Studying in London: Lydet Pidor

Lydet Pidor a full-time student in MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship shares their experience of studying in London. 

Lydet Pidor at Birkbeck's Malet Street campus

Lydet Pidor at Birkbeck’s Malet Street campus.

As an international student, there are three reasons why I chose to pursue my master’s degree in Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship at Birkbeck. Firstly, the availability and the nature of the course that I wanted to study, secondly, the location of the university itself (I wanted it to be in a capital city where I’d have access to class activities), and lastly, the credibility of the College. 

Although it is my first time living in London, I found the city is quite unique in terms of its history and its well-preserved historical buildings.  To me, London is one of the most dynamic capital cities in the world, especially compared to big cities in other developed countries. By the way, I am also fortunate enough to have secured student accommodation with the assistance of the International Office at the university. I’m sure that finding accommodation is quite a time-consuming task, especially for new international students with little experience of travelling abroad.  

I found Birkbeck’s orientation week at the beginning of the year extremely usefulThe various events helped me to familiarise myself with my course timetable, professors, and the campus, and most importantly, networking with my new classmates. I found that many of them have an interesting background and experiences that I can learn from.  

The first few weeks here were a bit overwhelming because of the differences between the education system here and where I am from, particularly as Birkbeck is among the top one hundred universities around the world. Nevertheless, with the wealth of online resources such as the study skills workshop and readings, I managed to keep up with the speed and standard of the learning here.  

What’s more, I think I chose the right place to live. I was in a place where there were a lot of transportation links and facilities including the underground, and museums could be reached within minutes. Furthermore, the city is full of events besides what has been provided at the university, so I have no regrets about my choice.

Lydet and other students on trip to Bletchley Park.

An Excursion with international students into Bletchley Park, the famous sight of the Allied codebreakers during the Second World War, and it is also where Alan Turing created the British bombe machine capable of breaking the German Enigma code.

Making friends is one of my interests and something I am good at. People here are friendly and helpful; I can collaborate and have discussions that optimise my knowledge of a specific subject that I have in common. Moreover, I had a good experience with extracurricular activities that have been arranged by the university recently to enrich student knowledge and understanding of some historical sites in London. 

For instance, a trip to Bletchley Park, the house of the World War II Codebreakers and workplace of Alan Turing – a world-renowned pioneer in the development of theoretical computer science – and hundreds of intellectuals from across different disciplines. I learned a lot from the trip both about the historical site and through the conversations I had with other students. I usually keep my eyes on Birkbeck’s Facebook page to keep up with new activities and make friends. 

A group photo with international students during a walking tour of Greenwich as a part of Birkbeck One World Festival 2019/20

A group photo with international students during a walking tour of Greenwich as a part of Birkbeck One World Festival 2019/20

I must admit, the tourist traps and historical sites in London attract me a lot. I really like how some of the city’s historic architecture stands alongside the newly built skyscrapers.

Presently, I am at a stage of considering my dissertation topic and really thinking about how I can make the most of it in a way that is practical and beneficial to either the business or education sector under the rapid evolution of technological innovation in this 21st century.  

Although I have only studied here for a year, I am keen to meet like-minded people that I could potentially work with to generate a solution that can address a problem here. I am keen to utilize and leverage the skills I gained from College as well as resources I had to build an impactful business, particularly in areas of education, finance, and health by using tech and business model innovation. 

Lydet Pidor is a full-time student studying MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship. He is one of the Chevening Scholarship awardees, class of 2019, funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner organizations. 

 

Share
. Reply . Category: Business Economics and Informatics

How Birkbeck has helped me achieve three of my biggest dreams

Faranak Pourzamanie attended the recent Certificate Holder Celebration, after completing a Certificate of Higher Education in Management. Faranak is now studying BSc Management with Accountancy and Finance at Birkbeck, and explains how Birkbeck has changed her life.

Faranak Pourzamanie

As a completely new student to the UK’s education system, Birkbeck has given me the great opportunity of achieving not one, but in fact three, of my biggest dreams.

Firstly, I was able to enter university through Birkbeck’s Certificate of Higher Education in Management. I came to the UK with my family and had no qualifications, and I was reluctant to spend extra years at college to get into university. After two frustrating years of applying to different universities, my friend introduced me to Birkbeck and told me to apply for their Certificate of Higher Education in Management. I was hopeless, but I didn’t give up and applied. I was elated when Birkbeck accepted my application and gave me the opportunity to “jump” to higher education. Even though academic study wasn’t that easy, I had great support from the College which helped me achieve my Certificate of Higher Education.

