My favourite things to do in Bloomsbury

Valentina Martinez, BA Film and Media with Foundation Year student, shares her top tips of places to go and things to do in Bloomsbury, central London, where Birkbeck’s campus is located. 

Valentina Martinez

A key reason I chose to study at Birkbeck was its central London location. Located in Bloomsbury, it is in a student hub, with other universities close by and world-famous museums and galleries quite literally on your doorstep. I’ve shared below just some of my favourite things to do in Bloomsbury and the surrounding areas.  

Places to eat 

From pubs to museums, Bloomsbury is surrounded by incredible places to hang out, either before or after your evening classes. Let’s start with places to eat. Even though Birkbeck offers its own rooftop bar in the main building and cafes in different areas of campus, if you ever fancy a change of scene, there’s so many options to check out. 

In Gower Street, facing Birkbeck, you can find a beautiful building which houses Waterstones. Not only is it a fantastic bookstore with more than two floors filled with books, but it also has a  café attached to it that offers a pleasant place to have a nice hot chocolate or just to sit down and read before classes.  

However, if you’re in the mood to eat something I highly recommend going to DF Tacos, a Mexican restaurant with exquisite tacos and a great modern atmosphere. You can find this place on Tottenham Court Road near the British Museum. Finally, if you’re looking for somewhere to hang out after classes and have a few drinks I would go to a pub called The College Arms, located on Store Street, just five minutes from Birkbeck. It’s a lively pub filled with students, music and good drinks and it’s a great place to socialise and meet new people.  

Museums, cinemas and gardens 

There are so many other exciting things to do in Bloomsbury aside from eating out. Firstly, there is obviously the British Museum. With its back entrance facing Birkbeck, this museum is a fantastic hangout spot to learn and even get inspiration for your future assessments. It will probably take you more than one day to walk through this enormous place, so you can visit it often and still find something new each time. You don’t even have to pay to get into the exhibitions.  

British Museum

British Museum

Next, if you have enough luck to enjoy a sunny day in London you will probably want to make the most of it. So, I would recommend heading towards Russell Square, which is right next to Birkbeck. This beautiful park has a lovely fountain with benches so you can soak up the sunlight or sit in their wonderful café. It is usually filled with kids playing football and people doing sports, so if you’re a sporty person yourself you can also have a workout there! I still can’t believe such a gorgeous green place exists in the middle of a busy city like London.  

If you enjoy watching films, Birkbeck has its own cinema in the School of Arts building, located at 43 Gordon Square, so do keep your eye out for upcoming film screenings. I would also recommend going to Picturehouse Central in Piccadilly Circus. I know this is not quite on campus, but this cinema has a stunning vintage aesthetic which is definitely worth the walk. It has the newest film releases and even a restaurant and café. If you’re a student, you will get student discounts on your tickets so you should without doubt check it out.  

As you can see, there are a lot of things to do around campus, and I have only told you about a very small percentage of attractions that Bloomsbury has to offer. I encourage you to go ahead and discover more things on your own, I can guarantee you will find hidden gems everywhere! After all, you are in the heart of London if you come to Birkbeck – there is bound to be something exciting around the corner for you to enjoy.  

Further information 

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Supporting transition and success: On Track and BBK Chat

Ali Sheldrick, an Access Officer in the Access and Engagement team shares some of the initiatives that students can access to ensure a smooth transition into higher education.

A person sitting in a chair talking to another person on a laptop screen

University life has always taken some getting used to. And this is especially true in an age of rapid and unpredictable changes to the delivery of higher education brought on by the onset of COVID-19.

With the continued success of students from under-represented backgrounds a key aim for the Access and Engagement (A&E) Department, we have been busy expanding our support for offer holders and new students over the past two years.

In addition to our support around specific scholarships and bursaries, this transition work has focussed on two programmes – BBK Chat, our student mentoring scheme, and On Track, our new transition support programme.

