Author Archives: Olivia

Tackling online fraud: is it time to take a different approach?

A recent report by Crest Advisory in partnership with Birkbeck and the Police Foundation found that the emotional impact of online fraud for victims is often worse than the financial hit. In this blog Dr Bina Bhardwa, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research (ICPR) at Birkbeck, drawing on findings from focus groups with the public, shares her vision for how we need a different approach to tackling online fraud.

Online fraud is an everyday ‘trip hazard’ that we have become, or are under pressure to become, better skilled at and (sadly) accustomed to navigating. The volume, sophistication, and constant barrage of fraud risks makes the task of filtering out this ‘background noise’ challenging and, most importantly, makes us ever more reliant on credible and trusted sources of information.

While most members of the public trust messaging from their banks, the occasional ‘fraud awareness’ training at work and household names such as Martin Lewis to keep them informed, much of their knowledge about fraud is derived from experiences shared by friends and family who have been victims of fraud or had near misses, and an avalanche of misinformation. The government’s latest anti-fraud campaign – Stop! Think Fraud – is a step in the right direction, but we know little as yet about its scope to bring about tangible change.

There was a perception among focus group participants we spoke to as part of a wider research project on Tackling Online Fraud that the police did not have the capacity to respond to volume fraud, especially where financial losses were thought of as insignificant and where more ‘serious’ crimes took precedence. This goes some way towards explaining the under-reporting of fraud. Deficiencies in the state’s capacity to protect its citizens from crime, means that responsibility for protecting oneself from online fraud threats rests largely with the individual.

Government fraud strategies, and the recommendations stemming from much of the research on fraud tend to centre, perhaps somewhat predictably, on three staples:

  • more resources – usually aimed at bolstering the numbers and specialisms of investigators,
  • forging and improving public-private partnerships, and
  • better financial education.

Of course, these are important and worthy recommendations. However, what we see less of is how we can beg, borrow, and steal ideas and good practice from other areas of criminal justice, to daringly try something different. Drawing on two examples from the drugs field, I present, here, a case for applying models and methods from elsewhere to tackling online fraud.

Drug safety checking at festivals

Not without contention among the conservative, drug-safety checking services made their debut in the UK in 2018 at the Secret Garden Party and Kendal Calling music festivals, pioneered by The Loop. Since then, the model of drug testing has expanded its reach and support. The operating model is centred on providing non-judgmental, harm reduction advice to members of the public. Substances are voluntarily submitted to The Loop’s chemists who test them and then share risk and safety information with individuals based on the results. A further feature is the dissemination of live-time, in-situ safety information via social media channels, which communicate the risks of, for example, adulterants and high strength substances in circulation at an event.

The key tenets of the drug safety testing model – non-judgmental, led by experts, a feedback loop and the live dissemination of knowledge – could be imported to tackle online fraud. This would not in fact be new to fraud prevention, as it is the premise of Action Fraud Alert. However, the majority of the participants in our public focus groups had not heard of Action Fraud, let alone proactively signed up for alerts. Is this then a case for raising public awareness of Action Fraud or is it a call for a more trusted and effective national system for circulating topical alerts? For example, during the height of the ‘Hi Mum’ impersonation scams, the government – informed by National Fraud Investigation Bureau (NFIB) analysis of reports – could have disseminated alerts and safety messaging to the public, as the equivalent to providing non-judgmental, credible, harm minimisation drug safety advice in live time.

A ‘whole systems approach’ to tackling drug misuse

Catalysed by Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs which highlighted the damning impact of years of disinvestment in drug treatment services, the government has invested in rebuilding drug treatment and recovery services, taking a ‘whole of Government’, ‘whole systems approach’. While the government’s latest Drugs Strategy is not without its shortcomings[1], what is key here is shared responsibility for the ‘drug problem’.

