.

Meet the student fundraisers:

Alex C, MRes Comparative Literature

Alex C

“I chose to study at Birkbeck as I believe it has a friendly and fair ethos. Fundraising for Birkbeck is important as it enables further research, and I’m really looking forward to engaging with alumni and learning more about how funding has an impact within academia”.

Alex T, BSc Planetary Science and Astronomy

Alex T

“I’m a 4th year student and have really enjoyed my time at Birkbeck so far, so would love to give back to the College. I’m looking forward to speaking to alumni and finding out what they’ve done since leaving Birkbeck”.

Allen, BA Creative Writing and English


“I enjoy talking to people and by being a telephone fundraiser for Birkbeck will allow me to promote the College whilst feeling a sense of achievement. Telephone campaigns are important to improve the student experience and also to maintain contact with alumni”.

Dan, MSc Counselling and Psychotherapy


“I chose to study at Birkbeck as the course had an excellent reputation. I joined the telephone campaign team as I wanted to give back and help to improve the student learning experience”.

Fatmata, MSc Educational Neuroscience


“Being the recipient of a legacy scholarship myself, I find the contribution alumni make to an institution invaluable. I wanted to be part of a project that will make a change. I chose to study at Birkbeck because the course is fantastic, the location is ideal and the research is world-leading. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to talk to different people, listen to their stories and find out what they have gone on to do”.


Graham, MA Philosophy

“I chose to study at Birkbeck as there is a diverse student body, and for the evening lectures. I’m taking part in the telephone campaign as I wanted to develop my skills in this area and help Birkbeck to continue its unique mission”.

Jason, BSc Marketing


“I chose to study at Birkbeck due to its distinctiveness in being able to study in the evening. This provides the opportunity to continue working. It’s also in the heart of London which means that the location is convenient! I wanted to be a student fundraiser as a way of giving back to the College – I think that if Birkbeck has changed your life, then you should give back to the institution that has changed you”.

Joe, BA Psychosocial Studies


“I think fundraising for Birkbeck is important to improve teaching, research and the student experience. I am proud to be a part of Birkbeck and its history of providing opportunities to working-class people. I’m looking forward to building on my fundraising experience and speaking to Birkbeck alumni”.

Natalie, BA Linguistics


“I applied to be part of the call team as I found the nature of the job interesting, I like conversing with people. What I enjoy the most about the role is the sense of personal achievement and growth, raising money to contribute to future developments at Birkbeck”.

Naomi, MPhil/PhD Film and Media Studies


“I love Birkbeck and I want to get more involved and give back. I’m aware of how important it is to provide student support, and how fundraising has an impact on student facilities and widening access. I originally chose to study at Birkbeck because of the convenience, but I moved onto my PhD because I liked the College so much!”

Safina, MA Creative Writing           


“I wanted to contribute whilst I was still a student and be a part of the telephone fundraising team. Fundraising is essential to widening access and providing opportunities to diverse students. I’m looking forward to hearing alumni’s personal stories”.

Shakeela, BSc Social Sciences


“I wanted to take part in the Telephone Campaign as I like to speak to alumni and find out about their experiences. It was also a way to meet a variety of students I wouldn’t have met before. I feel fundraising for Birkbeck is important as it encourages continued support for the projects here, some of which I’ve benefited from myself”.

Will, LLM


“I chose to study at Birkbeck because of the reputation of the Law department and its location. I know that fundraising for Birkbeck is important as it improves student support and student services. I’m looking forward to being part of the Birkbeck fundraising team as it’s an opportunity to contribute to the College for an exciting project”.

The telephone campaign will be running until Saturday, 30 November. If you’d like to receive a call from one of our students, please get in touch with Tara Millington (t.millington@bbk.ac.uk).