BBK Chat

“My first session was excellent because my Mentor explained how to do well at University regarding time management, where I can find help on my studies skills, essays and exam deadlines.” – BBK Chat Mentee feedback

BBK Chat is a peer mentoring scheme that offers first-year students from under-represented backgrounds an opportunity to meet with an experienced Birkbeck student. These informal, regular chats take place three times a year (autumn, winter, and spring) and give new students the chance to ask questions and speak with someone who can provide support and guidance from a student’s perspective.

Last year, meetings shifted from taking place over a tea or coffee in and around Birkbeck’s campuses to online only meetings. The 80 students who are meeting this year were given the choice of meeting online or in-person and paired up accordingly. This took place alongside a renewed emphasis on pairing according to common subject area, lived experience, and background wherever possible.

With this, we’re now able to sustain BBK Chat’s unique offer of tailored one-to-one guidance from people who have recent lived experience of successfully navigating their first year at Birkbeck.

On Track

“It was more than my expectations. I have learnt so much about others’ experience….”On Track attendee feedback

On Track is a subject-specific programme that supports students from non-traditional entry routes (non-A-level) through the pre-entry and transition stages of their studies at Birkbeck.

First piloted in 2020 with two cohorts of Biomedicine and Law offer holders, it was expanded to include Arts Foundation Year and Business and Management subject areas for the 2021-22 intake: going from a total of 21 to 35 participants.

On Track provides academic guidance on what students can expect from their course, resources to support preparation and ongoing success with their studies, and a chance for them to get to know fellow students and staff before their first term at Birkbeck.

All offer holders who applied without A-Levels were invited to participate in the programme which was based around three subject-specific workshops, taking place over Summer and into the start of term. These were delivered by an A&E Access Officer, course teaching staff, and current students; whilst participants also benefitted from access to an On Track Moodle page and the option of one-to-one catch-up meetings in the first term.

Plans are being made to improve and expand On Track to reach more new students in 2022!

“…it really answered the questions, that were running through my mind regarding October…” – On Track attendee feedback

The Access and Engagement Department will be running a programme of outreach activity with both current and prospective students across the academic year, with Is University for Me? events planned for January and May 2022 and taster courses in Law (February) and Psychology in Education (May), plus much more!

For more information about our work and how to get involved, colleagues can email the  team or explore our webpage.

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How I’ve found my first term at Birkbeck

Wojciech Zaluski, MSc International Marketing student, shares his experiences of his first term at Birkbeck, reflecting on how he’s found in-person lectures and what the most enjoyable aspects of his course have been so far.

My first term at Birkbeck was my first formal interaction with the British education system and my reappearance within formal learning – it’s been a long time since I finished my Master’s degree in Philosophy at the Jagiellonian University in Poland.

As 2021 was another year overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, before the start of the term we were informed that we could choose whether we study in-person or join lectures and seminars online. I chose to study in-person, and as I am studying part time, my first term only had two modules and classes took place during the evenings, due to Birkbeck’s evening teaching model.

In my first term, I found having in-person lectures to be really stimulating; the lecturers are very approachable and engage us in conversations. Students are encouraged to talk to each other and share their insights, and because classes are very international with students from all walks of life, those conversations are especially interesting. I was able to share my thoughts and exchange my ideas with students from Japan, Brasilia, USA, Ukraine, and the UK.

In all our lectures, what we were learning was strongly focused on the state of culture and society now, so it all felt very relevant. We were asked to discuss articles that highlighted how the internet is shaping our society and economy and at the same time how COVID-19 is shaping the marketing strategies of big companies. My first module was in Strategic Marketing Management, and we were assigned a group project. I joined a group of students from the USA, England, and Portugal, and we worked together on developing a marketing strategy for Netflix. Grace, a fellow student from the USA, proposed we should focus on the needs and interests of Gen Z, the generation born between 1997 to 2012. That was very interesting for me as someone who represents Gen X/Millennials.

Everything relating to your studies is organised through an online system that allows students to choose their options, check their agenda, and access study materials. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised how well everything works and how easy it is to navigate the online platform. We can focus on our studies, but Birkbeck has additional options which also are accessible through your online student account. For example, you can sign up to the Library and access lots of books and articles online; you can use the Birkbeck Futures platform to build your professional career; you can join Pioneer, a programme for people looking to develop a new business.