Project ADDER (Addiction, Diversion, Disruption, Enforcement, Recovery) is an example of this approach. The £59 million programme involved law enforcement, treatment and recovery services working together in areas with the highest prevalence of Class A (heroin and crack cocaine) drug use and drug-related deaths. An unpublished evaluation of the programme found that the close cooperation between government departments, public sector enforcement services and voluntary sector treatment services, working towards the shared goal of combating drug misuse, produced positive outcomes, such as contributing to an increase in arrests for high harm individuals involved drug supply. Can we not do the same for combating fraud, e.g. taking a ‘whole systems’ approach to tackling high harm fraudsters? Focus group participants recognised that the police alone are largely powerless in the face of the ever-increasing volume and global reach of fraud. The Home Office, Department for Education, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Department of Health, and other relevant departments, in conjunction with private and voluntary sector, should work together to disrupt fraud, divert fraudsters who are caught and better understand mechanisms for recovery from the psychological and health harms of fraud. This would be an expansive ‘whole systems approach’ that is held to account and subject to evaluation.

The fact that fraud now makes up over 40% of all crime in England and Wales signals that it’s time for a different approach. However, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel: we can build on evidence of good practice from other areas of criminal justice. As demonstrated here, the drugs field offers a good starting point.

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“It’s time to move, take action and look after our mental health”

With Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 taking place from 13 to 19 May, William Sarenden, BA Philosophy student and Chair of the Birkbeck’s Students’ Union, shares tips for how to improve mental health, especially in the context of this year’s theme of movement.

William Sarenden on a run

William Sarenden on a run

It would be an understatement to say that mental health awareness is important. Even in a world that seems increasingly aware of its necessity, there is still much room for improved mental health outcomes and effective strategies in tackling the matter.

Mental Health Awareness Week is a chance for everyone to consider the impact mental health has on their lives. It’s here to show support for those in need as well as educate ourselves on the diverse facets of mental health, and offer avenues for reaching out and providing support.

Commencing on Monday the 13th of May, this year’s theme is “Movement: Moving more for our mental health” which underscores the interconnectedness between our physical activity and mental wellbeing.  With each daily action contributing to our mental health, it approaches the subject in a way we can all relate to and get involved with. This includes viewing mental health in a way that we are able to have a more holistic, accessible, and empowering approach to a healthy wellbeing.

Tackling the issues of stigma surrounding mental health, celebrating the people that support those in need and championing developments in our understanding is at the heart of this week’s meaning. With this all in mind, there are a few key messages highlighted by this year’s theme all of which are important to think about throughout the week:

The link between mental health and movement:
With a plethora of research that showcases the strong link between how our movements impact our mental health, it’s important that we regularly exercise, keep active and find time for ourselves. While having a physical exercise routine, going to the gym, or even heading out on a nice walk has its health benefits, the value that this time has for the mind is sometimes overlooked or not considered. Whether its time away from the constant level of stimulation provided by technology or a simple break away from work, it’s great to prioritise a time that allows you to focus on what will make you more aware of your mental state.

Accessibility and inclusivity:
Mental Health Awareness Week isn’t just about our own individual experience, but the collective experience of our communities. Understanding that we all have different levels of needs is key in supporting both our own and others’ wellbeing. It’s important that we take time to find out our own individual preferences and capabilities, whilst recognising the needs of others that may differ from our own and help in any way we can to better our community.

Prevention of mental health challenges:
In acknowledging the need for movement in our day-to-day life, we start the trend of being able to spend more time focusing on not only supporting existing mental health but playing a critical role in prevention. Prevention can come in many forms and this year’s theme showcases one of the best ways, by simply keeping fit and active.

Empowerment and self-care
Cultivating a positive relationship with our bodies, fostering a sense of balance, and taking ownership of our mental wellbeing is essential in empowering us to achieve what we want in life. It’s all about fulfilling those basic needs first that allow us to then face any of life’s daily challenges. We should always look to embrace movement as a form of self-care as it will not only improve our wellbeing but contributes to a culture that values and supports health and self-care practices.

My own advice to the reader
Discovering personalized methods to nurture our wellbeing lay the foundation for any robust mental health. Personally, I’m someone who loves to stay active, but I’ve learned to balance it with less fast paced moments. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll through one of London’s picturesque parks or a quiet reading session, these activities rejuvenate my spirit and allow for that much needed downtime. Additionally, I’m one of the many people who have a newfound love for running (although I’m still trying to find the right pace) which has been both a challenging yet exhilarating opportunity to discover new ways of working on my mental health. This week we should embrace the unknown by exploring new activities, joining clubs, or experimenting with different workout routines—because true insight into what truly uplifts us only emerges through exploration and experimentation.