Birkbeck bursary recipients graduate with smiles

Earlier this year in spring, over a thousand Birkbeck students graduated from their studies and received their degree. Thanks to alumni donations many deserving students receive financial support throughout their studies. Support can change the Birkbeck experience for students like Ellie, Rakim, Adam and Oluwatobi – read more about their stories below:

Ellie Braithwaite

Ellie Braithwaite (MSc Educational Neuroscience)

“Birkbeck caught my attention because of the amazing psychology and neuroscience resources and researchers. Since finishing my masters, I have been working at Birkbeck as a research assistant in the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development. I am working with some inspiring people. This is a role I would not have been able to do before getting my Masters, both in terms of experience and confidence. I am now applying for PhDs and hope to do this at Birkbeck – something I never thought I would do before completing my Masters!

Without the bursary I received I would not have been able to pay course fees, travel to attend lectures, or to buy the laptop and resources I needed to succeed. I’d like to say a huge thank you to alumni donors– without you I wouldn’t have had all the amazing experiences I have had, nor would I have so many doors open to me now.”

Rakim Yusufkhan-Jeffrey

Rakim Yusufkhan-Jeffrey (BA Linguistics & Japanese)

“Prior to my studies at Birkbeck, I had been in the midst of a difficult time in my life. Shortly after starting my studies at college, I fell ill. This meant that I had to withdraw and was unable to study or work for a number of years. As time went on, I felt stuck.

Then I discovered Birkbeck, and found that it welcomed students of all backgrounds and qualifications. I felt that this was a much needed second chance to attain a qualification and start my career. I enrolled on BA Linguistics and Japanese, and was able to rediscover my passion for the Japanese language. I also gained a newfound love for the topic of Linguistics. Learning about how languages are both taught and acquired in the Language Learning module particularly proved to be very interesting and enjoyable.

I hope to use my degree to become a teacher or translator in the near future. Without financial assistance through my bursary, I would have struggled to make the trip to university during the week and would not have been able to afford many of the materials I needed, such as the textbooks used in each class. Receiving the bursary provided me not only with the opportunity to attend university, but to succeed at it.

Without alumni donors, many students like me would not have been able to comfortably attend and take part in education. No words are sufficient to express how grateful I am for the opportunity that they have given to me, and I sincerely thank them for their generous help throughout my years at Birkbeck, an institution that I hold so dear to my heart.”

Adam McLaren

Adam McLaren (BA Politics Philosophy and History)

“My inspiration to study at Birkbeck was due to the fact that many of the books that I’d read were written by Birkbeck professors. Furthermore, I knew it had an excellent philosophy and humanities faculty. Originally I had the ambition to get into politics, but when I started my degree I became particularly interested in psychiatry and the history of psychology, especially the works of Freud and Jung – I had found something that I was truly passionate about.

Alumni funding gave me the confidence to focus on my studies without being distracted by financial worry. Funding meant that I could buy a laptop, textbooks and travel to my lectures. The bursary helped me to do things like visit the Carl Jung and Freud Museum, and read extra books and journals that tied into my academic work.”

Oluwatobi Amusan

Oluwatobi Amusan (MSc Investment Management)

“I had been working in accounting for 5 years when I decided I wanted to challenge myself and progress my career. I had studied Accounting and Finance for my undergraduate, and was eager to pursue a master’s degree. I liked that Birkbeck caters for people who want to work at the same time as studying, as it provides an opportunity for study for those who have a lot going on in their daily lives.

I chose the Investment Management course as I wanted to change the direction of my career. Postgraduate study was an adjustment from undergraduate study. I particularly liked the Financial Modelling module, I had never done anything like it before and I really enjoyed the difficulty of it. It was stimulating talking to mature students on my course and I learnt a lot from people who worked in different industries with diverse life experiences.  

Receiving funding really helped during my degree. It cut out a lot of stress, and I’m very grateful. Being a student can be expensive; having to buy course materials, pay tuition fees and travelling to lectures, on top of other financial responsibilities. The bursary meant that I could complete my degree without any added financial worry about how I was going to pay for things. Thanks to my bursary, I was able to complete my degree with no hiccups, and with the grade I wanted.

