Supporting parents, carers and educators during the pandemic

Over the past year, Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department has teamed up with the Psychology for Education BA: reaching out to parents, carers, and educators in the pandemic. IN this blog they outline how they are supporting those who face barriers entering higher education in a virtual world. People in a classroom with a person speaking Social interaction and peer support are invaluable to all of us, and for children and young people isolated from their friends and usual routines, it has been an especially tough year. Parents, carers and educators have also been hit hard, having to adjust to online learning and struggling to find time for their own needs while juggling online learning, work and caring responsibilities.

Recognising these increasing pressures and following the launch of Birkbeck Inspires last year, Ana Da Cunha Lewin, Senior Lecturer and Course Director for the Psychology for Education BA contributed a series of online lectures for parents and carers. These covered coping with anxiety during lockdown, exercise for wellbeing, and nurturing resilience. At Access and Engagement, we were delighted when Ana agreed to work with us to deliver a five-week taster programme on the subject of Psychology for Education with a focus on children’s learning, wellbeing and resilience.

The Access and Engagement Department aims to support those who face barriers to Higher Education to take a step into formal education. This taster programme provided a space where people could come and learn more about the subject and apply it to their life as parents, carers or at work. It also gave participants a chance to explore what university learning is like using Moodle, seminars on MS Teams and pre-recorded video content.

We had 30 people without a first degree join us, with ages ranging from 20 to into the 60s, and an array of different life experiences. Working with our Trade Union partners, a third of our attendees heard about the course via Unison or the Public and Commercial Services Union. Participants shared their experiences of their own schooling and parenting, or their work in schools or youth work.

Ana da Cunha Lewin said: “It’s been a pleasure to work on the Psychology for Education Taster Course with the Access and Engagement team; planning was really well-supported and the team made the preparation very straightforward. It was also an absolute pleasure to teach a really interested, engaged and enthusiastic group who made the sessions lively with many interesting discussions. A really positive experience and I would be very happy to take part in the programme again.”

Feedback from participants was positive with one person commenting: “Ana and Vanna were magnificent educators and their passion and enthusiasm for the subject has been infectious!”

We’re looking forward to running a similar programme with Mike Berlin and Tim Reynolds from the History and Archaeology Certificate of Higher Education later this year. For more information about our Taster Programmes and Access and Engagement’s other work take a look at our newly revamped web page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mentoring on the Compass Project

Luke Williams is a part-time lecturer in Creative Writing, member of the Compass Project Steering Committee and mentor. In this blog, he speaks to Natasha Soobramanien about his involvement in the project.

A laptop with a sign that says 'we rise by helping others'

I’ve been involved in the Compass Project since it began in 2016. Right from the start we realised that if we wanted to offer scholarships to people from forced migrant backgrounds, we also needed to make sure those students received the support they might need to thrive at Birkbeck. Each student on the Compass Project has a mentor, an academic at Birkbeck who elects to support them through their studies.

Compass Project students face particular challenges in relation to British institutions: government policy is designed to create a hostile institutional environment for migrants, and educational institutions are no exception to this. But the university is also a place to gain and share knowledge, and to form friendships with others. Our job as mentors is to give Compass Project students practical and moral support so that they remain able to focus on the positive and rewarding aspects of student life, and the opportunities Birkbeck offers.

The mentoring role is a little like a personal tutor, but involves a lot more contact and communication, and flexibility. On average I speak to my mentee around three to four times a month. It could be a simple check-in, or a response to a request, like support with an essay, or help liaising with other departments or services. I’ve helped out with finding a laptop and looking for a place to live. In the current pandemic, this kind of contact is particularly necessary for students who might already feel quite isolated. I’d say this role has been the most challenging and rewarding aspect of my involvement in the Compass Project.

Before the Compass Project, I’d volunteered for several years at Akwaaba, a Hackney-based social centre for migrants, so I had some awareness of the stressful logistical, bureaucratic and emotional complexities faced by migrants. Getting involved with the Compass Project allowed me to find a way to align the advocacy, creative work, and activism I was involved in at Akwaaba, with my day job at Birkbeck.