William Sarenden taking a break on a run

William Sarenden taking a break on a run

Creating a better environment for ourselves and others
Building a sense of belonging is the key for many to connect with their mental health. In actively participating in many forms of movement; yoga classes, group exercise, team sport and any community led activity, we allow others to feel more welcomed and give them more opportunities for critical support. Sometimes all it takes is the company of others to help us get moving.

It’s very common for us to forget or neglect the need to look after our own wellbeing, when we all live busy lives and have a lot on our plate. Remember that this week serves as a reminder to take that time out and give ourselves and others the support needed to grow, develop, and live the best lives we can.

Birkbeck’s Wellbeing Service together with the Birkbeck Students’ Union has created a programme of events to mark the week, including mental health hubs where students can access support, a 6 hour walk around London and a film screening of ‘The Boys in the Boat’. Find out more and book onto ticketed events here.

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Dive into literary delights: discover enchanting bookshops near Birkbeck

Sidhant Maharaj, MA Gender and Sexuality Studies student, is a self-confessed bookworm and in this blog reveals beautiful bookshops a short walk away from Birkbeck’s campus.

Sidhant Maharaj

Hey fellow bookworms! Are you like me, finding solace and escape within the pages of a good book? If so, you’re in for a treat! I’m excited to share some hidden gems – cosy bookshops nestled near Birkbeck, waiting for you to explore and get lost in their enchanting aisles.

  1. Waterstones, Gower Street:

Situated right opposite the Student Central building on Malet Street, Waterstones is a book haven. With its inviting ambiance and vast selection of books spanning various genres and interest, it’s a must-visit destination for any book enthusiast. I am not shy in sharing that this is where you will find me most days.

Waterstones, Gower Street

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/waterstones/

  1. Judd Books, Bloomsbury:

For those seeking academic and second-hand treasures, Judd Books in Bloomsbury is a must-visit. With its extensive collection of used and rare books covering a wide range of subjects, you’re sure to find a gem that piques your interest.

Judd Books, Bloomsbury

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/juddbooks/

  1. Gay’s The Word, Bloomsbury:

Specializing in LGBTQ+ literature, Gay’s The Word is not just a bookstore – it’s a cultural hub. With its welcoming atmosphere and thoughtfully curated selection, it’s the perfect place to discover diverse voices and narratives.

Gay’s The Word, Bloomsbury

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gaysthewordbookshop/

  1. Skoob Books, Russell Square

Another book shop not to miss is Skoob Books near Russell Square. With its labyrinthine layout and shelves overflowing with literary treasure, it’s a paradise for book hunters with both new and second-hand gems.

Skoob Books, Russell Square

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/skoobbookslondon/?hl=en

  1. Word on the Water, Regent’s Canal:

Ever dreamed of browsing for books on a floating bookstore? Well, dreams do come true at Word on the Water! This charming book barge on Regent’s Canal offers a unique and cosy atmosphere to discover your next literary adventure.

Word on the Water, Regent’s Canal

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/word.on.the.water/?hl=en-gb

  1. Daunt Books, Marylebone:

If you haven’t already stumbled upon this gem, you’re in for a treat! Daunt Books in Marylebone is a paradise for book lovers. With its stunning Edwardian interior and shelves lined with carefully curated books, it’s easy to get lost in its charm for hours.

Daunt Books, Marylebone

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dauntbooks/

As a fellow book lover, I know the joy of stumbling upon a new bookstore and getting lost in its shelves. So, next time you’re on campus at Birkbeck with some free time on your hands, why not embark on a literary adventure and explore one of these delightful bookshops? Trust me, your inner bookworm will thank you!

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How to prepare for a Chevening Scholarship interview

In this blog current Birkbeck Chevening scholars, Ahmed Alaa Yaqoob Maki, MSc Entrepreneurship student from Iraq and MSc Business Innovation students Aslan Saputra from Indonesia and Ramata N’Diaye from Mali, tell us how they tackled the Chevening interviews and give advice to this year’s applicants.