Thanks to my degree I will have skills and knowledge that I can use forever. I’m working in a sector that I’m passionate about, and I’d like to say thank you to the donors who have helped me to achieve what I’ve wanted to do. My bursary is something that I’ve not taken for granted. Funding can really change the life of others, like it has changed the life of mine.”

Summer telephone campaign raises over £60,000 for Birkbeck students.

Birkbeck’s summer telephone fundraising campaign has come to an end after five weeks of calling. The team of dedicated student fundraisers spoke to over 1,100 of the College’s alumni.

The £61,506 in alumni donations will support students and enhance their Birkbeck experience by providing bursaries, employability workshops, disability support and ensuring they have access to the best facilities during their time here.

Shakeela, a returning caller studying Social Sciences said: “I’ve been on the call team for over two years now, and I love talking to Birkbeck alumni in each campaign. It’s a great feeling being able to raise vital funds for Birkbeck, whilst also getting some invaluable advice from alumni who are well-established in their chosen professions – I find it very rewarding”.

Telephone campaigns allow Birkbeck to stay connected with alumni by ensuring that we have the correct contact details, and also inform them about upcoming volunteering and mentoring opportunities.

If you’d like to receive a call from one of our students in the next telephone campaign, please get in touch with Tara Millington

Refugees at Home

 “How can I learn or study when I don’t know where I will sleep tonight?” It’s not a question many Birkbeck students and alumni have to ask themselves, but for one group, it’s a reality.

Students accepted onto The Compass Project for asylum-seekers and refugees face a real challenge in finding somewhere to stay in London while they attend classes. Many of the students are “dispersed” – sent by the Home Office out of London and they can’t afford to pay for somewhere to sleep.

This is where Refugees At Home plays an important role. This small charity matches asylum-seekers and refugees with generous hosts who provide accommodation at their homes.

Compass Project student Alaa explains:

“I received a scholarship from The Compass Project to study at Birkbeck for a full year. I was extremely glad to have this opportunity to get back into higher education. Unfortunately, after failing to get into Home-Office accommodation in London, I didn’t have anywhere to live. I was very sad and disappointed as I thought I had lost the chance to study again, until I was saved by Refugees At Home.

Naureen, the Compass Project coordinator, introduced me to Refugees At Home who, in a very short period of time, connected me with a lovely lady who was willing to host me in her home. She was very welcoming and understanding, and it was a real pleasure to know her. I am now studying my course whilst feeling safe and confident, thanks to the lovely hosts who are offering their help to people in challenging circumstances.”

Refugees At Home has a particular link with Birkbeck through the longest-serving member of the placement team, Rachel Davenport.  Rachel is a Birkbeck alumna and says:

“To me Birkbeck has always been an institution that has offered people the opportunity to study where they might not otherwise have been able to do so. The students on my course were made up of a wide range of backgrounds, which made discussion insightful and varied – it was one of the best parts of my studies.

Being surrounded by a range of perspectives different from your own is invaluable, and something that drew me to working at Refugees a Home. I think that hosting offers the same potential – it opens up new ways of thinking, while at the same time making a profound difference in someone’s life. The Compass Project is a great reflection of these values and I’m really proud that we are able to contribute to it in some way. Many people would not be able to study without the help of hosting along the way, and to lose those voices at Birkbeck would be a great shame.”

Sara Nathan OBE, who is the Co-founder and trustee of Refugees at Home says:

“I’ve hosted about 15 young men in west London so far – from Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Libya. It’s a life-enhancing experience. They have shared their lives, their stories, their cooking – and some are very good cooks, the others get coached on-line by sisters in Saudi Arabia or mum in Syria. Hosting brings me at least as much as I contribute to my guests’ lives. It’s never dull.”