Through my role as a mentor I have met some amazing people. I’ve enjoyed our conversations, and learned a lot. Everyone at Birkbeck knows that universities are in a precarious position right now, and that our roles as academics are increasingly co-opted by the marketisation of education. Getting involved in the Compass Project feels like a gesture of resistance against this deliberate erosion of what is truly valuable in the university, which is to say study – and the freedom to do this with others.

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“When you’re peering over the edge of the precipice, you have to reinvent yourself, adapt to change and innovate.”

It’s been a wild year for Julio Bruno, CEO of Time Out Group. Our MSc International Business alumnus shares his thoughts on leadership, staying relevant and how the pandemic has transformed the way we do business.

Picture of Julio Bruno2020 has been an unprecedented year for business. How did you manage to rapidly respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and has your approach changed over time?

When external circumstances force you into making changes, your role as leader is to manage that change. In my case, we realised on 12 March [2020] that the world was starting to close down. Our colleagues in Hong Kong and Singapore had already closed, then the team in Barcelona said they were going to have a lockdown – at the time we didn’t even know what a lockdown was!

As a colleague and I were discussing the implications of lockdown, I said ‘well if we cannot be Time Out, we’ll have to be Time In’ – we stopped and looked at each other and knew that we had something. We created the logo that day and decided what it meant for us to be Time In.

As well as transforming the external face of the business, we had to deal with changes happening inside the company. The economic impact has been terrible and we alongside others in the hospitality, leisure and entertainment sector have had to restructure the business and refocus our priorities.  This presented further challenges, how do you motivate teams when everything feels like it is falling apart around them? Defining a clear, common purpose enabled us to take action. When you have a problem to solve, people come together.

Another trend that makes me very reflective is that many  CEOs have really needed to step up and inspire their teams to change, adapt and thrive during the pandemic. In my company, I started sending out regular videos explaining what we’re doing and how it’s going and people kept asking me for more. As a CEO, you have a responsibility to your employees; they look to you for answers and to reassure them that the world is still spinning in the right direction. What you say is being listened to intensely, so you have to be part of that moral compass – taking care of your business economically is not enough: people confide in you more – this is really the time to change up management skills.

Time Out Group has been named one of the Most Innovative Companies for 2020 by Fast Company and Best Brand of the Year by Campaign Publishing Awards – how did you stay relevant at a time when people were closing their doors to their local city?

When your company is called Time Out and overnight, all the cities of the world go into lockdown — when all restaurants, bars, theatres, cinemas, museums, shops, music venues, hotels and travel stop overnight, how do you survive? As well as ceasing the print production of our magazines globally, we had to close all six of our Time Out Markets. At that point, when you’re peering over the edge of the precipice, you have to reinvent yourself, adapt to change and innovate. There isn’t time to have meeting after meeting – you have to act. Agility became very important.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced cities into lockdown, Time Out pivoted to help people make the most of Time In.

If Time Out recommends the best things to do in the city, Time In recommends the best things to do from home, whether that’s online theatre, recipes or the best shows on Netflix. Time Out is hyperlocal, but we realised that Time In required a more global outlook, because everybody was feeling the same thing. We had an external enemy and a common misery in COVID-19, so being able to empathise with what people were going through became our reality.

We also had to change our approach: we couldn’t do critical reviews in the same way because a lot of places were closed, and those that were open were putting in heroic efforts to serve customers. We became about the soul of the city instead – what does it mean to be in London, New York or Singapore these days? What does it mean to be working from home? How do you create a community spirit? That little local corner shop that does coffee suddenly becomes a lot more important than it was a year ago.

Do you think the pandemic will cause a permanent change in the way we live our lives?

People say that the pandemic has provoked a ‘new normal’, but in reality every day and month is different to the next. The world has evolved and this terrible pandemic has accelerated a lot of trends that were already there, such as remote working, focusing on health and wellbeing, an awareness of the environment. Conversely, it has also increased the divides in our society, such as key workers who cannot afford the luxury of staying at home versus those who have been able to work from home throughout the crisis, or the fact that the stock market has been going up and up while more and more people find themselves out of a job. Add to that now the problems around vaccine dissemination – what is going to happen in the developing world? We are already having problems in Europe.

