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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Fake-fried tofu steak

As part of a new initiative to enhance international students’ experience at Birkbeck, our students and staff will be sharing their favourite recipes over the next few months in a series of blogs. In this blog, Meiyun Meng, MPhil Geography, Environment and Development Studies student, shares her recipe for fake-fried tofu steak.

Background: I would like to share my way of making a tofu dish. My inspiration for this dish came from a video on Bilibili (Chinese YouTube). This YouTuber mainly makes vegan dishes.

My recipe is a rookie-friendly and vegetarian version of his. It can be a part of a main dish (serve with rice or Korean shin ramen).

Ingredients:

  • 1 pack of firm tofu (the firmer, the better), around 200g. Please try to buy it in Asian supermarkets. Buy tofu packed in a plastic box from Korea or China. Do not use soft tofu or tofu in juice boxes!
  • Some salt and pepper (according to your preference).
  • 1 piece of sushi nori (basic dried seaweed). Or you can use Korean snack seaweed but bear in mind they are salted.
  • Some breadcrumbs – make sure that your tofu can be fully covered. I know breadcrumbs can be expensive. To save money, grab some sliced bread (not the ends) and add it into your mixer. There you go, home-made breadcrumbs!
  • Some wheat flour (both self-raising and plain flour will do)
  • 2 teaspoons of oil (cheap or expensive olive oil will be fine)
  • 1 egg (this is why this recipe became a vegetarian version. The original vegan recipe mixes 1 cup of overnight-soaked cashew nuts and water to replace the egg. You can try this if you want. Or, if you are not a vegan, you can simply buy eggs and start making delicious tofu steaks now!)

Cooking time: food prepping 15 minutes, roasting 20 minutes. Around 35-40 min in total.

Cooking method:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees.
  • Crosscut the taller tofu cube into two shorter tofu steaks.
  • Season two tofu steaks with some salt and pepper (on the front and back).
  • Cut the square sushi nori into three rectangular pieces. Use two of them to respectively wrap two tofu steaks (see photo below). You can eat the last piece or put it back.

  • Place your breadcrumbs into the pan, and add some salt, Chinese spices and oil into the pan. Heat it on a medium heat (don’t burn the breadcrumbs) until they turn to a darker brown (don’t forget to stir them occasionally to avoid burning).
  • Crack the egg onto a plate. Place some flour on another plate. Put one tofu steak in with the flour. Once the tofu is powdered, soak it into the egg (make sure it is covered with eggs). Then put the tofu into the breadcrumbs pan and use dried breadcrumbs to fully cover the steak. Put the prepared tofu steak on the roasting tray (you can put aluminium foil on the tray).
  • Repeat step 5 with the second tofu steak.
  • Put the tray in the oven. Wait for 12 minutes and then flip the tofu steaks. Let them roast for another 7 minutes.
  • Carefully take them out and enjoy!

Tip: You can eat it with tartar sauce, mayonnaise, ketchup or home-made curry

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“I’m finding my experience at Birkbeck studying MSc Sport Management to be precious and valuable”

Ryotaro Tsutsui, MSc Sport Management student and policy maker in the Japanese Government, describes his experiences at Birkbeck as an international student and his aspirations for the future.

Ryotaro Tsutsui with classmates after playing football at the pitch near Birkbeck

Why did you decide to study at Birkbeck? 

I work for the Government of Japan and I’ve been working as a policy maker since 2012. As an opportunity for developing language skills and knowledge which is related to my policy area, I was allowed to study in the UK to get two Master’s degrees. I chose to join sport management courses as I’m interested in sport policy. I knew that Birkbeck is famous for sport management and my supervisor at Loughborough University (I studied at Loughborough University for the first year of my stay in the UK) strongly recommended Birkbeck.

How are you finding your course?

My experience undertaking the MSc Sport Management degree is precious and valuable. I think it is difficult for Japanese people to catch up on the global trends and affairs in the sport community as many of the international sport federations are in Europe and compared to Japan, the economic scale of the sport industry is huge. One of the advantages of the MSc Sport Management degree at Birkbeck is the wider and well-balanced range of global trends and topics covered.

How is the social life at Birkbeck?