The charity is a huge support for Birkbeck’s Compass Project. If you’d like to learn more, or find out about becoming a host, visit their website: www.refugeesathome.org


Knowledge Transfer Opportunities for recent graduates and business leads

If you’ve recently graduated you could kick start your career…

Or you could transform your business…

…by taking part in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) managed by Innovate UK.

These partnerships connect recent graduates with academic or research institutions and a UK business or not-for-profit. The three-way collaboration aims to solve a real-world issue that the business is facing.

KTPs are designed to help UK business’ stay competitive by encouraging them employ talented graduates while also keeping up with the latest industry innovation by taking advantage of advice and support provided by the academic partner.

The academic or research organisation partner (knowledge base) will help to recruit a suitable graduate. They will also act as the employer of the graduate, who then works at the company for the duration of the placement.

The scheme can last between 12 and 36 months, depending on what the project is and the needs of the business.



  • Fast track your career.
  • Competitive salary.
  • Enhance your project management and business strategy skills.
  • Take part in one of the largest graduate schemes in the UK.


  • Develop your business.
  • Obtain academic expertise that you don’t have in-house.
  • Improve your business performance
  • Help you to become more competitive and productive.


Graduate opportunities can be found at:

  • KTP vacancies online
  • an academic or research organisation’s dedicated KTP office
  • university departments
  • career offices
  • recruitment websites
  • local newspapers

If you are part of a business with a problem that you think the College could help you solve, use our expert database to find a possible academic partner for a KTP project.


A KTP is part-funded by a grant. You will need to contribute to the salary of the Associate who will work with your business, plus the cost of a supervisor who will oversee the scheme.

The amount you will need to contribute depends on the scale and length of the project. It will also depend on the size of your company. Typically:

  • small and medium-sized enterprises contribute around £35,000 per year, about one-third of the project costs
  • large businesses contribute around £55,000 per year, or half of the project costs

For more detailed information visit – http://ktp.innovateuk.org/








Information gathered from https://www.gov.uk/guidance/knowledge-transfer-partnerships-what-they-are-and-how-to-apply#lseans and used in accordance with the Open Governance License for Public Sector Information.

Kenway Legacy Scholar Graduates from Birkbeck

Helen Dunbar, recipient of the Kenway Legacy Scholarship, graduated with Distinction in April 2018 with her MSc Educational Neuroscience. The Kenway Scholarship, named for the late alumna Mrs Constance Kenway, was made possible through a generous gift in Mrs Kenway’s will.

Helen and her son Max enjoying the graduation ceremony back in April.

‘Without the scholarship, it would have been impossible for me to finance my studies. The Kenway Legacy Scholarship enabled me to achieve my goal of postgraduate study and push myself to a higher level of academic study.’ – Helen Dunbar

Mrs Constance Kenway studied Psychology and Social Anthropology at Birkbeck and graduated in 1962. Inspired to give back, Mrs Kenway remembered Birkbeck in her will with a pledge to provide scholarships for excellent MA/MSc psychology students who demonstrated financial need

Mrs Kenway’s generous gift has enabled postgraduate psychology students, including Helen Dunbar, to pursue higher study at Birkbeck.

Helen applied for postgraduate study at Birkbeck to boost her academic credentials and advance professionally. ‘After finishing my BSc in Psychology, it was always my ambition to take it further and study at postgraduate level.’

Helen faced a number of significant hurdles to study. As a single parent to her young son and as a full-time teaching assistant, Helen needed a postgraduate programme that could accommodate her work and family schedule. ‘I had to study whilst continuing working full-time. Being Max’s sole parent, I could not afford to give up work, nor would I have wanted to in all honesty’.

Several of Helen’s colleagues suggested that she look at Birkbeck’s postgraduate prospectus, given its flexible part-time and evening class schedule. ‘Once I came across the Educational Neuroscience course [at Birkbeck], I was set: it would build on my background in Psychology and my interest in Education and Child Development and would complement my job role perfectly’.

Max enjoying wearing his mum’s graduation cap!

