Author Archives: Olivia

A new era for Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus

Birkbeck has now acquired the Student Central building adjacent to the College’s main site in Bloomsbury. Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Matthew Innes, explains how the acquisition will transform the experience of Birkbeck students and staff as well as renew Sir William Beveridge’s original vision of creating a campus which enriched the city, supporting ‘a civic university for the…millions of greater London….an academic island in swirling tides…a world of learning in a world of affairs’.

Construction of Birkbeck College Malet Street Building. Planning for the building began in the 1930s and it was built between 1947-1952.

Birkbeck, the University and the Bloomsbury site

The University of London acquired its current site in Bloomsbury in the 1920s to consolidate its disparate administrative offices. Prior to this, the University’s central offices were in South Kensington, alongside the museums and were housed in the Imperial Institute (now Imperial College).  Vice-Chancellor, Sir William Beveridge – the social reformer whose 1942 report was to provide the blueprint for the post-war Welfare State – was fond of recounting how, when he first took up his post at the LSE, he had asked a cabby to take him to the University of London. The cabby had looked blank and then volunteered ‘you mean the place near the Royal School of Needlework’.

Beveridge’s determination to create a central site for the University, which captured the mission of ‘a University for the nation and the world’, came at the end of a significant period of change for both Birkbeck and the University of London. This was the logical conclusion of the reforms that had been introduced following Lord Haldane’s Report into the University of London, which had created a more co-ordinated structure as well as championing Birkbeck’s long awaited admission as a college of the University. Haldane – who held the distinction of having served in both the last Liberal government and the first Labour Cabinet – went on to become President of Birkbeck, which at this date occupied Breams Building in Holborn.

A large block of land immediately north of the British Museum was acquired for the new University site, stretching from Montague Place to Byng Place. The initial plans were for a single complex encompassing the entire site, with a series of wings and courtyards emanating from a central spine, a perimeter facade and two towers, with the current Senate House landmark echoed by a slightly smaller structure at the northern end of current Torrington Square.

Funding shortages and the Second World War meant that the original scheme was never completed in its entirety, with the current Senate House building only filling the southern half of the site. Although the University Principal was tragically killed in a building accident when inspecting the works with other University officials in 1936, Senate House was completed in 1937, rapidly to find fame as the wartime home of the Ministry of Information as well as one of London’s most iconic buildings.

After the War and a direct hit on Breams Building by a V2 flying bomb, Birkbeck found a new home on part of the undeveloped Malet Street-Torrington Square site in 1952. Further neighbouring locations were acquired by the University to house other member institutions such as SOAS and the IoE.

Birkbeck future

Following the acquisition of the former Student Central building, Birkbeck will have expanded to fill a majority of the never-realised northern half of the University’s original Bloomsbury site. With a continuous run of buildings along the Malet Street side of Torrington Square, and the Toddlerlab, Babylab and Clore building opposite, Birkbeck now has the opportunity to create a central campus focused on a consolidated Torrington Square core site, an inclusive environment focused on the needs of our students and open to the broader Bloomsbury and University community.

As our successful bid for the Student Central building pointed out, this acquisition places Birkbeck’s access mission and a student community reflective of London’s diversity, at the heart of the University’s Bloomsbury campus. Our aim is to provide the state-of-the-art teaching, learning and social facilities that our students deserve to support them to succeed and thrive.

The additional space takes us a huge step closer to our aim to deliver all of our teaching in Birkbeck-owned facilities, responding to student and staff feedback that teaching in dispersed rented venues has a huge negative impact on their learning experience, student retention and academic outcomes. We will also ensure that students can easily access the services and support they need and we will move the Students Union to a prominent, more accessible and visible, location.

This is the biggest change for Birkbeck since it moved to Bloomsbury in 1952. With the acquisition of the new building, Birkbeck now occupies most of the northern half of the site for which Beveridge and his contemporaries planned so ambitiously. It is a remarkable outcome for a small institution that has had more than its share of crises.

Beveridge and Haldane in their different ways envisaged a distinctively modern University. As we approach our bicentenary and plan a new consolidated and open Birkbeck campus, we too should aim ‘to give London at its heart not just more streets and shops’ and aspire to create ‘an academic island in swirling tides… a world of learning in a world of affairs.’

It is exciting to think that, via a circuitous route we have become the inheritors of Beveridge’s vision, in the new context of a 21st Century metropolis recovering from Brexit and COVID.

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The missed opportunity of the National Food Strategy

Dr Jason Edwards, Lecturer in the Department of Politics, shares his opinion on the National Food Strategy, a report released last week. It’s the first independent review of England’s entire food system for 75 years, and it makes recommendations for the government, which has promised to respond formally within six months.