Secondly, another dream of mine was to open my own business. Studying at Birkbeck gave me the opportunity to partake in the Pioneer programme, which introduced me to resources and people who have started their entrepreneurial journey. Listening to a number of guest speakers at Birkbeck events also really inspired me to set up my business. The Pioneer programme really helped me shape my business idea and make it happen. I have now started my online business selling saffron, and I’m applying the knowledge I have from the programme as well as getting help and advice from people I met through the programme.

Lastly, the final dream was getting a job while studying at university. Networking with one of the guest speakers after a lecture allowed me to know more about working in the corporate world. This individual has trusted me by putting me in front of the right people, which has opened the doors to the beginning of my career.

In conclusion, one small step to Birkbeck has given me so much in such a short time. I’m so happy that I had the College’s help in my life journey so far. Soon I will be graduating from my undergraduate degree at Birkbeck, BSc Management with Accountancy and Finance, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Certificate Holder Celebration

Share
. Reply . Category: Business Economics and Informatics . Tags: , , ,

Tackling climate change head on

Professor Gabriel Waksman, Professor of Structural Molecular Biology, shares how he has set up a charity dedicated to funding carbon mitigation projects that aim to restore native forest habitats.

Since becoming a scientist, I have had the great joy of globe-trotting all over the world from conferences to review panels, from seminars abroad to lecturing at foreign institutions. Such extensive travelling was useful to promote my research, tell people about our latest discoveries, and exchange ideas with fellow scientists in my field. It also provided me the opportunity to publicise the achievements of the research institute I founded in 2003 and directed until October last year, the joint UCL/Birkbeck Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology.

However, I came to realise how dreadful my carbon footprint had become. Like many of us, my awareness of human-made global warming caused by CO2 emissions has increased over the years and recently it passed a threshold where I felt I needed to proactively address this issue. There is no doubt that government intervention is going to be crucial in solving the climate crisis, but I wondered how we, academics, could take individual responsibility for our carbon emissions. We must obviously reduce our travelling: we do travel far too much. But attending conferences and sharing our results prior to publication is an essential lubricant of science: it makes it work more smoothly and more rapidly. I suspect that, in the foreseeable future, academics will continue to travel to conferences.

If conference travel is here to stay (albeit at a reduced rate), what can we do to offset our carbon emissions? There are many ways to do so but I was attracted to the approach of native tree-planting. Trees are excellent carbon fixers and, in my opinion, there is nothing more beautiful than a native woodland. Native afforestation increases biodiversity and restores degraded ecosystems. Also, it was important to me to plant trees in the UK, and not necessarily abroad as many afforestation projects do. Tree-planting sites in the UK are easily verifiable because they are easily accessible. They are also subjected to the Woodland Carbon Code, a set of stringent governmental rules.

I therefore set up a charity called ‘All Things Small and Green’ and a website where academics can compute their carbon emissions, convert them into trees (2-4 trees per metric tonnes of carbon), and add these trees to groves we have set up with Trees For Life, our tree-planting partner. We created a Scientists’ Grove, and Academics’ Grove, even a Friends’ Grove, and finally our first Conference Grove.

I find the idea of a ‘grove’ extremely attractive. Any institutions can create their own grove and ask their members to contribute trees to it to offset their carbon emissions. I hope we can create a ‘Birkbeck Grove’ where everyone at Birkbeck will be able to contribute trees. Birkbeck has made tremendous efforts in reducing its carbon footprint and last week organised its own ‘climate learning week’, that included a vegetarian day and an opportunity for students and staff to bring in their bikes for an appointment with Cycle Republic. But the effort must continue and address the issue of carbon emissions caused by academic travel. In that respect, the latest initiative by Wellcome is important and will spur all institutions on to tackle the issue effectively.

Further Information:

Share
. Reply . Category: Science . Tags: , , ,

Out@BBK film screening for LGBT+ History Month

Professor Anthony Bale, Executive Dean of the School of Arts discusses the feminist classic, Orlando, and why it was such an important landmark in the history of gender and transgender studies. The film adaptation of Orlando will be screened in the College cinema to mark LGBT History Month.

Orlando (Tilda Swinton) in the film ‘Orlando’, Photo by Liam Longman © Adventure Pictures Ltd

As part of our campus, Birkbeck is fortunate to have 46 Gordon Square, now the School of Arts but formerly, from 1904 to 1907, the home of the young Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). Woolf was 22 when she moved from Kensington to Bloomsbury. Her time at Gordon Square was the beginning of her adult life as a professional writer and heralded the start of the weekly meetings of artists and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group. As well as being an innovative author and thinker, Woolf was a feminist and lived what was then an unconventional life, including long relationships with women. Woolf’s affair in the 1920s with the writer Vita Sackville-West inspired her short novel Orlando, a ground-breaking queer text about identity, bodies, history, and love.