Helen’s workplace provided partial sponsorship of her degree, but she still needed extra financial assistance to cover her remaining fees and travel costs. ‘I had reached the point where I had a confirmed place on the course but had now to solve the problem of trying to factor in the outstanding course fees… as well as organising after-school and evening childcare’.

Helen questioned her attendance on the course. ‘At this point, the worry over whether or not I could actually take up this opportunity to study at postgraduate level was almost overwhelming’.

Helen applied to the Kenway Legacy Scholarship with hopes of receiving this necessary extra financial support. ‘When I found out that I had been awarded the scholarship, the sense of relief was palpable. I knew I could make it work from there on in’.

Helen excelled in her studies at Birkbeck. Despite balancing study, looking after her son and full-time work, Helen graduated with Distinction. Helen is now looking toward the future, and her employer has encouraged her to pursue a higher level job. ‘The MSc has given me the confidence to pursue further study and training in Educational Psychology, which will ultimately enable me to better provide for my small family in the future. I could have never reached this point had it not been for the Kenway Legacy Scholarship’.


Many alumni and supporters have chosen to help secure Birkbeck’s future by leaving a gift in their wills.

These gifts fund a variety of research projects and support students in different ways. Whatever the amount, gifts in wills make an enormous difference to the College and to students who may otherwise be unable to continue in education.

Legacy gifts of every size have a lasting impact and help to ensure that Birkbeck, its high-quality teaching and its world-class research continue to serve future generations of students. If you would like to know more about leaving a gift in your will to Birkbeck, please get in touch with our team by calling Kara McMahon on 020 7380 3187 or sending an email to k.mcmahon@bbk.ac.uk.

New Centre for the Study of Internationalism opens at Birkbeck

Birkbeck has recently launched the Centre for the Study of Internationalism, which aims to bring together a community of researchers from different academic disciplines with an interest in internationalism.

‘Internationalism’ can refer to a number of very different ideas and practices: the search for intergovernmental agreements and conventions; the practice of international assembly; the projection of national agendas across the globe; the transfer of ideas, resources or people across national boundaries. By developing a broad approach the Centre for the Study of Internationalism seeks to examine internationalism from a range of viewpoints, delving deeply into its impact on various aspects of society in the past and present, and considering the future of international cooperation and the role of nation-states.

In doing so, the Centre brings together academics from across disciplines, providing an intellectual home for researchers at all stages in their careers who are interested in internationalism, broadly conceived. As the Centre’s Director, Dr Jessica Reinisch, has noted, “I’m thrilled that there has been so much interest in this Centre, both at Birkbeck and beyond. Making different academic fields talk to each other can be really difficult, but there seems to be a genuine desire to do so as far as internationalism is concerned.”

Birkbeck has long been cultivating its international links. Indeed, in 2017, Birkbeck had significant alumni communities in over twenty three countries across the globe. Birkbeck’s academic and support staff is similarly diverse. The new research centre devoted to the study of internationalism makes these international links one of its object of study.

The Centre’s research horizons are continuously expanding, and it provides a vitally needed space for study and debate. As part of this, the Centre will organise workshops, seminars and events, coordinate a lively blog to promote its research, and host external funders’ grant applications for relevant projects.  Birkbeck alumni are welcome to attend the Centre’s events, or alternatively they can  engage with the Centre’s work through the Centre’s podcast channel (to be launched later this month on Birkbeck’s Soundcloud and iTunes platforms) or follow the Centre on Twitter and Facebook.

First International Conference on Oral Polio Vaccine at PAHO headquarters in Washington, 1959. (Credit: Photograph by Cameramen Incorporated. Sabin Archives)

| By Siobhan Morris, Manager of the Centre for the Study of Internationalism.

Image caption: First International Conference on Oral Polio Vaccine at PAHO headquarters in Washington, 1959. (Credit: Photograph by Cameramen Incorporated. Sabin Archives)