Fortunately, I have made a lot of good friends at Birkbeck. I love the ethnic diversity of the students. There was no majority ethnic group in my course, which provided a good environment for students to form friendships. Also, a hidden advantage of life at Birkbeck – students can easily go for drink after evening lectures, which I really enjoyed!

Do you enjoy having lectures in the evening? What do you do with the time you have in the day? 

The evening based educational system suits students who want to explore new things in the day. For most of them, doing an internship in London would be the best choice. In fact, lecturers were willing to introduce various kinds of internship opportunities to students. I wanted to do an internship in the sport sector and I consulted with one of my lecturers; he kindly suggested a non-profit sport organization and I worked there for several months.

What is the best thing about studying in London? 

It was convenient to commute to Birkbeck as it is in the centre of London. There are much more opportunities in London to do internships than any other city.

What do you hope to achieve in the future? 

As a career path, I’m seeking the best way to be a competitive sport policy maker. After studying in the UK for the last two years, I realise how important it is to learn from the UK and other sporting countries about sport policy. In terms of sport policy including international and domestic policies, Japan is still behind the UK, however, this motivates me to develop sport policy in my country. I’m also motivated to keep human connections which I have made in the UK.

Any advice for international students considering studying at Birkbeck?

I’m really confident in recommending Birkbeck to international students. To make the most of studying at Birkbeck, it is important to plan what to do in the day. Mixing both studying in the evening and doing an internship or other social activities makes international students feel extremely productive!

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“My journey at Birkbeck as a trans person couldn’t have been easier”

BSc Geology student and Birkbeck Trans Students’ Officer Jayden Solitro describes the experience of coming out as transgender at school age and settling into university life at Birkbeck.

Jayden Solitro

I came out as transgender at 15-years-old on the day of my last GCSE exam. I stayed at the same school in sixth form, and when I came out to my teachers, they decided to have a “transition period” – no pun intended – in which they would call me a short-hand version of my name for a while, because they thought other students would be confused by the sudden change of my name.

To this day, I’m still speechless at the fact that my teachers were more concerned about the effect my gender identity would have had on other students.

As a transgender person, I have always felt disconnected to my gender identity due to society not acknowledging it or respecting it. Every day I feared being misgendered or being called my former name (deadnamed). After I spent two years in a small town in Surrey trying to make stubborn teenagers use the right name and pronouns, I was terrified to go to university, because I thought I would have to start my journey all over again. Luckily, I was wrong; as soon as I came to Birkbeck, I noticed that I was surrounded by respectful adults, and my journey couldn’t have been easier.

When I joined the Students’ Union in 2019 as the Trans Students’ Officer, the Supporting Transgender, Intersex and Gender Non-Binary Students policy was enforced, thanks to the collaboration of College and Union staff.

As soon as I changed my name on the Birkbeck online portal, my decision was immediately respected by all members of staff, which was such a refreshing experience after having to wait for weeks in hope that my teachers would stop deadnaming me in school.

As a fellow student, and not just the Trans Students’ Officer, I am passionate to make sure that transgender students feel safe at Birkbeck, and I would like to encourage you to read this new policy, as it is important for us to know our rights and that they are a way to make our experience as a student the best it can be.

Thanks to this policy, chances to be “deadnamed” on campus will be lowered, as students are now able to change their preferred name on My Birkbeck and receive a new student ID free of charge. As a Deed Poll is not required to do this, this is also accessible to international or EU students who can’t apply for a deed poll in the UK, like myself.

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Is the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence turning into the Ministry of Justice’s own Windrush scandal?

Professor Mike Hough, Emeritus Professor and Founder of Birkbeck’s Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research (ICPR) explains how thousands of prisoners are still facing injustice, ten years after IPPs’ failings were first exposed, and endorses latest demands for action.

Ministry of Justice, Westminster

The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) is to be congratulated on their excellent – but profoundly depressing – report No Freedom, No Life, No Future, which charts how large numbers of prisoners sentenced to the indeterminate sentence Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) are still stranded in prison many years after they were sentenced. As the report vividly demonstrates, part of the cause of this is the irrational and grossly unfair way in which the recall system is operating, following prisoners’ breach of their licence after release.