Orlando was presented by Woolf to Sackville-West in 1928 after the pair had been travelling in France together. The novel is the fantastical fictional biography of the hero of its title, a poet who changes sex and lives for centuries. Orlando meets key figures in English history including Elizabeth I, Charles II, and Alexander Pope, but Woolf creates a magical version of history in which the queer hero/heroine survives and succeeds. The novel culminates in 1928, the year of its publication. Orlando is at once a light-hearted historical satire and a feminist classic, and an important landmark in the history of gender and transgender studies.

As part of LGBT+ History Month, Out@BBK, Birkbeck’s LGBT+ staff group, is hosting a screening of Sally Potter’s Orlando (1992) in the Gordon Square cinema. The screening will be introduced by Dr Jo Winning and myself (we have previously taught Orlando on our undergraduate course Critically Queer).

Potter’s film is a creative and dazzling interpretation of Woolf’s novel. Tilda Swinton, in one of her signature roles as the titular, androgynous lead, heads an eccentric cast encompassing such diverse figures as Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp, Heathcote Williams and Lothaire Bluteau. It is also the film which saw British director Sally Potter emerge from an avant-garde notoriety into mainstream recognition, with a lavishly designed spectacle that earned numerous awards and two Oscar nominations.

Join us at Birkbeck’s Gordon Square cinema on Friday 28 February at 6pm to watch and discuss Orlando, a unique chance to see this fascinating film in Woolf’s Bloomsbury home. You can book your place in advance to save your seat.

Share
. Reply . Category: Arts . Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The silent extinction of the truffle kingdom

Could climate change lead to the complete extinction of truffles? BSc Financial Economics with Accounting student Nada Hinic explains.Mushrooms on a forest floor

         “All that is gold does not glitter,
          Not all those who wander are lost;
         The old that is strong does not wither,
         Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

         (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)

Could climate change lead to the complete extinction of truffles? According to some scientists, it is quite possible: the increase of dry and hot weather in the regions of Italy, France and Spain can lead to a very serious situation for truffles, with the possibility of them disappearing completely in these regions by the end of the century. This would mean that the delicacy, which is already dizzyingly expensive and can be compared to the price of gold, would reach the value of an even more incredible level.

Average retail truffle prices in 2019

Source: https://truffle.farm/truffle_prices.html

We can find strong evidence in historical articles on culinary culture that 18th and 19th century Europeans consumed truffles abundantly, from which it can be concluded that this fungus was not expensive. In the last 100 years, crops in the regions of Italy, France and Spain have decreased from a harvest of 2,000 tonnes a year to just about 20, due to global warming, acid rain, and, more recently, heat waves and reduced rainfall.

Scientist Ulf Buntgen, in his latest study ‘Black truffle winter production depends on Mediterranean summer rainfall’ (for which he used 49 years of continuous harvest and climate data from Spain, France and Italy) claims that truffle production rates from November to March significantly rely on previous rainfall from June to August, and that too much autumn rain adversely affects the later winter harvest.

The question might be asked how the market manages to survive. The logical answer would be that dealers have turned to alternative sources. Truffles themselves are not uncommon. Many sources in Europe still under the radar are producers in Croatia, Poland, Serbia, Albania … where they grow the same species as in the three most popular European regions. Why is that so? Truffles that are claimed to come from France or Italy (regardless of country of origin) achieve a premium price.

China has been, for several years now, the largest producer and exporter of truffles in the world. However, the quality of Chinese truffles is not satisfactory to any world standard, so their market price is very low. Australia and New Zealand are also on the horizon, but their production only covers their local demand. With the greatest sadness, one must also ask: will the Australian truffle market survive the devastation brought by the recent forest fires? The US has also entered the market recently, but it cannot be considered a serious competitor to the Europeans as yet.

All the sources combined are not enough to keep up with the demand for this delicacy. In 2019, a pound of quality black truffle cost about $650, and white almost $2000 (however the price soared again in November 2019). In 2017, due to too much drought in the previous year, the yield of white truffles was so weak that the price of one pound of white truffles skyrocketed to $4000.

Average white truffle prices (USD/lb)

Source: https://truffle.farm/truffle_prices.html

London restaurateurs charge around £5 per gram of truffle shavings, claiming they make no profit on truffle, but the reason for the offer is the quality of the dish: ‘only few shavings can turn the dish from ordinary to extraordinary’.