The publication of the much-heralded independent review of the National Food Strategy – the so-called ‘Dimbleby Report’, named after its author, the food entrepreneur and writer Henry Dimbleby – marks an important moment for food policy and politics.

The report is divided into a consideration of the effects of the food system on health and the environment. The health question is centred on the problem of what Dimbleby calls the ‘Junk Food Cycle’. He sees it as a central failure of the food system, promoting a poor diet with disastrous consequences for public health, in particular the epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes. The cycle begins with our appetites for highly calorific food being preyed upon by the junk food industry, which churns out ultra-processed foods containing very high levels of sugar, salt, and fat. Market competition means that any reduction in the levels of these (unconsciously) desired ingredients in food products would lead to loss, and so food production companies have become involved in an arms race resulting in the proliferation of junk food. The more this junk food becomes embedded in the culture, the more it has increased appetites for it, both physiologically and psychologically.

Dimbleby’s solution is to break the cycle by imposing a wholesale tax of £3 per kilo on sugar and £6 per kilo on salt. The report headlines this proposal, and it has been the main focus of the media coverage. But the immediate response of the government to the idea of a sugar and salt tax has been, at best, lukewarm. That seems like an anticipation of the picking apart of the report’s proposals by corporate lobbyists that will inevitably come.

Dimbleby is probably right that the imposition of these taxes would have the desirable effect of reducing the consumption of foods harmful to human health. But the issue is with the whole approach of the report and how likely it is to secure the kind of policy changes required to deal with the deep-seated problems that Dimbleby rightly attributes to systemic features of food production and consumption. These problems cannot be resolved without raising questions about power, ownership, and control in the food system, yet Dimbleby skirts over these.

Dimbleby rejects the belief in de-regulated food markets that occupies the Conservative backbenches and some of the chairs at Cabinet. Nonetheless, he does not escape from the market’s view of food as at base a commodity designed to satisfy the biological appetites of the consumer. Here it is clear that Dimbleby has fallen under the spell of the Behavioural Insights team, popularly known as the ‘Nudge Unit’, established in the Cabinet Office in 2010 to apply behavioural science to public policy. What they are reasonably good at is predicting behaviour where a simple and clear instrumental choice is on offer. But, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, when it comes to patterns of activity that involve complex, strategic choices with unclear outcomes, they are at sea. Diet is such a pattern of activity, not a set of discrete instrumental choices. It does not boil down to the selections we make at the snacks shelf in the supermarket or the counter at Leon.

Dimbleby is right to argue that we should be wary of solutions to food inequality and poor diet that shift the responsibility to the individual, emphasising personal food knowledge, cooking skills, or commitment to exercise (which has little impact on weight loss anyway). This leaves the door open to those who all-too eagerly and loudly blame the poor for their poverty. But raising questions about how people could and would act under very different conditions of choice is neither to individualise responsibility nor to renounce the necessarily systemic setting of our food choices. The failure to pose these questions is the principal disappointment of the report. To be fair, it does make a number of recommendations about changing the circumstances in which we make our food choices, such as the Eat and Learn initiative for schools that encourages food education from early years. But more generally there is silence in the report on questions of citizen involvement in the food system. At a time when local councils are selling off allotment sites to fund ‘essential’ local services, there isn’t a single mention of the availability of land for small horticulture, funding for cooperative local food-growing schemes, or the provision of public spaces for common cooking and eating. In short, on these crucial questions of food citizenship, Dimbleby simply has nothing to say. The report needed to question the very foundations of the food system: far from doing this, it merely asks for a reformulation of its parts.

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“The work placement as part of my degree course has given me the opportunity of a lifetime”

Sarina Munro, MA Museum Cultures with Curating student, is in the midst of a work placement at the Swedenborg Society, an educational charity in central London which publishes the works of Swedish scientist, philosopher and visionary, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). In this blog, Sarina shares how she is undergoing a complete career change and explains what she is doing on her placement.

Sarina Munro

On a rainy April morning I stopped outside a beautiful bookshop that looked like it was out of a Charles Dickens novel. I walked up the side steps and entered this enchanting little gem in the heart of Bloomsbury, London. Yet, what happened was more than stepping into a bookshop – I had just stepped in through an invisible wardrobe into my very own Narnia. As I closed the bookshop door, I closed the door to the outside world – a high-octane, fast-paced, ever-instant digital world, which can sometimes feel so overwhelming and utterly consuming.

I made my way to the Gardiner Room and found myself in an amazing room with bookshelves from floor to ceiling. I stood there and did a 360-degree turn, smiling to myself because I felt like I had just walked into Tommy Lascelles’s room in The Crown. This was going to be my workplace for the next three months, under the mentorship of a Swedenborg Society librarian and archivist, Alex Murray. I was starting a work placement as a collections and archives assistant, as part of my MA Museum Cultures with Curating at Birkbeck.