Aside from these issues, we miss our old way of life. We have rediscovered nature, but what about all the other endeavours of human beings? We miss it. Now, I can make an incredible banana bread, but I used to have the joy of going somewhere and enjoying something someone else has made – I cannot wait to get back to that.

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Decolonising the Curriculum in the Department of Organizational Psychology

Dr Susan Kahn shares how colleagues in her Department are addressing inequality in the curriculum, the progress that’s been made this year and the work that’s still to be done.

The murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 sent shockwaves through our university community as it did the world. In our Department, this tragic reminder of how far we still have to go to achieve equality prompted us to take action on our curriculum and ensure we were doing our small part to redress the balance.

Asking questions about race feels risky. We worry that we will offend or leave the most important questions unasked. Yet this is the very issue that allows things to carry on without change. In the supportive and curious environment of our Department, I opened a discussion on what has changed for staff in relation to the curriculum since George Floyd’s murder and what we would like to see happen next to continue moving towards racial justice.

Educating ourselves

As individuals and educators, we recognise the importance of educating ourselves on issues of race. There is a sense of shame around ignorance, which we can address by beginning to ask difficult questions. Following George Floyd’s murder, our Department published a guide of ‘first stop’ resources to help individuals understand institutional racism, the role of activism and to provide some strategies to cope with the trauma individuals have witnessed.

We engaged with debates on how business schools can become part of the solution to create fairer workplaces and a more democratic society and created and published our anti-racism statement [accessible to Organizational Psychology students only].

Above all, if it was not there before, we now bring a heightened focus around social justice to the act of critiquing, challenging and discussing the research, work and practice of ourselves and others.

We are aware that our work is just beginning and that the conversation about structural racism and White privilege must continue.

Introducing new perspectives

Colleagues in our Department examined the syllabi of their programmes to ensure inclusion of diverse voices and perspectives. This concept of ‘inclusion’ is in itself problematic, as it implies ‘including’ representation of Black voices in ‘our’ curriculum. Instead, we are trying to build a curriculum that better reflects all scholars and learners across the world. In doing so, we hope to begin normalising debate around ethical justice in our classrooms, making this a natural area to question for our students.

Diversifying course content was met with varying levels of success: where modules provide an introductory overview, or are largely statistics focused, ways to introduce new voices are not easily found. Part of the problem may well be us not knowing where to look to find alternative perspectives, reminding us that this work is not a quick fix and that complacency is one of our greatest enemies through this process. At minimum we are now able to acknowledge where teaching references are predicated on White, Western perspectives.

In other areas, we were able to make more meaningful change. For our Work and Wellbeing module, we revised the structure to include discussion of social inequality on a national and global scale. On topics such as Emotion at Work, Discrimination and Exclusion and Leadership, we have included more scholarship by Black, Asian and minority ethnic authors. We are reflecting more deeply on intersectionality and have broadened reading lists to include essays which critique concepts and deconstruct positions which are deeply problematic in our field. We also look to understand cultural appropriation of concepts such as mindfulness. We are aware that this action does not end with reading lists and are also committed to ensuring our invited speakers are representative of our wider society.

Learning from our students

While we hope to offer a broad and critical learning experience, we appreciate the way our students continue to challenge us to take into account international perspectives and not take anything that we have in the UK, or even our small area of London, for granted. One of our Coaching Psychology students, KK Harris, discussed her perspective as a Black, American woman in a BBK connections conversation.

In our student evaluations, we now ask for feedback on the extent to which our modules took diversity into consideration in its content. We know that we are by no means perfect, but the positive responses we have received from this suggest that our students notice – and appreciate – the efforts we have made so far.

What next?

As a Department, we do not want these efforts to be the work of one Summer and then forgotten. We will continue to pay attention to the material that we teach, where it comes from and who produces knowledge. The process will be an incremental change rather than a revolution and one thing we can do is make students aware of the limitations of our knowledge base.

I feel the paradox of both shame and pride.  I am ashamed of how much we have taken for granted in the past, that racism is a challenge in our own field, that it is present in the research we draw on and the institutions we work in. But I am proud to be part of a Department with an openness and honesty that makes these discussions possible, and that this engagement has enabled us to grow as leaders and role models for our students.