How did you prepare for your Chevening interview?

Ahmed Alaa Yaqoob Maki:

Ahmed Alaa Yaqoob Maki

First of all, congratulations on reaching this stage! To get started, go back to your application and focus on your essays and the key points you highlighted. Be ready to discuss any part of your application in detail, including your career goals, leadership experiences, and how you plan to use the Chevening scholarship to contribute to your home country. Furthermore, prepare to demonstrate your skills in leadership and networking through real examples from your past experiences. Most importantly, be knowledgeable about current events and issues in your country, the UK, and globally, especially those related to your field of study or professional sector.

In addition, you can find lots of mock interview opportunities. Practice with mock interviews to simulate the interview environment. This can help you become more comfortable with speaking about your experiences and achievements confidently. Feedback from these sessions can be invaluable.

Ramata N’Diaye:

Ramata N’Diaye

To prepare for my Chevening interview, I embraced a thorough approach centered around self-reflection, research on the Chevening scholarship, and diligent queries on my Top 3 universities. I immersed myself in understanding the Chevening Scholarship’s core objectives, values, and the attributes they seek in scholars. This foundational knowledge was crucial for tailoring my responses to align with Chevening’s mission.

I then reflected on my personal, academic, and professional experiences, identifying clear examples that demonstrated my leadership qualities, networking abilities, and commitment to positive change.

Recognizing the importance of staying informed, I kept abreast of current global and regional issues, particularly those relevant to my field of interest and my home country. Practicing mock interviews was also a pivotal part of my preparation, allowing me to refine my answers, improve my delivery, and build confidence.

Aslan Saputra:

Aslan Saputra

In my country, several people who had been shortlisted for Chevening formed small groups to be able to practice together and share the latest information about the Chevening application.

When I entered the shortlisted stage, I knew the story I brought to the application attracted the hearts of the Chevening committee, so my task during the interview was to retell it more enthusiastically and in more detail so that my charisma became stronger and more promising.

What advice would you give to this year’s shortlisted candidate on how to ace their interview?

Ramata N’Diaye:

For this year’s shortlisted candidates, my advice is to deeply understand what Chevening stands for and thoughtfully reflect on your journey and aspirations. Articulate your vision clearly, demonstrate how you embody the Chevening values, and be prepared to engage in discussions on current affairs with insight and poise. Remember, authenticity and preparedness are key to acing the Chevening interview.

Aslan Saputra:

My advice is to not bring new stories to the interview. Just elaborate on the essay that you wrote previously, and show your unique and strong character. Don’t be too stiff, and learn how to tell stories that are interesting and fun.

Ahmed Alaa Yaqoob Maki:

When answering questions, consider using the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your responses. This method helps you deliver comprehensive and compelling answers.

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“The International team at Birkbeck went above and beyond in providing me with support”

Fijian Sidhant Maharaj is currently enrolled on Birkbeck’s MA in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Here, Sidhant shares why choosing Birkbeck was the right decision.

Sidhant Maharaj

I’m an Intersectional Queer Feminist Activist from Fiji with over 8 years’ experience working in the areas of Women, Girls, LGBTQI+ rights, and Youth Empowerment. I’m also a non-binary feminist researcher and work with organizations nationally, regionally and internationally in conducting, designing, and facilitating training programs and policy development.

With multiple international leadership trainings, I continuously advocate for intersectional policies while increasing visibility and amplifying marginalized voices. I currently serve as the East Asia and the Pacific Representative to the Community Solutions Program Alumni Board of more than 630 alumni from over 80 countries. I also served as a Specialist Mentor for the Community Engagement Exchange Program 2023, funded by the US Department of State and supported in its implementation by the International Research & Exchanges Board supporting over 100 youths from over 70 countries. With my work in the region I have also been selected as a UN Women 30 for 2030 youth leader in South East Asia and the Pacific.

Why did you choose Birkbeck?