I am a mature student. The first time I went to university was in the 1990s. I read English, then did a post-grad in print journalism, and went on to have a career in national newspapers and magazines, which culminated in a staff job at a national broadsheet. However, even when working on a newspaper, I would daydream about going back to university to study at Birkbeck. That daydream to study, then became a dream to pursue a whole new career in museology. When the world went into lockdown in 2020, I realised life is too short to just dream. Once on my course, I chose the work placement option, so that I could get some practical experience. I applied to the Swedenborg Society because I am a huge fan of the early feminist-activist Josephine Butler, who led the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s. In my interview, I gave an impassioned speech about her work and my interest in Swedenborg Society’s Josephine Butler collection. Little did I know then that the executive director, Mr Stephen McNeilly, would give me an opportunity of a lifetime.

After my initial three weeks’ training, I was handed a folder by Mr McNeilly. It was Swedenborg Society’s Josephine Butler collection: eight letters written by Josephine to James John Garth Wilkinson – homeopath and supporter of the repeal campaign. I was tasked with transcribing and researching the letters. There was such an incredible intimacy in holding those letters, feeling them between my fingers, looking at the fading ink on the yellowish paper – and then, deciphering cursive-Victorian handwriting. On my first day, I struggled, but as each day went by, I became more and more familiar with Josephine’s writing and began to spot dates and connect them with corresponding events in Josephine’s life. It was an incredible feeling, being given the privilege of working with the collection. I felt a closeness to Josephine Butler. I also felt extremely humbled and honoured to have the responsibility of transcribing Josephine’s impassioned words and extracts from her spiritual diary.

My work placement is hands-on and inspiring. Every day I learn so much about collections, archives and the history of Emanuel Swedenborg, his work and all the prominent figures in history that he has influenced and been linked with, such as William Blake, S.T Coleridge, JJG Wilkinson and many more. Working at the Swedenborg Society has inspired me to peel back more and more layers and I have immersed myself into the esoteric, enchanting world of Swedenborgians.

The Swedenborg Museum is currently showing Swedenborg in 27 Objects, curated by Executive Director Stephen McNeilly. It is open to the public every Wednesday from 11am to 5pm. It is a wonderfully eclectic exhibition – from The Josephine Butler collection, a letter written by disability activist Helen Keller, to illustrations by William Blake. For the ghoulish, there are even Swedenborg’s body parts on display. Come and visit. Enter through the bookshop and experience your very own Narnia.

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“I want to inspire young mothers who feel they cannot further their education”

Esther Dwemoh, aged 20, is studying BSc Criminology and Criminal Justice. She wants to share her story to encourage other young girls who get pregnant in their teenage years to not listen to the negative opinions of others.

Esther Dwemoh with her son, Caleb

My story is filled with people having no hope in me, because I was a teenage mum and people thought I didn’t have ambitions for my career.

I’ve lived in Croydon my whole life, and aspired to become a nurse during my school years. This was largely because I wanted to meet my parents’ expectations of me – I felt a lot of pressure to study a degree associated with the NHS. Growing up I had two brothers, and there was a big age gap between us, so I just saw them getting on with their lives.

I went on from school to study a BTEC in Health and Social Care to aid my career in nursing. I became pregnant in my first year of college, which really made me do some soul searching. I questioned if becoming a nurse was really something I wanted. One of my favourite things to do is watch crime documentaries, so when we had a careers fair in college, I decided to talk to people from a range of sectors, from police officers, to mental health counsellors, to youth workers. The youth worker I spoke to studied criminology and highly recommended it, so I decided to find out more.

People didn’t expect me to go to university, or even finish my studies at college. I found Birkbeck and felt it was the perfect place for me. I enrolled on the BSc Criminology and Criminal Justice course. My son, Caleb, was five months when I started at Birkbeck.

It hasn’t been easy balancing studies with raising a baby, but once you have a child you just learn how to multitask – it comes naturally. I’ve found it easy to make friends with other classmates, as early on we created a WhatsApp group. I think anyone of any age can consider studying at Birkbeck. That’s what makes it so special – the real mixture of ages and life experiences.

I want to encourage other young girls who get pregnant in their teenage years to not listen to the negativity of people who think you aren’t going to have a proper career. I think it’s important to not get discouraged once you’re pregnant, and to continue to follow your own personal dreams. My brother and I often speak about how we have both come such a long way, from initially following the expectations of our parents, to deciding to do what we wanted for our own happiness.

In the future, I hope to become a probation officer, because I want to give back to the community and I know helping others will be fulfilling. I want my son Caleb to see me as a role model and that’s what inspires me every day and motivates me to put 100% into everything I do.

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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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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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