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“The MBA gave me a sense of purpose and the ability to recognise what I wanted when I found it.”

Dan Demilew enrolled on the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA seeking a new direction. Now preparing to start a role in renewable energy, he reflects on the experience that led him to this opportunity.

The Central Saint Martins Granary Square campus.

I had always found my work as a Civil Engineer fulfilling; I enjoy being able to build stuff in my neighbourhood and physically show friends and family what I’ve worked on. Before I’d even considered studying at Central Saint Martins, I was an engineer on the redevelopment of Granary Square, helping to build the entrance bridge, Coal Drops Yard, Kings Boulevard and all around the university.

Back then I had the idea of doing an MBA in the back of my mind because my Dad often talked about how it had benefitted his career, but in my industry it was less clear how an MBA would be useful.

Instead, I moved to take up a new opportunity in Australia. I accepted a senior role working mostly on mine sites, and found the work less fulfilling, as I was working on projects that were mostly temporary in nature. Having progressed onto the project management side of things, I found myself spending an increasing amount of time dealing with the politics and work winning side of the business, which started to wear me down.

It was in my next role in Dubai that I realised it was time for a break. I wasn’t performing as well as I could at work and my wife had just been promoted and had a baby, so it seemed a natural time to take a step back and look after my child so my wife could go back to work.

I worried about my brain going a bit rusty so I thought now is the time to do this MBA that my Dad keeps harping on about!

Choosing a fresh approach

University of the Arts London had been on my radar since working on the Granary Square project, but the main thing that attracted me to the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA was the concept of design-led thinking. The company I worked for in Australia was committed to design thinking and I could see the benefit of this approach when working with clients. In engineering, there’s often one correct way of doing things, so being able to apply an artistic and diverse way of thinking was really fulfilling.

The MBA has core modules like finance and leadership that you find on most courses, but 25% of the content is stuff you don’t find elsewhere, such as entrepreneurship and design-led thinking. After my experience of feeling burnt out in my previous roles, these were the parts of the course that appealed to me the most. Because the programme is part-time, I was able to combine my studies with taking care of my daughter as well.

Looking to the future

I knew that the MBA was a path to something different, but I wasn’t sure what was available to me. I thought I would be more motivated in my studies if I had a specific goal in mind, so I focused my energies on the Minderoo Foundation, an organisation funded by Australian philanthropist Andrew Forrest which looks to solve global challenges. Before enrolling, I set myself a metaphorical goal to work for Minderoo, and it was through following them on social media that I learned about Forrest’s new green energy fuel venture, Fortescue Future Industries. They advertised my dream job in January 2021, just as my daughter was starting nursery and I was starting to look for jobs.

I’ve just returned to Australia to take up a Program Management role for a portfolio of clean energy projects. The company is looking to build a global clean energy supply chain spanning more than 25 countries – the scale is breathtaking! I’m thrilled to be able to work on something that I know I can be proud of.

I don’t think I would have applied for the job had it not been for the MBA, and I’m certain that the MBA contributed to my success. It helped me differentiate myself at interview and was a great discussion point to enable me to articulate my skills and value. Above all, the biggest compliment that I can give to the work of Birkbeck and Central Saint Martins is that before I was struggling to know what I was looking for, but the MBA gave me a sense of purpose and the ability to recognise what I wanted when I found it. I’m excited about my future again.

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Amplifying the voices they don’t want you to hear

Heidi McCafferty (she/her) is a postgraduate student at Birkbeck, University of London, studying for an MSc in Criminology. She is a mother, intersectional feminist, anti-racism activist and founder of Affinity Research and Development. She lives near Oxford with her family and plans to begin her PhD next year.

I first visited Warm Springs Correctional Center in 2019. It was beside the jarring, razor-sharp fences that stretch on for eternity, that I fell into conversation with other women waiting to visit. One had been up since 3am and had driven from the Bay Area through the stunning but treacherous mountains of Nevada to reach her son.

“He has been down for 20 years,” she told me as her eyes filled with tears. “He made a bad decision as a teenager”. Another, a primary school teacher, told me with a weary smile, how she visits her nephew there every weekend.