In 2010 Professor Jessica Jacobson and I worked on an ICPR/PRT collaboration which resulted in the report on the IPP sentence, Unjust Deserts. We showed how prisoners were required to demonstrate to the Parole Board that they were no longer a danger to the public, mainly by participating in courses to reduce the risks they posed. However, prisoners were denied means to demonstrate that they no longer posed a high risk to the public. Often courses were simply unavailable. In some cases, prisoners were told that they presented too low a risk for the course on offer, or that their levels of literacy were too low for the course in question. More broadly, the effectiveness of courses as a means of reducing dangerousness was questionable; while, at the same time, there were no obvious alternative ways in which individuals, in a prison setting, could prove the negative proposition that they no longer posed a risk to the public.  Matters were made worse by the originally mandatory nature of the sentence, meaning that many more IPP sentences were passed than originally expected, and many of these were for relatively minor offences. The Parole Board was overwhelmed by cases and delays grew. The net result was that many IPP prisoners were serving much longer sentences than expected – sentences that were, by any yardstick, grossly disproportionate.

Our report was well-received, and the then Justice Secretary, (now Lord) Kenneth Clarke, asked to see a pre-publication draft. We took some satisfaction in the announcement made shortly afterwards that the sentence would be abolished, qualified only by the fact that there were no plans to deal retroactively with those still serving IPPs, for example by converting all IPPs into determinate sentences. However, we thought that it would not take long for solutions to be found to release those prisoners in a fair and sensible way, whether through legislative or executive action.

How wrong we were! I was astonished to learn from PRT’s new report that by mid 2020 almost 2,000 IPP prisoners have never been released, and almost 1,400 have been released but are now back in prison, facing exactly the same intractable problems of proving their reduced risk as we found ten years ago.  The ongoing treatment of IPP prisoners is scandalous, and the scandal is, for the Ministry of Justice, taking on qualities that parallel the Windrush scandal that the Home Office is failing to deal with. The obvious unfairnesses and inhumanity which IPP prisoners face demand rapid attention.  We strongly endorse PRT’s call for action.

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Coronation salmon curry – a fusion dish that can be cooked and served in 30 minutes

As part of a new initiative to enhance international students’ experience at Birkbeck, our students and staff will be sharing their favourite recipes over the next few months in a series of blogs. In this blog, Professor Sanjib Bhakta, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Biochemistry shares the secret to making his home-made fish curry.

Background: Being a Bengali and a foodie, I have always gravitated towards foods like fish curry and our traditional sweets! I spent the first 25 years of my life adjacent to the Bay of Bengal and lived around the river Ganges, where there were a number of natural resources to supply sweet-water fish. Hence, when I came to the UK, a challenge for me was to get the taste of my home-made fish curry; moving from Kolkata to Oxford.

As a Wellcome Trust funded International Fellow living in my College accommodation on the Old Marston Road, I first tried the following recipe. It was a delightful triumph! Without any reservations, I can say that home-cooking has always been a stress-busting experience for me. When a recipe can connect you with your motherland, help you to make new friends, saves money, assist you with healthy living and brings joy to your life, then why not?

Let me know how your trial goes after you transform the following recipe into your evening/weekend meal…

Ingredients:

Essentials:
4 salmon* fillets (500g)
Cooking oil (~30ml)
Natural bio live set yoghurt (1 tablespoon/ tbsp)
Mayonnaise (200g)
Spicy ‘korma’ curry paste (1 tbsp)
Mustard paste (smooth) (1 teaspoon/ tsp)
Mango chutney (2 tbsps)
Juice of 1 lemon
Almond powder (2 tbsp)
Salt (1 tsp/adjust per preference)

(*salmon can be replaced by monk fish, seabass or any other white fish fillet, descaled but skin on)

Optional: Almond flakes, raisins, coriander/ thyme for garnishing.

Cooking method: Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees/gas 4. Marinate salmon fillets with a little salt, lemon juice and cooking oil for 5 minutes. Put them in the oven for 12-15 minutes, skin side up. While the fish is in the oven, lightly mix the mayonnaise, yoghurt, curry paste, almond powder, mango chutney, mustard paste and salt in a bowl. Add a little water to help making the paste smoother if needed.