Because of their hidden underground life cycle, truffles have aroused the interest of many scientists and many mysteries about them have now been revealed, though not all.

Truffles are hypogenous fungi: that is, unlike mushrooms on stems, they grow underground. Buried, their interaction with the rest of the living world is very complex. They depend on their hosts on which they feed, which are primarily oak and hazelnut trees and fir trees. The development of truffles is a wonderful harmony between the tree and the truffle itself: the tree provides the truffle with sugar and the fungus gives the tree nutrients from water and soil. Fertilisation depends on the animals they can feed with their trunks, not on the wind, to spread its spores. To attract the attention of animals, when truffles mature, they turn on their spectacular scent, sending signals to anyone available to them that they are ready to be excavated so they can be dispersed.

But if truffles are so rare and desirable, why not just grow your own? The answer is that truffle cultivation is harder than it looks, and many scientists have addressed the issue. In recent decades, techniques have been developed to vaccinate tree seedlings with truffle mycelium, but the process is still difficult and does not necessarily guarantee that truffles will mature. Italian white truffles do not respond to these techniques at all, while French black truffles, on the other hand, are more susceptible to domestication.

Leading countries by truffle production in 2017 and 2018

Source: Leading countries by mushroom and truffle production 2018 (source: https://www.atlasbig.com/en-us/countries-mushroom-truffle-production) Leading countries by mushroom and truffle production 2017 (source: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-world-s-top-producers-of-mushroom-and-truffle.html)

The irrigation technique remains a safe method to preserve the survival, especially of the white truffle, as Buntgen observes in his work, but this also has its limitations. Recognising the vulnerability of the sector, there is a need to further foster stronger connections between farmers, politicians and scientists in order to maintain environmental and economic sustainability under the predicted climate change in southern Europe.

Further Information:

Share
. Reply . Category: Business Economics and Informatics . Tags: , , , , , ,

Brexit – a death knell for UK birds?

The UK’s wildlife is under pressure. A no-deal Brexit would only damage it further.

A skylark

Skylarks in the UK – soon to be lost?

The State of Nature Report 2019 paints a bleak picture of the condition of birdlife throughout the United Kingdom – the UK’s departure from the European Union will only exacerbate this. According to the report, since 1970 the abundance and distribution of the UK’s species has declined with “no let-up in the net loss of nature” in recent years.

Since 1970, 41% of all UK species studied have declined and the report concluded that intensive management of agricultural land is the key contributing factor. The clearest evidence of this is the report’s findings on farmland birds – these species have been hit particularly hard by farming intensification, as shown by the 54% decrease in the Farmland Bird Indicator in this period (fig. 1).

fig 1 - British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), www.jncc.gov.uk

fig 1 – British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), www.jncc.gov.uk

While there are some exceptions to the trend and recent initiatives by Defra and the EU LIFE programme have helped to stem the decline, once-common birds like lapwings and skylarks, yellowhammers and grey partridges are fading from our countryside.

Farmers – friend or foe?

The UK’s farmers have long been seen as protectors of the countryside, but in a competitive environment the industry has resorted to increasingly intensive farming methods.  The land available for farming – the Utilised Agricultural Area (UAA) – has remained around 70% of the total UK land since the 1980s (ONS) and without more land available, farmers have been forced to improve productivity wherever they can, resulting in intensification of production methods (fig. 2).

fig 2 - Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs - https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets

fig 2 – Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets

The productivity index for UK farmland shows an ever upward trend – new technologies play a part, but intensive land management is the key driver of these gains.  For arable farming, intensive farming methods include increased pesticide use, planting multiple crops per year, the reduction in fallow years and extensions of planting seasons, while for livestock it is rotational grazing, higher livestock concentration and overfertilisation of pasture.  All methods impact wildlife.

Self-sufficiency

According to DEFRA, the UK is 61% self-sufficient in all foods – if, from January 1, the UK tried to survive solely on domestic production, we would run out in mid-August.  Much of this production deficit is filled by goods imported from the EU – in 2018 £19.1bn of the £24.3bn deficit was with EU 27 countries.

fig 3 - Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs - https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets

fig 3 – Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets

While the NFU has urged the government to focus on improved food self-sufficiency following Brexit, a trade deal with the EU is crucial to secure food provision. The UK government is working towards a trade agreement, but the timeframes envisioned by the Prime Minister make a satisfactory conclusion in this area unlikely. A 2018 report focusing on potential trade agreements between the UK and the EU, produced by LSE Consulting, noted that the “agricultural sector…is often highlighted as one of the most sensitive sectors in trade negotiations” and as a result “there may be limitations on what is attainable” when it comes to any trade agreements, particularly regarding tariffs. Products could potentially be sourced from alternative trade partners, but in the short term it is likely that the UK will look to domestic farmers to fill any shortfall.