I chose Birkbeck for my MA in Gender and Sexuality Studies program because I was particularly drawn to how Birkbeck examines current debates around gender and sexuality which incorporate the cutting-edge research of world-leading academics at Birkbeck, who are passionate and engaged in the real world, working towards social justice with activists, policy-makers, academics, and charities and NGOs. Another reason that made me choose Birkbeck over other university offers I had was the people and culture at Birkbeck. Due to some unforeseen circumstances I was quite late in applying to universities but the International team at Birkbeck went above and beyond in providing support to me all the way in Fiji, making the application process seamless. Today being halfway across the world in London I am so glad I chose Birkbeck!

What do you plan to do after your studies at Birkbeck?

After the completion of my MA in Gender and Sexuality Studies, I plan to further my research in Fiji and the Pacific and work more closely with the public and private sector in developing/updating more inclusive and diverse policies that has women and LGBTIQ+ community as safe guarded categories shifting from the gender as binary narrative.

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Changing careers: from working in law to becoming a football agent

Iddi Yassin is one of the 21 Birkbeck 2023 Chevening scholars. In this blog Iddi shares his dreams about the future and the place Birkbeck will play in helping him achieve his goals.

Iddi Yassin

I’m from Tanzania and I’m studying MSc Sport Management at Birkbeck. In 2016, I was admitted to the Tanzania Mainland Bar Association, and I practised law as an Advocate of The High Court of Tanzania.

Chevening as a first step to a new career

I applied for Chevening in 2023 because it’s arguably the most prestigious scholarship programme with remarkable scholars and alumni from different social, economic, and political backgrounds.

My long-term plan is to become a football agent and manage young athletes in Tanzania to fulfil their career ambitions on the global stage. I hope the extensive skills and rich network acquired from my postgraduate studies will help me achieve this.

Why Birkbeck?

I chose Birkbeck due to its great reputation and popularity in the sports industry, as well as its great staff equipped with understanding of management, governance, and regulatory issues within the business of sports. Furthermore, studying in a cosmopolitan and business-oriented capital city such as London will give me exposure to a wide range of sports businesses, football clubs, and football regulatory authorities.

I’m confident that having the opportunity to study this course will help build my skills, competence, and expertise and provide me with a strong foundation as a football agent and sports consultant. I plan to participate fully in various long-term sports programmes including raising awareness to the public, writing articles, and publishing them. This includes being actively engaged and collaborating with the government and other stakeholders in capacity-building programs.

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Highlights from a tour of Parliament

Leo Hardwick, Student Immigration Compliance Reports Officer at Birkbeck, took part in a tour of the UK Parliament with 17 Birkbeck students, and in this blog he shares their experience.

Birkbeck students in Westminster Hall

Birkbeck students in Westminster Hall

We met, wind blowing, rain falling, next to the statue of Oliver Cromwell: dictator of England and Scotland. It had not yet gone 9am, and his stern, angry face was mirrored in the multitude of commuters, hurrying to their officers around Westminster, who were yet to have the sweet nectar of the first macchiato of the day.

We were the exception to this mood. A group of 17 Birkbeck students. From all over the world. Studying courses from Management to Art History. We were there for a tour of Parliament, organised by International Student Administration.

We met our tour guide in the main hall, the oldest part of the building – and one of the coldest rooms I have ever been in. The hall was the location for the trial of Charles I, who was sentenced to death for crimes against his people (over 100 years before the French repeated the exercise). We stood in the middle of the hall, where he had been seated, and felt the history.

What followed was a whistle-stop tour of British history, each room, each stone, witness to some of the most significant moments of our past. Our tour guide was excellent. Her enthusiasm infectious. First stop was the House of Commons, where MPs sit and debate. We brushed past the dispatch box: where Gladstone had fought Disraeli; where Asquith had told the nation of Britain’s entry into the Great War in 1914; where Churchill had made his famous speeches. We stood next to the bench Lady Astor, the first female MP to actually take her seat in the commons in 1919, had once sat.

The excitement was extinguished somewhat when the tour guide informed us that the chamber had been destroyed during the Second World War. Gladstone popped from view. That dispatch box had actually come from New Zealand…. And those benches, IKEA (well, maybe not). The bomb damage is still visible above the entry to the chamber.