I initially started visiting a pen pal I had who was part of the Pups on Parole Programme. Led by the Nevada Humane Society, it trains incarcerated men to rehabilitate stray and last-chance dogs, so they can find homes. I was interested in the programme’s impressive low recidivism rates and the hope it gave to both the dogs and their trainers. I gradually learned more stories about those who are serving prison sentences. I heard examples of degrading and inhumane treatment inflicted by certain Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) staff members in various facilities, from unwarranted stints in solitary confinement, to extreme physical and emotional violence, compared with stories of NDOC staff who genuinely care, who act with professionalism and compassion and shine like beacons within these bleak, dark spaces. It is easy to feel initially overwhelmed when you explore the realities of the US ‘justice’ system. What can you do when you live 5000 miles away? That was the question I asked myself…

I would like to introduce you to Michael Wadsworth, another friend I met through the programme. He has kindly granted me permission to share his story. He has been in prison since 18. He was sentenced to up to 100 years by an all-white jury for his role in a tragic accident as a teenager. Michael had a promising football career, but just before he was due to begin a program at Feather River College in California, he was attacked outside a store by a group of men. While being chased, Michael took out the gun he kept on him for self-defence, as millions of Americans do, and shot at the ground to slow them down. In a tragic twist of fate, a bullet hit the leg of one of the attackers and caused him to lose his life. An all-white jury decided Michael was guilty of first-degree murder. This means a premeditated, planned act, the most serious of all prosecutions. That was the day the State of Nevada stole Michael’s life.

Michael has been in prison for 16 years. All his appeals failed. His family does not have the $50,000 needed for an attorney. Just one 15-minute local phone call from the facility costs the equivalent of £1.50. After spending time getting to know Michael and his inspiring Nana, who demonstrates psychological strength and Christian faith I can only dream of, we set up the #FreeMichael campaign. We built a website, recorded a short film, scripted and voiced by Michael, set up social media, a crowd-funding campaign and even launch a Free Michael podcast series on 12 March. We have already raised over $5500, but need $45,000 more to secure the representation of Kristina Wildeveld, one of the top attorneys in Nevada. She has already had a consultation with Michael and will help us get Michael’s case presented to the Nevada Pardons Board. If successful, he could be eligible for parole as soon as 2025. It would mean Michael still has a chance of living his life, of following his dream of becoming a youth mentor and having a family.

I am a mother, run a business and am a committed activist, so I was reluctant to throw a Master’s in. But Birkbeck makes studying this way possible. My studies here are allowing me to gain the academic foundation I need to progress. It is teaching me how to conduct my own research and gather my own evidence. I chose the MSc Criminology  in the Law School because the modules were engaging and relevant to my activism. It is helping to expand my knowledge and understanding, so I am better able to amplify the voices of those trapped in a system designed to silence them.

I plan to begin my PhD next year and will focus on exposing the culture of racism within NDOC through digital storytelling, allowing former inmates to anonymously share their experiences and allow their collective voices to help implement change.

To close, I would like to reflect on how the media and government assure us that without incarceration, the world would fall into apocalyptic-style chaos. But what the media and government misses, is how many men and women remain caged, often for decades, for poor decisions they made as teenagers, for addictions, trauma or because they were failed by the system designed to protect them. They neglect to highlight the numerous stages of missed-interventions, due to a lack of resources and state funding that could have changed the courses of so many lives. They fail to respond to questions around why members of Black and Minority ethnic communities continue to receive disproportionate, harsher sentences than white individuals. The evidence shows US prisons aren’t effective, they don’t rehabilitate, they make private companies billions of dollars each year, strip families of resources, separate parents from their children, nurture violence and exacerbate mental ill-health and trauma.

We all have a duty to challenge systemic racism and transform structures like the US ‘justice’ system. Especially the most privileged of us in society.

Black Lives Matter, they always have, and they always will.

Find out how you can support the #FreeMichael campaign at www.free-michael.com.

 

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Taking on the challenges of the pandemic to embrace a world of opportunities in London

Flexibility and daytime freedom are what led Oghenemine Djebah to choose Birkbeck to study an MA/LLM Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. In this blog, the Nigerian student shares his journey so far with us.    