Freedom of labour is not a topic which this blog has space to address, but 8% of UK agricultural workers are EU migrants with an uncertain future in this country (House of Commons briefing paper – 7987).  Farmers face the prospect a decreasing labour supply alongside a demand spike.  Increased demands will have to be made on the land available for production and intensification will only escalate, exacerbating wildlife decline.  Unless a trade deal can be reached with the EU the pressures from intensive farming will not ease in coming years and our countryside will be increasingly dangerous for our birds.

This blog was contributed by Henry Mummé-Young, MSc Politics, Philosophy and Economics student.

Further Information:

Share
. Read all 2 comments . Category: Business Economics and Informatics . Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Summer School in Uganda!

Sapphire Metcalf, BA Politics student, shares her experience at the Natural Resources and Development Summer School of Kyambogo University, Uganda, after successfully being awarded an Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) Summer School grant through Birkbeck. Birkbeck undergraduate students are encouraged to apply for the 2020 ACU Summer School Grants by Friday 28 February 2020, please see the full details below.

July 1st, 2019, I landed in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, to begin the summer of a lifetime studying in Africa.

I remember applying for the scholarship in early 2019 through Birkbeck and envisioning how incredible it would be to study for one month in another continent with students who may have completely different perspectives to me on common issues, due to cultural differences, life experience, and access to resources. A few months later I was informed that I had been put forward by Birkbeck to the final stages of the selection process and subsequently in early April the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) congratulated me on the success of my application and to begin preparing for the incredible journey I was about to embark upon in Uganda!

When you are awarded the grant by the ACU you are then free to apply for one of the host universities available in that year. There were summer schools being held in stunning places such as Canada, India, Australia, and China however, I was instantly drawn to Kyambogo university in Uganda due to its focus on natural resources and development. My area of interest is centred in international development, climate change and environmental policy and the course Kyambogo offered boasted many insightful topics including; conservation planning and practice, climate change effects, gender and resource management, oil and gas, parks and wildlife and environmental development; which furthered my excitement for this unique experience.

From start to finish the summer school and all its staff and organisation managed to exceed my expectations, as I felt so welcome and at home, I almost forgot I was in Africa. The classes were thoroughly engaging from the academics at Kyambogo and I learned a lot, it was also incredibly interesting to engage in cultural aspects of learning as well, such as entering classes without shoes and saying a prayer before commencing. As well teaching from academics we often met with industry professionals such as the National Environment Management Authority, National Water and Sewage Corporation, and Bold Energy, a social enterprise. Lessons ran from Monday to Thursday, with Fridays reserved for day trips out of the university campus.

In preparation for our first outing we were given some local language to use and a local Buganda name, which all have a meaning; mine was Apalat which means laughter. We were then taken on a tour around Kampala and visited the famously hectic street markets, the largest mosque in the country, the King’s Palace and my fellow Ugandan classmates led us to try to local brew, which is a socialising activity for men and women within communities and is consumed through long bamboo straws. Other Fridays we ventured to the Ndere cultural centre to watch performances capturing the lives of a wide variety of African tribes, as well as the town Jinja, where we took a boat ride to witness the source of the River Nile and enjoy a delightful Ugandan delicacy; Tilapia. Some of us later returned to the River Nile to take part in some white-water rafting activities which was an altogether exhilarating experience especially on one of the most famous rivers in the world.

The summer school included a week long field trip to Murchison Falls National Park, which will always remain one of my most cherished memories. Our first day in the park began at sunrise, which was already beautiful enough, then we embarked on a jeep safari with a very knowledgeable and passionate tour guide. Along the way we saw giraffes, herds of elephants, buffalo, antelope including the Ugandan cob, warthogs, baboons, blue tailed monkeys, and many types of bird in their stunning natural habitats. Following the land safari, we travelled by boat where we spotted spectacular views of kingfishers hunting, hippos, and crocodiles and of course the magnificent Murchison Falls. Just when we thought it had all come to an end, we disembarked the boat by the Falls and hiked by foot to catch a close up of the waterfall, in fact we ended up so close that we were splashed by the force of the water. It truly was the most spectacular day of my life.

During the rest of the field trip we met with Ugandan Wildlife Authority where we discussed human and wildlife integration and interacted with local communities within the park. We also stopped at Total, the Oil and Gas company, to witness the effects their oil rigs are having on the park.