We moved to the House of Lords. The carpet, and the benches, changed from green to red. The King’s throne haunts the Lords – he had been there a week earlier for the opening of Parliament. Some were taken aback that in this chamber sat the decedents of nobles who had come over with William the Conqurer in 1066. Products, like the King, of hereditary power. Even though the Commons once chopped off the head of a King – another Charles – the ancient regime lives. History lives.

The final stop was St Stephen’s Hall – where the Commons sat before the fire of 1834. This was the tour guide’s favourite room. This was where William Wilberforce had spoken out against slavery, and it was where, belatedly, slavery was finally outlawed. We were told that great things had happened in this space. As the tour guide explained, British political history seems to be a lesson, like it or not, in patience. Radicalism exists, but it is the product of forces that move like glaciers.

We finished our tour in the café, with cake and tea, and a sense of awe. A Birkbeck alumnus had once entered Westminster as one of the first MPs of the newly founded Labour Party, at the beginning of the twentieth century. He went on to become Labour’s first prime minister – Ramsay Macdonald. The illegitimate son of a housemaid, born into poverty, he represented real social mobility in Britain – his journey to the top had started in the corridors of Birkbeck, long before he swapped them for Westminster.

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Why I love teaching on Birkbeck’s Get Started Law taster course

Dr Susy Menis, Lecturer in Birkbeck’s Law School, teaches a Get Started Law Taster course, which aims to give people without experience of studying at a UK university an opportunity to try out a university level course. In this blog, she shares her approach to teaching, what she wants learners to achieve, and why she enjoys teaching the course so much.

Dr Susy Menis outside Birkbeck’s Malet Street building

What is the Get Starter taster course, and who is it for?
This is a freebie short course run by Birkbeck once a term. Currently, it offers tasters in law, criminology, and computer science. This initiative is targeted to welcome those who may feel excluded from taking a step into higher education.

How did I get into the delivery of the Law taster?
I had set up an artwork exhibition at Stratford Public Library with the help of the Access and Engagement team; then, the Coronavirus hit us. Subsequently, I could not turn down their plea to deliver free online content to a target audience. The first Law taster occurred in June 2020 on Collaborate; I was told it sold out.

Online delivery so early in the pandemic wave, panic?
No. During my PhD studies, I taught and designed content for Kaplan Open Learning on behalf of Essex University Online. I was also an associated lecturer at the Open University remote LLB programme, and in 2017/18, I created a blended-learning option module for the Birkbeck LLB. Still, I needed content, and I knew that a ‘transfer’ of in-person learning materials into an online context is not what relevant pedagogy advises. Hence, I felt under pressure.

So, how did I approach this?
I reminded myself of the two principles I had followed in my teaching and that I applied the Certificate HE Legal Studies (I re-designed it from scratch in 2018 as its new programme director): 1. less is more, and 2. active learning. These need to be matched with the right level of delivery, and the first taster’s cohort set the threshold: Union members and Reps between 30+ to 50+ years of age (now we have younger students, too) and a majority of up to level 3 formal qualifications (few on 5 and 6). Subsequently, I added another principle: 3. recognise adult learners’ prior knowledge.

My taster is delivered yearly on Teams across four weeks, and now I alternate between two different contents. Last year, the taster was about ‘The curious case of the “flick knife”’ and concerns legal reasoning. This year’s topic was ‘Common law and legislation in practice: the case of theft’, and it looks at the interplay between legislation and judicial precedent.

What do I want learners to achieve?
The overarching learning outcome I want the students to achieve is a ‘transformative learning’ experience. ‘Transformative’ could range from the emotional sense of and practical achievement of attending a course, contributing to class discussion, and being heard to learning something new and the cognitive satisfaction of its application in context.

Learning is scaffolded and focuses on bit size depth of knowledge, emphasizing critical thinking and application. Each week’s learning builds on a short, recorded lecture. The live sessions are teacher-led, but the students bring the knowledge we work with. To this end, I avoid ‘lecturing’; I ask open questions, we reflect, and concepts are illustrated through students’ application to scenarios.

My final thoughts
Recent pedagogical scholarship recognises the significance of the teacher’s social presence and learners’ motivation in online learning, and this taster allowed me to reflect on the grounding of my practice. My main conclusion is that this has been a transformative experience for me too, not least because I was struck by the dynamic collaboration between the students and me and how much they said they got out of it. I am looking forward to the next cohort 2024/25!