Oghenemine Djebah

Oghenemine Djebah

After obtaining an LLB from the Delta State University, Oghenemine Djebah enrolled at the Nigerian Law School, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and was subsequently called to the Nigerian bar. Since then, he has been in active legal practice in Nigeria.

He worked for two notable law firms (Rotimi Jacobs & Co. and Zatts Law Chambers) and volunteered to give free legal services through a registered NGO (Fundamental Rights Enforcement Enlightenment and Defense).

During a 2019 visit to London, Oghenemine fell for the culture and diversity of the city. So, when his desire to gain more in-depth knowledge of the workings of the law inspired him to pursue an LLM he naturally focused his search on universities in the capital. “I started searching for an institution that would be flexible enough to let me work or volunteer while I studied. I found out about Birkbeck on the internet and the evening lectures tallied with the type of institution I was looking for, so I applied and was given admission into the School of Law.”

As the pandemic took hold around the world, Oghenemine considered deferring his admission by a year. “Because of the financial challenges caused by COVID-19 it was quite a challenge getting the initial deposit in time. The management of Birkbeck recognised this and made the concession of reducing the initial deposit by 90% for all international students, which gave me the opportunity to meet all of the requirements and enroll for the 2020 session.” In recognition of his potential Oghenemine was subsequently awarded a Birkbeck International scholarship and a School of Law Postgraduate Award.

The pandemic’s impact was not only financial as, first the Autumn, then the Spring terms were moved online. Oghenemine embraced the challenges and attended online orientation, public lectures as well as the international student’s virtual event at the beginning of the academic year. He reflected: “The international student event was really helpful for me in understanding my role as an international student, including the benefits and how to tap into them.”

Oghenemine has also been making good use of the online services available to students: “The Birkbeck Careers platform is great and enables students not only to see available jobs and apply but also to help teach them how to prepare for interviews and tailor their CVs and cover letters to meet professional standards.”

With a few months of studies under his belt, the Nigerian student assesses his time learning online. “This is actually my first time doing any course via virtual learning. It is quite challenging because I do not get to meet with other students and make good connections which is also part of the university life. However, the lectures have been going great, better than I expected because we are provided with pre-recorded videos for each lecture. The COVID-19 pandemic has made everything different, from living, to studying. Not being able to meet physically and always being indoors has made this period a bit difficult. I look forward to having the opportunity to meet physically with my fellow students and lecturers before graduating from Birkbeck.”

More than anything the Law student sees and embraces the positives studying in London and at Birkbeck can bring: “London is well known for welcoming international students globally, including from Nigeria. Being a student in London enables you to be a part of a well-integrated international and diverse community. London is a city with a lot of opportunities for everyone beyond academic programs. I advise all Nigerians who wish to study internationally to study in London and join a diverse community and tap into the available opportunities.”

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Top tips for staying motivated in your career

Anna Gordon, Birkbeck Careers Consultant, shares her top ten tips for keeping motivated through the pandemic.

We are all going through one of the most challenging experiences of our lives and you may be feeling more anxious and uncertain about your career. It is important that you do not benchmark your success today with what you were achieving pre-pandemic. It is like comparing apples to oranges. Take a breath, step back, and re-group.

Here are ten tips to help you stay motivated:

  1. It is time to shift your mindset and adjust your expectations. So you don’t beat yourself up, try and stay in a positive frame of mind. Self-care and self-compassion are also what are needed now.
  2. What you focus on you give energy to, so focus on the good things, your strengths, your accomplishments, and what you have control over.
  3. Spend time reflecting on what makes you you – your unique abilities, and achievements. Do not believe everything you see on social media about other people’s lives and successes – these are often illusory, one-dimensional and can lead you down a compare and despair spiral. Everyone has their own unique life journey. Focus your energy on yours.
  4. Have a routine and stay occupied.
  5. Reconnect mind, body and spirit and schedule difficult tasks when you know you feel most energised, not when you feel exhausted.
  6. How you handle rejection and failure makes the difference. Try and not take them personally but see them as learning curves. Look at them objectively – what can you take from them to help you grow?
  7. Practice mindfulness, it can help you live in the present moment as opposed to ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, so you are not reactive and overwhelmed by what is going on around you.
  8. Use this time to reconnect with people you have lost touch with and build or repair relationships that may have gone cold. Check in with them, how are they coping? Share your news and career updates. Let family and friends know how they can help and support you.
  9. This is a chance to re-connect with your authentic self as well, with your why. Build it into the narrative of who you are, what you do (or want to do), who you help and how you help them. Connect it to your purpose.
  10. If you feel negativity creeping in, notice it and counterbalance it with positive affirmations. There are many theories and a lot of neuroscience supporting their benefits both mental and physical.

