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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Decolonising the Curriculum in the Department of Organizational Psychology

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

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

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

Educating ourselves

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

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

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

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

Introducing new perspectives

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

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

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

Learning from our students

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

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

What next?

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

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

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

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

The Central Saint Martins Granary Square campus.

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing a fresh approach

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

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

Looking to the future

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

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

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

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What has COVID-19 done for chess?

“The beauty of chess is it can be whatever you want it to be. It transcends language, age, race, religion, politics, gender and socioeconomic background. Whatever your circumstances, anyone can enjoy a good fight to the death over the chess board”

– Simon Williams

Chess can be dated back at least 1500 years to Northern India, and it has evolved with the times; even through this pandemic. Although the exact number of chess players worldwide is unknown, we know that the number of players has grown over the last eight years. The last estimate by Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) was 600 million in 2012. This figure is expected to have increased, especially over the last year. But why has chess become so popular?

The impact of the pandemic

Chart showing the percentage of revenue that makes up the £117 million games market

2020 has been an unprecedented and disruptive year, but despite this it has been a year of extraordinary growth. One where total internet searches grew by almost 70 percent, e-commerce by almost 12 percent and online streaming services by 28 percent, the online gaming market has shown exceptional growth with experts at Newzoo estimating that the games market would generate £124 billion in revenue, a 15 percent increase compared to the previous year. This exceeded the original £117 billion estimate.

Chart showing the growth of the gaming market.

In the first and last quarter of the year, platforms like Lichess, Chess.com and Chess24 reported significant spikes in activity leading to multiple server upgrades to cope with this increased demand.

Why is watching Netflix good for chess?

Based on Google Trends search queries for the terms ‘chess’ and ‘How to play chess’ worldwide, there was an increased affinity for the game in March/April and October/November. COVID-19 has fuelled the gaming industry during this period, now that everyone has more time, causing these peaks. A study carried out by Instant Offices found the average commute in London to be 74 minutes a day and 40 minutes elsewhere in the world. This, coupled with the cancellation of numerous shows and sport encouraged extra hours on in-home entertainment.

Chart showing the popularity of Chess search terms.

The second peak in late October was due to the release of Netflix’s record-setting series The Queen’s Gambit. The show, which featured a female protagonist Anya Taylor-Joy playing Beth Harmon, ranked #1 in 63 countries. Magnus Carlsen, the world’s highest-ranked grandmaster, noted that the series “did chess better” than anything Hollywood has made previously, especially since the focus was on Harmon’s talent and not her gender.

As a result of gaming’s success, e-sports viewing has surged with an estimated revenue of £810 million, which translates to an incredible 16% increase since 2019. Analytical firms such as Social Blade found online chess viewership to have boomed on viewing platforms including Twitch and YouTube. YouTube videos have gained more than 350 million views globally since January 2020 and YouTube gaming reached 100 billion watch time hours.

Chart showing YouTube views for popular chess streamers.

Figures from Social Blade reveal how chess streamers and content creators have peaked this year for the same reasons as the peaks for the search terms’ popularity.

In August, Team SoloMid (TSM) a Los Angeles based e-sports organisation valued at £300 million signed its first professional chess player GM Hikaru Nakamura. This is a milestone for chess since the board game is being adopted by the e-sports industry.

What’s next for chess?

Although 2020 negatively impacted a lot of industries, chess has managed to flourish. In the upcoming years it will be crucial that these platforms manage to retain their new users and continue to grow in order to monetise the gaming community and develop. It will be important for these platforms and content creators to publish engaging content. Inevitably some players will be itching to go back to local clubs so that they can have their ‘battles to the death’ face to face once the world returns to some form of normality.

This blog was contributed by BSc Financial Economics student Sanjiiv Easwarathas and was originally written as an assignment for the module Quantitative Techniques for Applied Economics.

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Time to say goodbye: Brexit, employment and the hospitality sector

The UK hospitality sector looks set to be the most affected in terms of economic growth and employment rate after Brexit. BSc Financial Economics student Guglielmo Polizzotto explores where the sector stands now.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people in work in the UK is over 30 million, with 5.44% of those in hospitality. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of people in work grew by 3.31%, but in hospitality the proportion of workers shrank by 0.04%. In Figure 1, we can appreciate that the difference between hospitality and other industries has been minimal in terms of numbers of employees. To have a better understanding, a look to the employment vacancies is needed.