Here’s some recent feedback from attendees of the course:

“Reflective skills for sure, reasoning skills, reading complex information!! Really, I enjoy very much all of the sessions!!”

“Miss Susy, and to the whole management team thanks a ton for putting together this awesome law taster. It was truly memorable & I won’t forget it anytime soon. Your efforts made it extra special, I really appreciate it”

“The Law Taster journey has been an absolute bliss with you” 

“Absolutely adored today’s session. Thank you so much for making it so interactive”

“I like the cases and the incisive way Susy teases out the legal logic and principles to make us understand more simply”

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Meet the international student: Ekhomalomen Inegbenose Pierre, from Nigeria

Recipient of the International Excellence Scholarship, Ekhomalomen Inegbenose Pierre came to Birkbeck to study MSc Information Technology. Here he shares more about his background and experience, and even gives tips to future Birkbeck students. 

Ekhomalomen Inegbenose Pierre

Discovering myself at Birkbeck and beyond 

Birkbeck wasn’t just a college to me; it was a revelation. Nestled in Bloomsbury, this esteemed institution gave me more than just an MSc in Information Technology – it handed me a kaleidoscope through which I saw the vibrant hues of life, both academically and personally. 

My Birkbeck and London love affair 

I vividly recall my first evening class at Birkbeck; the room echoed with a medley of accents, reminding me of London’s cultural symphony. Conversations shifted from coursework to personal anecdotes, from hometown tales to shared dreams. In that diversity, I found camaraderie. Beyond Birkbeck’s walls, London became my playground. From spontaneous weekend trips to Brick Lane for its famous curries to late-night study sessions at quirky cafes in Shoreditch, every corner of this city whispered stories and secrets. 

To all future Birkbeck international scholars 

Dear future Birkbeckian, dive headfirst into everything! That small seminar you’re thinking about? Attend it. The group from class planning a walk along the river Thames? Join them. Each experience, no matter how trivial it seems, adds a brushstroke to your London canvas. 

Trials, tribulations, and triumphs 

Juggling coursework, London’s allure, and bouts of homesickness wasn’t always a walk in Hyde Park. The UK’s academic approach, emphasizing self-study and critical analysis, often overwhelmed me, but I knew it was an important learning curve. My coffee-fueled nights, deciphering complex IT problems, were punctuated by Skyping family and sharing laughs. A tip? Embrace every challenge; they’re often veiled lessons.  

Hidden gems: my sanctuaries in the city 

There’s a small nook in the British Museum, away from the usual tourist buzz, where I often lost myself among ancient scripts. It became my thinking spot, my refuge from the rigours of coursework. 

Outside Bloomsbury, the quaint bookshops along London’s famous South Bank became my haven. Nestled with a book, against the backdrop of the Thames, I found serenity amidst the city’s bustle. 

Internships and insights 

Midway through my course, I stumbled upon an internship opportunity with a tech startup during a Birkbeck mixer. As a Junior Systems Developer, I wasn’t just coding; I was imbibing the entrepreneurial spirit of London’s tech scene. That startup environment, with its blend of chaos and creativity, its failures and triumphs, taught me resilience and innovation. My MSc journey at Birkbeck, intertwined with London’s charm, has been a rollercoaster of emotions, experiences, and epiphanies. It’s a chapter of my life I’d reread endlessly, cherishing each word, each memory.  

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Rishi Sunak’s retreat on climate policies is troubling

Last week UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the scrapping and watering down of several key climate targets. Academics Dr Pam Yeow, Reader in Management and Dr Becky Briant, Reader in Quaternary Science, share their thoughts in a blog. 

Planet Earth

We read with disappointment and concern the latest announcement from the UK Prime Minister, of the intentions to roll back climate positive strategies and priorities until 2035. This is unfortunate for both scientific and economic reasons. 