Each class that you have has a recorded version of the lecture available online, which is really helpful as it means you can listen to lectures more than once – I often revisit parts of lectures until I fully understand the concepts being discussed. There is also a reading list, which means you know what to read to understand the topics and you can be prepared when joining live seminar discussions.

Every week, students receive a general newsletter of what is happening at Birkbeck, and it is a wonderful source of information to learn what Birkbeck has to offer outside your studies. You can learn about job fairs, activities organised by the Birkbeck Students’ Union, and interesting things that are going on.

In summary, going into my second term, I feel energised and inspired to explore the subjects on my own. I am looking forward to learning more and getting a better understanding of modern marketing. I am also looking forward to meeting other students again, and I feel that in the second term we will feel more at ease and more open to sharing our ideas.

Further information

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“The London Critical Theory Summer School made me think differently”

Every year, the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIH) runs the London Critical Theory Summer School. In this blog, participants from this year’s Summer School and previous years, tell of their experiences and its impact on their work and lives.  

2021 participants 

Stacey Keizan, Wits University, South Africa
Stacey Keizan is a junior researcher investigating Developmental Psychology, Behavioural Science and Social Psychology at Wits University, and was a recipient of the Open Society University Network (OSUN) bursary in 2021. 

What a privilege it was to receive a generous bursary to attend the 2021 London Critical Theory Summer School. It was such an incredibly insightful and thought-provoking two weeks!   

Firstly, it was an absolute honour to get to listen to such highly acclaimed intellectuals, whose work continues to inspire and guide my own intellectual pursuits. Jacqueline Rose and Esther Leslie were fantastic facilitators of the lectures and discussions, all of which were so well organized. They encouraged questions and discussion among participants, while constantly elevating the conversation. The opportunity to engage with the speakers on such a personal level was amazing, and the way in which different perspectives were expressed and highlighted made the lectures and discussion extremely thought-provoking.   

The content was novel and diverse and went a long way towards expanding my reading and theoretical understanding of critical theory. I loved the way the speakers engaged with current topical issues on a global scale and made the theory come alive with practical examples and debate that facilitated critical thinking and lively discussion among participants.  A surprising highlight for me was the opportunity to hear such diverse and global perspectives from attendees. The group discussions were always so interesting, and I loved the multidisciplinary perspectives that attendees brought to these discussions, which often introduced me to new theory and stimulated my reading and interest in different avenues. Given that some of the lectures and readings were outside of my area of knowledge and understanding, I felt that the Summer School really stretched me.  

Golam Mostofa, BRAC, Bangladesh
Golam Mostofa was studying for a Bachelor of Pharmacy (BPharm) with Honours degree as a final year student when he enrolled on the Summer School. He wanted to expand his understanding of critical analysis and thinking in order to be effective in the critical analyzing and decision making of important issues, both personally and professionally. 

My learnings from the Summer School exceeded my expectations and I was quite amazed to learn many things from the professors and participants. I was always interested to learn more about critical theory but never got the chance to meet such great critical thinkers before. Living in a developing country limits many aspects of education. This program was the very first Summer School that I ever participated in and coming from a very small rural primary school to attend the Summer School was a great achievement for me. My parents were very proud. They’ve had very little education themselves, but they always encouraged me with every step. 

The Summer School added a new dimension to my thinking and life. It created a new path for me to start a great journey. It created a new feeling towards life, and I can feel the changes. I was so overwhelmed by the influence of the current time and media, and how it was blocking me from reality. Critical thinking makes me think differently and creates new perspectives.  

The two weeks of Summer School were very special for me. We discussed topics that were very rich, lively and thought-provoking; every word of the Summer School was important to me. I found a welcoming and warm place where I can converse with great critical thinkers and would love to attend every year. I really thank everyone for this great experience and am forever grateful.  