Graph showing employment in the UK by industry

A 2017 study by People 1st established that strict government conditions of employment for migrants could be the reason why many restaurants and hotels are struggling to fill their vacancies. The UK government asks for certain prerequisites to grant EU migrants access to employment, such as a pre-existing offer of work from the Home Office and a salary of above £25,600.

An average hospitality worker’s salary stands between £17,000 and £21,000, which makes it difficult for any EU worker who would like to work in the UK. So why could this be an issue for the hospitality industry?

The hospitality sector has the highest vacancy rate compared to other industries in the UK, reaching a peak of four vacancies per 100 people in the past five years. One of the reasons behind these high vacancy rates is that certain positions are considered hard to fill.

Over the last few years, the UK has faced a demographic change, which has seen fewer young people join the labour market and caused a shrink in the pool from which any restaurant or business in the hospitality sector was filling certain positions. Migrants were the solution to this problem; many seasonal or long-term workers are employed to cover those positions which could not be filled by the local workforce.

Graph showing vacancy rate in the UK

EU workers have a great impact on those positions considered hard to fill. Immigrants make up 20% of the hospitality workforce and about 70% of these come from EU countries. In a countrGraph showing percentage of EU employees in the UK hospitality sectory with a population of over 65 million, it feels absurd that a few hundred thousand fewer workers would create such a problem for the UK labour market. In fact, the issue is more localized than it seems.

 

 

Graph showing UK employees in hospitality by region.London and the East Midlands have the highest number of employees in hospitality and almost half of them come from EU countries. In a situation where the number of vacancies is rising, but the pool from which businesses fill their positions is shrinking, it will become harder to find employees in certain areas of the UK. Businesses (who can afford it) will be forced to increase salaries to make jobs more appetising or share the tasks between fewer people and leave certain positions unfilled, which can cause distress and decrease the quality of the job done.

The time to say goodbye to the EU has come, and while the impact on the workforce looks set to be dramatic, the UK is facing another challenge. With decreasing tourism, and fewer people coming to the UK for work reasons, the labour market is impoverished of its cultural mark that made our beloved country unique.

This blog was originally written as an assignment for the Quantitative Techniques in Applied Economics Module.

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The groundbreaking climate action of Sweden’s century-old industry

This blog was contributed by BSc Economics student Linus Kask and was originally written as an assignment for the module Quantitative Techniques for Applied Economics.

In Viking mythology, Thor, the god of lightning, wore iron gloves to manage his famous hammer Mjolnir. Known as the guardian of humankind, Thor used his hammer and gloves to protect the world from giants. Now a new saviour of the world as we know it is lighting up in the land of the Vikings.

For over a thousand years in the northern parts of Sweden, blast furnaces have burnt coal to create iron for steel production. This technique is still standard practice today, thus making the steel industry one of the world’s greatest emitters of carbon dioxide. In a world that lusts for steel to expand economies and an industry sticking to its business-as-usual approach, its emissions are only set to rise. However, a group of businesses from north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden have now formed a vanguard and are looking to turn the industry status quo on its head.

In 2016, the Swedish state-owned mining company LKAB, the state-owned power company Vattenfall and the privately owned steel producer SSAB joined forces to start HYBRIT, Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology, an initiative to create zero-emission steel. In 2026, the first emission-free steel will be on the market and a full-scale operation is expected to be running by 2035. The common goal of all three companies is to be fully carbon neutral by 2045.

Today, coal is burnt in blast furnaces in order to reduce oxygen from iron ores and extract iron for steel production. HYBRIT aim to replace coal with hydrogen in this process, as when hydrogen reacts with the released oxygen, the only residue product remaining is water instead of carbon dioxide. Hydrogen is the most common element on earth but it is seldom found in its pure form in nature because it is so reactive. This means that it must be extracted from a composition of elements. The most common way is to separate hydrogen from carbon in natural gas, but the residue product then is carbon dioxide. Instead, HYBRIT use water, separating it into oxygen and hydrogen through electrolysis. This is an extremely electricity intense technique and will, when HYBRIT’s technology has reached its full potential, require 10% of Sweden’s current energy consumption. Due to the immense amount of electricity needed in the production of hydrogen, it is paramount that the power is not produced using fossil fuels. This is quite easy to achieve in Sweden, as the country’s energy mix consists of only 1% fossil fuels. In comparison, the rest of the world’s energy mix includes a staggering 65% fossil fuels.