I would once again like to thank Birkbeck and the ACU for this opportunity, it has been such a unique and inspiring experience that will hugely enhance my career prospects and motivation to return to Africa. If you wish to spend your summer at university meeting wonderful people and making great contacts and visiting another remarkable part of the world and immersing yourself into the culture all whilst enriching your knowledge, then I could not recommend applying for summer school enough!

Birkbeck undergraduate students are encouraged to apply for the 2020 ACU Summer School Grants by 28th February – see full details and criteria. Complete the application form and return it to student-communications@bbk.ac.uk by Friday 28 February.

Share
. 1 comment . Category: College . Tags: , , ,

Birkbeck, an energy you carry with you through your lifetime

Birkbeck alumna, Helen Kofler, writes about her work experience with the Birkbeck Futures team, after deciding she wanted to follow her passions and explore a career change.

As a Birkbeck masters graduate my most profound memory is of my graduation in 2015. I was sitting in the crowded auditorium and the familiar rumble of family members and friends cheering proudly for their loved ones, as they walked on stage to collect their hard-earned certificates, filled me with excitement and anticipation. I was sitting facing the stage on the right-hand side, so I saw the backs of students climbing the stage and only got to see their faces when they turned to face the audience.

One female student walked onto the stage and loud whistles and hands clapping in the sky charged throughout the audience. As I saw her turn to face me, her black gown was neatly folded around a baby carrier which she had strapped to her chest with her young toddler grinning out at the audience. For me this was everything Birkbeck stood for. The evening university which gives people the flexibility to study, whilst juggling the responsibilities of work, life and family.

So many of my contemporaries who have had children have had to turn to organisations such as ‘Pregnant, then Screwed’ when employers have discriminated against them for starting families, condemning their working lives. This woman on stage was looking that stereotype in the face and saying I am strong, I am powerful, I am intelligent and I am a mother. I was so proud to be a part of Birkbeck.

Having worked in retail in Marketing then as an Area Manager across London and the UK since 2010, I was exposed to the increasing pressure that has fallen on the UK retail market and decided it was time for me to leave the industry in search of new cheese. The only aspect of the job that I was sure I was committed to was working with, and developing, people. Through much soul searching and self-reflection I began to think about areas of my life which I enjoyed and where people were naturally drawn to me.

In the midst of this work on myself, my phone rang, “Helen, can I meet with you to help me prepare for a job interview?” “Yes!” I exclaimed. I hurriedly pored over the job spec and made a note of potential questions that could be asked. The next week, someone else called, “Helen, can we have a catch up, I am struggling at work and don’t know what my next move should be?” “Of course! Let’s go for a coffee.” This became a theme. I enjoyed so much meeting up with friends and colleagues and talking to them about career journeys but never considered it could be a full-time career itself.

Remembering my time at Birkbeck, I decided to contact the Birkbeck Futures team and ask for their advice. Even though I had graduated five years earlier, the door was flung open for me to discuss my situation with Lucy Crittenden, a Careers Consultant in the Futures team, where I was given bespoke advice and offered insight into creating a job out of my passion. An opportunity then arose for me to spend a week working alongside the team and seeing what they did on a day to day basis.

Excited and nervous, I made my way back to my old stomping ground ready for a week of learning. As I started the week, I have never come across such a generous and forward-thinking team. Spending a lot of my time with Jenna Davies, the Head of Careers, she took time out of her day to coach and mentor me. Jenna also shared her passion for entrepreneurship which I found truly inspiring and rubbed off on me giving me motivation to take side projects forward. Jenna organised a week full of interesting and fulfilling duties. These activities included research projects for Birkbeck’s inspiring Ability Programme, which is a series of lectures, workshops and networking opportunities dedicated to students and graduates with a disability, neurodivergence or long-term health conditions. I also attended training sessions and one to ones. Anna Gordon, Birkbeck Futures Career Coach helped me to reflect on my strengths and has given me a sense of purpose. Lucy Robinson, who is a Careers Consultant, gave me an insight into the Pioneer Programme, an initiative dedicated to encouraging students on their start up ideas. A week full of inspiration.

I have come away from my week at Birkbeck with that familiar sense of excitement and possibility that I was often filled with after having been to lectures and seminars as a student. Anna Gordon said that as a career changer it is important to have ‘resilience’ and I will carry this comment with me on my journey through career change. I am excited about the future and the opportunities ahead of me. I got the sense that there was a shared sense of community and purpose for each staff member that I came across. It was amazing to see as a spectator but also really infectious when surrounded by such energy.