Drizzle some cooking oil on a pan. When heated, pour the sauce and a cup of water into the pan. When it starts bubbling, put the fish in the sauce, wait for 2-3 minutes and keep the heat on high to boil. After 2-3 minutes of boiling put a cover on the pan and switch off the hob.

Presentation: Garnish the dish with chopped coriander/thyme and almond flakes. Enjoy the dish with rice (basmati/jasmine)/naan/pitta/flat bread.

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Top tips and benefits for using video in lectures and seminars

Jenna Davies, Birkbeck’s Enterprise and Employability Consultant, encourages students to keep their cameras on whilst attending online lectures or seminars by outlining the benefits and addressing the most common barriers.

Among the various changes that 2020 has brought – our ways of working, studying, even socialising – there is one piece of equipment that has enabled us to retain our connection to others: our cameras.

While we have been unable to physically meet and see our colleagues and peers, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to maintain a level of connection through our screens, be it our phones, iPads, laptops or computers. In our online lectures and seminars, we can replicate the classroom as best as possible through the technology that we are able to access, providing a unique experience in a challenging environment where everyone can benefit from the virtual teaching space.

However, there are a number of barriers that may prevent us from fully embracing the online learning environment; to switch our cameras on, use our microphones to speak up, and be as present as possible, as we would in person. We may not feel comfortable being on video in front of our tutors and peers, we may have distractions in the background that we don’t want to risk interrupting the sessions, or we may feel we can still get the same from the session by not being on video. To overcome these challenges and reap the benefits of having our videos on in our online lectures and seminars, there are things we can do to make sure that we maximise our learning.

“I’m not comfortable being on video in front of my tutors and peers”

The transition to remote studying and working this year has meant that our home and work/study life are much more intertwined. Our homes are our study spaces – and although it’s only our head and shoulders in shot, we may feel more exposed on video compared to in-person.

Consider how you feel when you see someone on video in an online lecture, or meeting for example. Often, we’ll feel more of a connection to that person because we can see them. If we’re in an online meeting with three other people, two of whom have their videos on and one doesn’t, we feel less of a rapport with the person we can’t see.

If we have our videos off, we may be impacting the connection that others have with us and their experience in the virtual learning space as well. Birkbeck’s Disability Service Manager, Mark Pimm, recently reflected on his experience in virtual meetings: “I’m blind, and I have become so conscious of how much I miss out on being able to see everyone in the virtual meeting. This has made me wonder if when you leave the camera turned off in your online lectures and seminars, whether your fellow students are missing out on you.”

If everyone in our online lectures embraces the virtual space and switches their videos on, we’ll feel more connected to our peers and tutors. We’ll be more engaged and avoid potential distractions because we will be more present in that space. This will positively impact our experience and the goals we may have set when we enrolled onto our courses – to learn, to meet new people, to progress our careers, to graduate.

“I have distractions in the background that could interrupt the sessions”

There will often be occasions when we can’t avoid interruptions while we’re online – we may have children to look after, someone might be at the door, we might not want to show the space around us on video. The resistance to be on screen can come from a number of reasons.

If we consider how we feel when we have seen someone else on-screen experience interruptions during a lesson or a meeting, often there isn’t an impact on the session for others. We have all become far more understanding of what it means to study and work from home, and this comes with the acceptance that people will be in different spaces and have things going on in their homes that they can’t control.

If a distracting background is the difference between turning our videos on in lectures and making the most of the lesson, having a screen behind you may be a useful option. This could be a room divider or something in the home that you can use as your background.

“I’m not sure how I should position my camera”

Whichever device you use for your online sessions, try to have your head and shoulders in the shot. This will ensure that you fill the ‘frame’ without being too close or too far away from the camera.

Aim to have your device’s camera at the same height as your head, which will help to avoid looking down at the camera lens and it will also ensure that your posture is in a good position.

There are some useful tips in this video about setting up your cameras and making more impact on video.

“I’m still getting the same level of teaching with my video off”

There are numerous benefits of being part of a group and studying alongside peers who share the same interest in the topic you’re studying. While we have transitioned from physical classrooms to virtual classrooms, this doesn’t mean that those connections with your peers should disappear.