Bar chart showing fossil fuel consumption in Sweden vs the rest of the world.Because of the vast amount of electricity needed to make this groundbreaking shift in the steel industry, the world’s energy mix must contain a greater proportion of renewables. This huge infrastructure investment will be justified by the fact that the steel industry is accountable for 7% of the world’s emissions, releasing more carbon dioxide than India alone, or Africa and South America combined. The development of the technology is not a small investment either, estimated to cost 15 billion Swedish kronas, 1.8 billon US dollars, per annum for the next 20 years. This expenditure is validated because HYBRIT will play a crucial role in reaching the goals set in the Paris Agreement for the whole world. In Sweden, HYBRIT’s new technology will be fundamental in achieving the country’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2045. The steel industry in Sweden today accounts for 10% of its emissions.

Graph showing the CO2 emissions of the steel industry.Booting the coal in steel production has its economic advantages as well. Carbon prices are set to rise, and McKinsey & Company, a consultancy, estimate that unless they reduce their carbon emissions, steel companies will risk 14% of their value as a result of this increase. With steel demand on a steady rise driven by increasing urbanisation and world population, the industry has a lot to gain by switching to hydrogen.

Line graph showing rising global steel demand.Time is of the essence. If the steel industry does not find an alternative route to production without coal, it could account for 25% of carbon emissions by 2050, thus crushing any possibility of keeping the global temperature within the goal of 1.5 ˚C above pre-industrial levels.

For the first time since the Viking ages, Thor’s iron gloves could be made using sustainable production. HYBRIT’s technology is the best promise available for emission-free steel and if they succeed, a supreme shift has occurred in this ancient practice. North of the Arctic Circle in Sweden, a status quo is about to be turned on its head.

Further Information:

 

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Driving Investment: The Missing Piece to your Investment Portfolio?

This blog was contributed by BSc Financial Economics student Paul Talbot and was originally written as an assignment for the module Quantitative Techniques for Applied Economics.

Picture of a classic car

Classic cars, an alternative investment that is rarely discussed when investors are looking for a strategy to increase ROI in their portfolios. Some prestige classic cars have increased over 400% in the last decade[1], but what sets these assets apart from status quo investing?

“Stories. That to me is the answer. Every car has its own history, its own adventures, its own japes and probably plenty of scrapes. Tales to be told and shared with fellow enthusiasts. Few other asset classes, however valuable or beautiful, can match it”[2]

The majority of investors would not be able to afford a 1960 Ferrari 250 GT, but investment growth has been seen across the majority of the classic car market. A more affordable sector is British classic cars, iconic cars such as the Jaguar E-Type or the Triumph TR6 has yielded over 50% returns since 2007, outpacing the heavyweight UK asset classes.

Graph showing price indices of UK classic cars

The classic car market also benefits from a favourable tax status, investors do not pay capital gains tax on profits as they are classed as “Wasting Assets” by HRMC. Movable assets such as classic cars can be gifted to family members, if no benefit is retained or lent, or for a period each year, to a car museum to avoid paying inheritance tax on death. If you intend to enjoy your investment on the road, they are also exempt from road tax and a MOT.

Tax relief of 20% on investment gains already drives these assets ahead of other financial instruments and it is no surprise that this is attracting some attention. The classic car market added significant gains to the UK economy last year[3] and is expected to continue grow from £940 Million in 2019 to £1.65 Billion in 2023.

Graph showing projected UK classic car market

Investing in classic cars does not come without a few speed bumps, it is not a case of purchasing any car and hiding it away for many years. Paul Michaels of Hexagon Classics notes “The very best cars — meaning those with full histories in exceptional condition, either completely restored or lovingly maintained with some age-related patina — will always command the highest prices.”

It is always advisable to get an expert opinion and the history authenticated before purchasing your investment and continue to keep your new asset lovingly maintained and stored away from the elements. All the above will add an upfront and annual running cost to purchasing the investment, reducing overall yield, but in turn, the better the asset is maintained and stored, the higher possibility of future gains.

The average global investment portfolio last year contained only 4% of luxury investments, this includes fine wines, collectable coins, art, jewellery and classic cars to name a few[4]. With climate change at the forefront of government polices banning the sale of petrol/diesel cars by 2030 and the rise of autonomous vehicles, will only make these investment stars a rarer commodity.