At a lecture I attended towards the end of the week, Dr Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick, Senior Lecturer in Management, said that Birkbeck is dedicated to inclusion and dedicated to giving people a second chance in life. The people I worked with during this week were testament to this and I am grateful to such an institution and these intrinsic values so imperative to our society today.

Further information:

Share
. Reply . Category: College . Tags: , ,

Time to Shut Up! Racism, Royalty and the limitations of Britishness

Following Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s decision to step back from royal life, Dr William Ackah from the Department of Geography reflects on the media discussion around the couple’s decision and the nature of institutional racism in Britain. 

Meghan’s Blackness has lost its sparkle even quicker than I originally envisioned when I wrote an initial comment piece shortly after the royal wedding. As I alluded to at the time and reiterate here, the sparkle of Meghan’s Blackness could not last because at its core Britain is an institutionally racist country. From time to time the country wraps itself in multicultural garments of convenience like at the wedding, but as soon as Black people dare to question or challenge the multicultural facade, the garments come off and the nakedness of the faded empire’s racism is revealed.

The role of broadcast media has been pivotal in this regard. For the most part a multiracial cast of commentators have debated on various magazine and news programmes as to whether Meghan’s treatment has been racist. On the surface the debates seem fair, however a deeper dive reveals the deep-seated institutionalised racism of this form of broadcasting. Whether it is Andrew Neil, Andrew Marr, Robert Peston, Kay Burley, Victoria Derbyshire, Good Morning Britain, Politics Live, Newsnight, Question Time etc, etc all the permanent presenters, and regulators of the debates on these shows are White and the Black people that appear are temporary. White dominated media institutions make decisions about what is discussed, when it is discussed, how it is discussed and by who. Black people by contrast, have no control and are only invited to comment in highly contested spaces about our predicament. Even in these hostile spaces, in scenes straight out of Kafka, White males complain that they cannot speak about race and are victims of racism! This lets us know in no uncertain terms that there is very limited space to discuss on our own terms what it means to Black and British in this country.

As I have watched and read the debates surrounding the issue of royalty and race what has struck me is the stark difference between White British and Black British experience. White Britishness or to probably be more precise White Englishness exudes a sense of permanent entitlement within the fabric of British public life. Whereas Black Britishness even though it has a longer historical presence in Britain than whiteness (e.g. cheddar man) is seen as temporary. Black Britons have no permanent markers of presence in British institutional life, no public memory of our long- term citizenship. As in the current debate we appear and then disappear until the next episode of race and celebrity, race and violence, race and underachievement, race and music, race and sport, race and discrimination, race and culture generates enough controversy to merit a re-appearance. When we protest and insist that institutional racism in Britain is real and therefore Britain and its institutions need to change, then we are told once again to shut up and be grateful to live in the best multicultural society in the world. (thanks so much White people for reminding us we are so privileged!)

What the treatment of Meghan Markle (the tip of a huge underwater iceberg) exemplifies is that there are limitations to Black British citizenship. Ours is a transactional citizenship based on what we are perceived to contribute to the nation. That being the case I think it is time for the British State to be honest and to take appropriate action. In key areas where we are treated differently and adversely, we should be compensated, where the State provides us with a higher-level service than the wider community we should pay more. This should be the transactional basis of our citizenship until equality has been achieved.

For example, Black British citizens should pay a reduced TV license, as we don’t receive the same benefits from public broadcasting as does the wider society. We should pay less for university tuition, as it has been clearly demonstrated that universities provide a poorer service to Black students, so it stands to reason that we should pay less or receive compensation for services not rendered.

More broadly Black citizens should pay a reduced income tax. I can’t think of any institution in Britain that is maintained directly or indirectly by the taxes that Black British citizens pay that has provided a service to Black citizens that is equal to or better than what it provides to its White citizens.

Black British Citizens have cleaned your bums, manned your transport and done the jobs you did not want to do. In response we take abuse and experience racism from the terraces to the boardrooms to the classrooms. Living in an institutionally racist society has been and is a material and existential threat to our positive well-being in this society. So please no more TV debates framed by White privilege, shut up and pay up until genuine equality is achieved.

William Ackah is Lecturer in Department of Geography, Chair of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race .

Share
. Read all 13 comments . Category: Social Sciences History and Philosophy . Tags: , , ,

Birkbeck’s London Landscapes

Richard Clark, Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Politics, writes about how Birkbeck is woven into the very framework of the capital city. This blog is a part of a series that celebrates Birkbeck’s 200th anniversary in 2023. 