Living through this pandemic will make us grow in our sense of personal strength and resilience. Most importantly, in terms of our career, although it may take away certain opportunities, this is temporary. It also opens us up to new possibilities.

Remember, you are awesome, and you are doing great. Just keep going, we are here to help you on the journey.

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We need to learn the lessons from Erasmus+ to make sure Turing is an improvement

Since the Brexit deal came into force at the beginning of the year, the UK is no longer part of the Erasmus+ programme. Instead, the government is setting up the Turing scheme to fund students to study abroad. Professor Kevin Ibeh, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) and Professor of Marketing and International Business, examines the Turing scheme and areas the government needs to turn its attention to in this blog. 

Professor Kevin Ibeh

For the UK to remain a global player, we must be able to provide our citizens with an appreciation of the wider world and help the world to understand us. To an extent, the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme helped to facilitate this by offering thousands of students the chance to study in Europe and beyond, while giving Europeans the chance to study in Britain.

Since the Brexit deal came into force at the beginning of the year, the UK is no longer part of the Erasmus+ programme. Instead, the government is setting up the Turing scheme to fund students to study abroad.

If this is to succeed, it is important to learn the lessons from Erasmus+, both regarding what worked and what didn’t. To improve on the opportunities that the Erasmus+ programme provided for both outgoing and incoming students, the government must turn its attention to a number of issues.

First, the forthcoming spending review should increase the programme’s budget, which currently stands at £100 million for its first year. This is a creditable sum, given the adverse economic climate, but the government should be aiming to match the nearly £130 million that the UK received in Erasmus+ grants in 2019. More important still, the Turing scheme needs a multi-year funding settlement.

Second, while the Turing scheme has a welcome focus on increasing participation among students from disadvantaged backgrounds, this could be hindered by a lack of reciprocal fee waivers.

Under Erasmus+, students paid fees to their home institution but not their overseas university, and they received a grant for living expenses. The Turing scheme provides UK students studying overseas only with grants towards travel and living expenses; tuition fee waivers are not explicitly addressed.

This raises concerns as to how students from disadvantaged backgrounds will self-finance, as well as the impact on recruitment into modern language degrees. There is a need for reciprocal fee-waiver arrangements. The Turing scheme should also consider adopting measures used by Erasmus+ to target participants from disadvantaged backgrounds; such as providing an additional €120 per month for disadvantaged students studying abroad.

Under Erasmus+, approximately 30,000 European students visited the UK each year without having to pay UK universities’ tuition fees. The government should consider replicating this under the Turing scheme as a way of attracting overseas students to the UK. At present, the Turing scheme only applies to UK students; taking measures to boost two-way exchange would enhance its appeal.

Consideration should also be given to reducing the red tape for overseas students. Those coming to study for more than six months should be exempt from having to pay for a visa, the NHS surcharge and providing certified proof of English language ability, which they didn’t have to do under Erasmus+.

If these requirements are not removed, other Anglophone countries are likely to experience a surge in Erasmus+ students at the UKs expense. Such a reduced flow of inbound students would lessen the substantial social, cultural, economic and soft power benefits that international students bring to UK higher education institutions and wider society. In 2018, their economic contribution alone was put at £440m.

The government has declared that the Turing scheme will provide students with opportunities to study in a larger number of countries than Erasmus+ did. Even though Erasmus+ covers more than one hundred countries, including many outside the EU, it would clearly be positive if the Turing scheme could be more global still.

Achieving such an ambition will require greater investment, though. Striking out on its own and expanding the number of countries involved in its international higher education exchange programme is likely to bring the UK additional administrative costs.