Pie chart showing global average asset allocation.

With central banks flooding the markets with liquidity, artificially supporting equities and driving down bond yields, parking a little piece of history in your garage and diversifying your portfolio will not only provide the perfect inflation and market correction hedge, but you may have some fun along the way.

Next time you look at your annual investment report, the immortal words of Wilbur Shaw may spring to mind.

“Gentleman, start your engines”

Further Information

[1] https://www.hagerty.com/apps/valuationtools/market-trends/collector-indexes/Ferrari

[2] HRH Prince Michael of Kent interview with Knight Frank November 2020

[3] FBHVC National Historic Vehicle Survey – https://www.britishmotorvehicles.com/news/fbhvc-national-historic-vehicle-survey-reveals-significant-contribution-to-uk-economy

[4]The Attitudes Survey is based on responses from 600 private bankers and wealth advisers managing

over US$3 trillion of wealth for UHNWI clients. The survey was taken during October and November 2018

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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!

Further information

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Educating the educators

What motivates a Maths teacher to return to life as a student? From reigniting a love of learning to getting their head around applied statistics, teachers Sebastian Bicen, Donato Schiavo and Leonard Pistol share their experience of going back to school.

Picture of Maths teacher Seb Bicen.

Graduate Diploma in Mathematics alumnus Sebastian Bicen teaches Maths and Further Maths in London.

The reputation for being one of the most difficult A-level subjects is something that Mathematics has found hard to shake. Yet with rising demand for STEM teachers, it’s increasingly common for educators to find themselves teaching Maths with no experience of further study in the subject.

That’s how Sebastian Bicen, a History graduate from Oxford University, found himself teaching Maths through the Teach First training programme in 2010. Indeed, it’s easy to assume that stress around subject knowledge was what prompted Sebastian’s return to further study.

“You might expect that I went back to university because someone told me I needed a Maths degree,” he explains, “but in reality, even people with Maths-related degrees often don’t want to teach A-Level or Further Maths. Instead, it was being back in the classroom and seeing my students’ passion for the subject that reignited my own love of Maths and my enthusiasm for learning.”

The buzz of the classroom is something fellow teacher Donato Schiavo, who completed his MSc Mathematics in 2013, can relate to: “I remember as a student I really enjoyed explaining concepts and helping my friends with their homework,” he explains, “that pleasure of helping others made me realise I could be a teacher myself.”

Looking for a study route that would complement his work, Sebastian enrolled onto Birkbeck’s Graduate Diploma in Mathematics on a part-time basis: “It’s quite rare for universities to offer something that bespoke, like a personal conversion course where I could jump in at my level and not repeat the concepts I already knew.” Sebastian managed to secure partial sponsorship from his employer and, as a union member, was eligible for a 10% fee discount from Birkbeck.

What’s the point?

While every Mathematics classroom has students who love the subject for its own sake, there are many more who need some convincing, as Maths and Further Maths teacher Leonard Pistol discovered: “A lot of my students were interested in studying Maths at university, but not in becoming Mathematicians. They wanted to know how Maths could be applied in other fields and I felt like I came a bit short in providing personal, real world experience.

“I thought MSc Mathematical Finance would be a really good application. When I was talking to my students about it, I was able to give them concrete applications of the use of statistics and probabilities. The more into the applications I got, the more interested I became and the easier it was to teach as a result.”

For Donato, who now teaches at an international school in Italy, deepening his understanding of Mathematical concepts was a way to engage students in the subject: “When I tell people that I’m a Maths teacher they always say ‘I was so bad at Maths’ – it’s rare to meet someone who enjoyed Maths as a student. I had some wonderful teachers who shaped my idea of what Mathematics can be – solving a problem and understanding the logic that underpins it.

“A lot of my students can’t see the point of studying Maths, so I try to bring in examples that are tangible, like developing passwords or working out the dimensions of a room. The course helped me bring fresh examples to the classroom and teach at a higher level.”

Back to school

So, how did it feel being on the other side of the desk?

“As teachers, we forget what it’s like to be a student,” Sebastian admits, “It was really humbling being in the same boat as my students and having to take my own advice on revising! I experienced first-hand what worked and which things I was telling my students to do that even I wasn’t doing in practice.”