Unlike paper maps, smartphone navigation will tell you how to get there but not what’s around you. But search through the index of an old ‘A to Z’ map of London and if your destination starts with ‘B’, you’ll probably be surprised to notice quite a few ‘Birkbeck’ place-names.

Birkbeck roads survive today in Hornsey N8, in Finchley N12, in Tottenham N17 and in Mill Hill NW7.  There are more in Ealing W5, and in Wimbledon SW7and Acton W3.  Acton also has a Birkbeck Mews, and there is a Birkbeck Grove in leafy Acton Park.  Dulwich SE21 has a Birkbeck Hill and a Birkbeck Place and the pub-like building where they join was once precisely that – the Birkbeck Tavern.  In east London, Bethnal Green E2 has a Birkbeck Street, Dalston E8 has a Birkbeck Road (as well as another Birkbeck Mews) and Leyton E11 has two Birkbeck Roads, North and South, as well as another Birkbeck Tavern – still a lively pub protected by its patrons who saved it from redevelopment by a campaigning ‘Birkfest’.

Outside the London postcode area, there are yet more Birkbeck roads — in Beckenham, in Brentwood, in Enfield, in Ilford, in Romford and in Sidcup.  There’s a Birkbeck Gardens in Woodford and a Birkbeck Avenue and a Birkbeck Way in Greenford.  Beckenham has its Birkbeck Station (established as Birkbeck Halt in 1858).

More Birkbeck place names can be found on old maps and census records of the London area.  For example Birkbeck Road, Birkbeck Place and Birkbeck Terrace in Streatham, Wandsworth, are recorded in the 1881 and 1891 census but have subsequently been lost as have Birkbeck Road and Birkbeck Place, Camberwell which appear also in the censuses of 1871.  Elthorne Road in Archway N19 started life as Birkbeck Road as did Holmesdale Road in Highgate N6.  Both had Birkbeck Taverns – the former is now converted into ‘Birkbeck Flats’ (but still, like the Dulwich Tavern, recognisably an old pub).  The Boogaloo at the top of Holmesdale Road is still a pub — a lively music and comedy venue, well worth a visit, with a ‘Birkbeck’ mosaic (desperately in need of protection) testifying to its past still on the threshold as you enter.

All the above have a close connection with Birkbeck, University of London, and reveal something of the College’s past.  Greenford’s Birkbeck Avenue and Way are the most recent.  Both are named after what used to be the Birkbeck College Sports Ground, leased to the College by the City Parochial Foundation from the 1920s until 1998 when governors felt they could no longer justify the rent.  Today’s lessee is the London Marathon Charitable Trust and the ground’s football, rugby and cricket pitches serve clubs across West London.

Several of the Birkbeck toponyms – for example those in Bethnal Green, in Dalston and in Camberwell — are associated with the Birkbeck Schools, established by William Ellis between 1848 and the early 1860s.  Ellis was one of the founders and benefactors of Birkbeck College’s predecessor, the London Mechanic’s Institute —his name appears on a foundation stone in the lobby of the Malet Street entrance.  One Birkbeck School building — today Colvestone Primary School in Dalston — still stands, its structure (including well-lit classrooms in place of dull monitorial halls) reflecting what for the time were Ellis’s progressive educational theories.  The schools were set up to teach children ‘social economy’ as an antidote to the radical socialist ‘political economy’ then gaining ground in Europe and they prefigured the civics curricula taught in English schools today.

Most of the other toponyms mark the locations of ‘Birkbeck Estates’ – land purchased and developed by the Birkbeck Land and Building Societies established in the premises of the London Mechanics Institute by Francis Ravenscroft in 1851.  Ravenscroft had joined the LMI as a student a couple of years previously, became a Governor, and set up the Building Society as a ‘penny savings bank’ to encourage thrift and diligence amongst its students, offering them the prospect of a house – and (for the men) a vote.  Initially based in a cupboard in the LMI’s office, the Societies grew to become a major bank, taking over the LMI’s premises and financing its move —as the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution — to new premises nearby.  Without Ravenscroft (his bust sits on a windowsill in the Council Room) Birkbeck College would probably not exist today.  The estates played a significant role in the suburbanisation of London and are interesting for many reasons – not least because, unlike the temperance building societies of the period, they featured pubs.

For more on the story of the Birkbeck Bank and Building Society, watch out for a subsequent blog or have a look here. And there’s some information on the Birkbeck Boozers here.  I’m about to submit a paper on the Birkbeck Schools, and perhaps I’ll blog a little later about these too.

Further information: 

 

Share
. 1 comment . Category: College, Social Sciences History and Philosophy . Tags: , ,