Being able to learn from your tutors as well as your fellow students is hugely beneficial and enhances your learning experience. The more engaged and present you are in your online sessions, with your videos on and speaking up to contribute to discussions, the more you will benefit from the session.

As we continue into the academic year, embrace the virtual learning environment and the opportunity to connect with your peers and tutors by making use of the technology we have, to benefit your studies as well as your peers’.

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Diwali is the festival of light and new hope!

With the recent Diwali celebrations, Professor Sanjib Bhakta, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Biochemistry, reflects on what the festival means to him.

Mousumi Shyam, a Newton-Bhabha International Fellow at Birkbeck’s School of Science, has celebrated Diwali by decorating the International Students House with the traditional ‘Rangoli’. The purpose of the colourful design, ‘Rangoli’ is to feed strength, generosity and it is thought to bring good luck.

Diwali follows the epic story of ancient India: “Ramayana” to represent the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The symbolism of Diwali is appropriately summarised in the simple act of lighting a lamp or ‘diya’. These are said to ward away evil and welcome the Goddess Lakshmi (the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity) into the house.

The positive vibe that comes with the Diwali festival is more relevant worldwide in this challenging year than ever before with the unprecedented pandemic. During the second phase of lockdown in the UK, while we should strictly follow the Government guidelines on social distancing, face covering, good handwashing routine and patiently wait for a better control for the debilitating infectious disease to be available to us, I have been celebrating this ‘Diwali’ with my family at home and with all of you remotely over the weekend by lighting ‘diya’! Let us together give thanks for all we hold dear: our health, our family, our friends and to the scientists, NHS staff, and all the key workers who are working relentlessly to tackle the health challenges this year…

I moved to the UK precisely two decades ago but I still miss India when It comes to celebrating Diwali! To all the staff and students at Birkbeck, University of London I wish you and your family a very Happy Diwali!

Take care, stay happy and celebrate the festive season with all the available precautions and protections.

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The Disability Discrimination Act – what’s changed?

This November we celebrate 25 years since the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act. In this blog, Mark Pimm, Birkbeck’s Disability Service Manager who is blind, shares his experiences as a university student and how the world has changed since the passing of the Act.

Mark Pimm with his guide dog, Sonny

Twenty-five years ago, on 8 November 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act was passed and it got me thinking about how student life has changed in a quarter of a century.  There were no tuition fee loans and a pint of beer in the Student Union bar cost a pound, but life was a lot more challenging for disabled students.  There were no disability officers, universities weren’t required to make provision for disabled students – in fact, before the Act, we had no legal rights.

There was a Disabled Students’ Allowance, but at that time it was so small I couldn’t afford a computer; all I had was a writing machine with 32 megabytes of ram.

Because I did not have a computer and could not read Braille, I did everything on tape.  I recruited a team of volunteers to read my textbooks onto tape. I drafted my notes for essays onto cassette tapes and listened back to the notes when I came to write the essay.  All my exam notes were put onto tape, and I listened to these to revise. To give an idea of the scale, I had over 500 tapes containing over 2,000 hours of recording. Even though I was organised, it often took me an hour to find the right point on the right tape.

In those days, being blind I knew I would never get a non-graduate job. If I wanted to work, I had to get a degree. I had no choice but to carry on despite extraordinary odds because if I didn’t, I would never work.

What would be the difference today? If I was coming to Birkbeck now, the Disabled Students’ Allowance would pay for a computer with specialist software and training to ensure I could use it to access our online learning. It would fund an electronic notetaker, who would provide me with notes from all my lectures by email.

The university’s virtual learning environment would be accessible to me and I’d have access to the teaching materials in advance of our lectures, enabling me to read, as well as understand the structure of the lectures, prior to attending them. I could use the platform SensusAccess to make the electronic documents accessible to me and access the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s audible book service.

The number of additional things I’d need to do for myself would be reduced. I’d have the time to think about my future career and with support like the Ability Programme would be able to develop the transferrable skills that might mean that I could progress straight from graduation to employment, as my non-disabled peers can do.

It’s truly remarkable and inspiring to see how far we’ve come, thanks to those campaigners in the 90s.

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