Re-living the university experience also enabled Sebastian to prepare sixth form students for higher education: “I want to treat my year 12 and 13 students as maturely as possible, knowing that they will be going to university. Having access to online lectures and notes from Birkbeck was really reassuring and helped me stay organised, so now I do that for my students as well. I give them lecture notes just like I had to help them experience what university teaching is like. Recording my lessons has been the biggest transformation to my teaching and the response from students has been amazing.”

Leonard, too, found that heading back to university supported his role as a Year 13 tutor: “I had fresh experience of the academic environment, so could give my students up to date advice on lectures and what life would be like. Being able to advise students on what modules to take for their specific goals was really valuable. I was reminded of the expectations lecturers have of you: asking for help, making sure you see your lecturers often, and that’s linked very much to what it’s like to be a teacher.”

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Reflections on online learning in the School of Business, Economics and Informatics

As the autumn term draws to a close, students and staff reflect on their experience of online delivery and how they have adapted to a new way of teaching and learning.

Earlier this year, we made the decision to move our teaching online for the autumn term and for as long as is needed to protect the health and wellbeing of our staff and students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With staff having to rapidly get up to speed with online teaching and students coming to terms with a less than traditional university experience, it hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve pulled together as a community and managed to find some unexpected highlights along the way.

For students, one of the main challenges was knowing what exactly they had signed up to, but they soon found their stride:

“I was a bit apprehensive when I started regarding if I had made the right choice signing up, but Birkbeck have been really great. The virtual teaching has worked for me (and was the tipping point to make me apply), it provides a lot more flexibility. Also, having the pre-videos before the lecture I think really is so beneficial. They take me a while to go through but I can go through them at my own pace, and then because I have taken the time to understand the content, it helps me follow during the lectures.” – Student in the Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics

And it seems the hard work of lecturers in planning engaging online learning material is paying off:

“The slides were very well organised and in order, the concepts were explained clearly, the seminar questions were very interesting and engaging.” – Student in the Department of Organizational Psychology

“The quality of the materials has been high, they are available weeks in advance, and the organisation, clarity and administration of the lecturer is first class.” – Student in the Department of Organizational Psychology

It certainly seems that online learning has given academics cause to think more deeply about the learner experience, as Dr Federica Rossi, Reader in Innovation Policy and Management explains:

“I found delivering the module online a very interesting experience. Since it was not possible to rely on direct interaction in order to clarify specific points or to communicate expectations, I had to think in much greater detail about all aspects of the students’ learning process and how to support them.

“The module was taught in Spring 2020, during the first lockdown period, and I can imagine that it was particularly hard for our students to stay focused and motivated – many of them would have had to manage working from home, looking after children, and studying at the same time. Therefore it was particularly rewarding to see that the students did well and their marks were in line with those of students who, in previous years, attended the module in class.”

And how are staff finding online teaching? Does it compare on any level with classes or lectures? Brian Gannon, Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, found unexpected benefits to taking his teaching online:

“I’ve been surprised at how effective the online delivery model has turned out to be. It actually helps to increase the level of engagement: students who would normally be too shy to ask questions or get involved seem to be quite happy to interact remotely. This has helped recreate some of the intimacy of the classroom and has been very valuable to everyone.”

Dr Muthu De Silva, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, also found new ways to get students talking through online platforms:

“I have thoroughly enjoyed online teaching…It does require a lot of preparation but once this investment is made, it becomes a very positive experience for both the staff and students. I found that break-out groups with clearly laid out group tasks increase student engagement. Additionally, inviting guest speakers, who could discuss the application of theories has also enriched student experience.”

This is seconded by student feedback from the module:

“I have really enjoyed the guest speakers and their insights/advice for being an entrepreneur. I also enjoyed the group discussion where we get split off into different groups as I feel it makes people feel more comfortable to speak virtually.” – Student in the Department of Management.

While we’re missing Bloomsbury and seeing our community face to face, it’s clear that we’ve come a long way since March.

Dr Geoff Walters, Executive Dean of the School of Business, Economics and Informatics, says: “As the autumn term draws near to an end, I want to take this opportunity to thank all colleagues that have worked hard to make this term’s teaching happen. I also want to thank all students that have engaged with their studies this year and have embraced online delivery, attending lectures and working on material pre- and postlive sessions. In the (almost) 200-year history of Birkbeck, there has never been a start to the term like this. I do hope that the Christmas period, whatever this may look like, will be as festive and restful as possible for everyone.”

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