Lastly, I hope that the Turing scheme will provide opportunities for university staff and other young people to teach, train, learn or volunteer abroad, as is the case with Erasmus+. Everyone connected with universities can benefit from travelling abroad to develop professional practice and build relationships with international peers.

The UK government’s commitment to and continuing investment in an international mobility programme for students is highly welcome. The Turing scheme arguably has the potential to match the Erasmus+ scheme, but appropriate refinements are needed to make this promise a reality. I’d strongly encourage the government to work with universities to achieve this end.

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Finding new paths with lifelong learning

John Simons, who was recently awarded a PhD in philosophy, acknowledges his debt to Birkbeck’s commitment to the principle of lifelong learning, having been helped by the College to move from a career in campaign management to a successful academic career in sociology, and now to a new career in moral philosophy.  

When I left school, back in the previous century, my only qualification was a satisfactory set of results in the then equivalent of today’s GCSEs. It was enough to get me a job as a research assistant in a physics laboratory and to start studying at Birkbeck, where I planned to obtain the equivalent of A Levels in physics, pure mathematics, and applied mathematics and then to proceed to a BSc course in those subjects.

John Simon

John Simons

In those days, the College was in Fetter Lane and had its own theatre, which was used by an active group of drama enthusiasts, The Birkbeck Players. I joined them to play the part of Hodge, the gullible servant of an elderly countrywoman, in a production of the 16th Century rustic comedy Gammer Gurton’s Needle. I believe the happy experience of being in that play with students from across the College departments helped me finally reach a decision that I had been considering for some time: that I was on a career path for which I was not well suited. After obtaining the three A-level equivalents, I abandoned my studies and my job, determined to find a new path. But first I had to get through two years of then obligatory National Service.

After leaving the army (with Second Lieutenant, infantry, added to my very short CV), I worked in marketing for several years, and then obtained a role that would have a radical effect on my subsequent career. It was as Director of a national campaign, sponsored by the Family Planning Association, to arouse awareness of the scale of world population growth and the need for better access to birth control services in many countries. From my work in that post I acquired a strong interest in the dynamics of reproductive behaviour – so strong that I decided to change direction again and become qualified to study it. So, in my mid-thirties – married and with three small children and a mortgage – I went to the London School of Economics (initially part-time) to acquire a bachelor’s degree in sociology and demography. My A-Level equivalents gained at Birkbeck made me eligible for the course. Two other advantages made it possible for me to attend part of the course full-time: a grant that was available from the Local Authority in those days, and, even more important, a wife, herself an LSE graduate, who fully supported my career change.

The degree from the LSE enabled me to obtain a post at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which is just across the road from Birkbeck. There I helped the late William Brass, an internationally renowned expert in the analysis of population data, to create the School’s Centre for Population Studies, and make it one of the largest of its kind in Europe. I contributed a course on the Sociology of Fertility to its MSc programme, supervised research students interested in social research on reproductive behavior, conducted my own research in this field, and undertook consultancy assignments for the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, and other agencies. I attended to some of my own educational needs by taking specialist courses relevant to my work provided by Birkbeck and the Open University, eventually obtaining a BA from the latter. I retired from the Centre (as its Head) after 25 years, but continued to work in the field as chief editor of one of its main journals, Population Studies, a post I held for 20 years.

I also continued with a long-term quest into the explanation of differences in fertility by religion. That quest would eventually take me back to Birkbeck, because it led to an interest in the evolution of religious belief, and from that to an interest in moral philosophy and eventually a decision to study philosophy at the College. I first obtained an MA in philosophy there and then a PhD. The latter was for a thesis on the determinants of morally significant conduct in social roles. It offered a revisionary account of the moral philosophy developed by John Dewey, one of the founders of the school of philosophy known as Pragmatism.

My CV did not have the advantage of beginning with an extended school and university education. But my early experience of Birkbeck enabled me to compensate for much of what I had missed, and later made me eligible for a degree course at the LSE that would make possible my career in population studies. More recently, the College’s outstanding Philosophy department allowed me the freedom to pursue an interest that many other institutions would have regarded as outside their compass, and that enabled me to start a new career in moral philosophy. Now actively engaged in contributing to the literature of that field, it is a pleasure to acknowledge my debt to Birkbeck’s commitment to the principle of lifelong learning.

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