Over the past decade it has become increasingly clear that the impacts from climate change are being experienced at lower levels of change than previously projected. Most climate mitigation policies propose to keep warming below 2 degrees centigrade beyond pre-industrial averages and yet at current levels of warming (only 1.2 degrees), we are already seeing extreme weather events on an annual basis, from the wildfires that started in Canada in June and are still alight, to extreme heatwaves and wildfires in southern Europe and the Middle East this July, to significant hurricane disruption in the US in August, to multiple floods and landslides just this month, for example in Libya and Hong Kong. The facts of climate change don’t stop being facts when we choose to ignore them. 

Similar thresholds are being crossed in all areas of environmental degradation, with the reporting this month that six of the nine ‘planetary boundaries’ identified back in 2009 as ‘guard-rails’ beyond which humanity should not go if we want to live on a habitable planet have been crossed, meaning that Earth is now significantly outside of the safe operating space for humanity. For example, the disposability of single-use plastics, once hailed as a symbol of modernity with its low cost, convenience and durability has resulted in significant social and environmental concerns such as low recyclability rates and large volumes entering landfills and marine-based environments, leading to health concerns. Action is needed across the board to ensure our planet remains habitable; also to avoid the extreme costs associated with both clearing up and rebuilding after extreme weather events and taking care of those whose health has been damaged by the degradation of our environment. The issues involved are so intertwined that action on one will increase the likelihood of success on another. 

Globally, the only way to avoid the worst climate change scenarios is for all countries in the world to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and then to move to negative emissions. Reaching net zero by 2050 requires such a steep emissions reduction that emissions need to halve by 2030 in order to reach it, in what the United Nations (UN) have called ‘the decisive decade’. The UK’s previous policy commitments were barely able to bring the UK economy to net zero by 2050 anyway, but last week’s announcements move us even further away from success. Furthermore, given that the requirement is global and many countries are moving much more slowly to action, the UK has an ethical obligation as an early and substantial historical emitter to double down on climate action, not roll back. 

These announcements are particularly troubling because we had not so long ago led the field in taking environmental action, with the first statutory commitments in the 2008 Climate Change Act and a raft of strategies and policies over the last decade that addressed many, if not all, of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in addition to straight emission reduction commitments. For single use plastic waste for example, in 2017, the UN adopted an additional resolution in relation to SDG 14 (Life Below Water) that included an agreement to implement long-term and robust strategies to reduce the use of single-use plastics and microplastics (UN General Assembly, 2017). In 2022, a UN resolution was drafted to end plastics pollution. Meanwhile, the UK, alongside the EU, introduced similar measures around single-use plastics, including a 5p carrier bag charge which increased to 10p in 2021, and a ban on single use plastic items that included plates, trays, bowls, cutlery and food containers from October 2023. A plastic packaging tax generated £276 million in the first year of introduction (2023) and there were other consultations that took place, regarding the introduction of deposit return schemes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  

More industries than ever have now come aboard and engaged with the sustainability agenda, giving hope that concerted action might be possible. Many voluntary initiatives were introduced and taken on by organisations like the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which introduced concepts like the plastic circular economy and the encouragement of a reduction alongside recycling and reusing. The UK Plastics Pact have some of the world’s largest packaging producers, brands, retailers and NGOs signed up to a shared vision with targets of eliminating ‘problem’ plastics, increase the use of reusable or recyclable plastics and achieving 30% average recycled plastic in items (WRAP, 2022). Similarly, many companies have signed up to the UN’s ‘Race to Zero’. 

The UK government needs to recognise that environmental action and economic health are not mutually exclusive. We need a systemic framework of engagement, involving global, national and local groups, which occurs in the context of cross-party consensus and does not change. In addition to the environmental harm caused, chopping and changing government policy kills jobs and future investment. After the shock announcement this week, the car industry reacted furiously as they had agreed as an industry to work towards more environmentally friendly automobiles, contributing to an infrastructure of electric charging network as well as better performing fully electric vehicles. Other global leaders have also reacted with dismay at this turnaround and have urged the UK government to reconsider.  

We are clear that negative climate changes and environmental degradation are already taking place. It is imperative that governments work in tandem with industry, local governments and citizens towards priorities and strategies that help our planet thrive. We urge the UK government to take the lead again in creating opportunities for a greener planet and healthier and happier citizens.  

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