Blogs from participants in previous years 

Gustavo Matte
Gustavo Matte, a researcher, novelist, and community education volunteer in Brazil, received the Open Society Foundation Bursary in 2019.  

It was two intense and wonderful weeks… a real watershed in my intellectual life. Thanks to the Summer School, I returned to my home country, Brazil – which is facing several social and political problems – with new intellectual and affective resources to think about our current situation and resist, on a daily basis, the rise of all types of violence (racial, sexual, economical etc.).  

The Summer School was a wonderful place to meet people from all around the world and share knowledge, experiences and ideas that allowed us to help each other in several crucial matters; solving personal research problems, broadening cultural perception, and also sharing social traumatic experiences from different places and times experienced by the students in a way that could help us to figure out ways to overcome these crisis through the comparison of similarities and differences of each case. For example, what worked in South America that could also work in Asia? How can left-wing organizations of one country avoid making the same mistakes that weakened their counterparts in other countries in the world? Is it possible to put our local experiences together to see the greater picture?  

The Summer School was the perfect opportunity for me to ally intellectual growth, friendship and international solidarity (a network of mutual support) in order to resist fascism. The classes, professors, colleagues, together with the experience of being abroad, opened the world up to me and helped me realise that we still have places and situations where we can think broader and dream together. 

Burcu Yalim
Burcu Yalim, a publisher and independent scholar from Turkey, was one of the first recipients of the Open Society Foundation Bursary and attended the Summer School in 2019.  

The international bursary for the London Critical Theory Summer School gave me the invaluable opportunity to summon the intellectual and spiritual strength and inspiration I had been struggling keep alive in me for the past few years. It allowed me to take a step away from the stifling daily atmosphere of my country and to re-connect with the wider intellectual community and with my own work in a way that would have otherwise been impossible for me in my actual circumstances.  

Through my experience there, I discovered that the Summer School aspires to be more than a mere scholarly program. It strives to be a locus of encounter in which the institution of academia opens itself up to its own margins, at a time when academia itself is being made to survive in a constant crisis of legitimacy and self-justification vis-à-vis the market-driven world of professionalism.  

What I witnessed in Birkbeck, was the extraordinary effort to organise and accommodate that kind of impetus whereby an institutional space is transformed into a space for those who seek to surpass their individual constraints and build an understanding that is not based on a common ground of reconciliation, but opens up true negotiations.  

That passion was most remarkable in that all speakers and participants alike recognised themselves in it, even when their individual agendas differed significantly, they could relate to one another as one does in friendship. It is through the emergence of such a community that thinking has the chance to become consistent and critical. In that, such spaces are vital if a true relation to the future is to be produced.  

Such hospitality is the rarest of occurrences in our world today and by itself presents a challenge to our border-driven environments and geographies despite all the claims to a borderless globe. The programme deserves every possible support and solidarity and I can only hope that many more who do not have the necessary means will have the chance to take part in this event in the years to come. 

Nombuso Mathibela
Nombuso Mathibela, a 24-year-old South African and a self-described academic and activist, was the first recipient of the BIH International Bursary in 2018.  

When I first heard about the Summer School, I was intrigued by the idea of being part of a programme that would attempt to situate psychoanalysis as a set of theories, and that could assist us in dealing with social and political life. I come from a legal background and activist spaces that have offered different pathways and frameworks to the pursuit of radical social and economic change. I was grateful for the opportunity to be part of an intellectual space that has deepened my understanding of critical theory.  

Understanding that theory is borne out of comparison and struggle, I really enjoyed being part of a programme that made space for students coming from different parts of the world to theorise about their different yet similar systemic conditions. This school created a space to negotiate ideas, experiences and the historical formation of theories while provoking me to consider the present-past and engage different ways of being or becoming and unbecoming. Laura Mulvey’s sessions on female voices and cinema were enchanting, challenging multiple assumptions about womens histories and feminist imaginations.  

Moreover, the invited scholars challenged us, adding much vigour to my intellectual and political life. Similarly exciting was the selection of students from different backgrounds, disciplines and research interests. Our class was quite special, and I was able to develop transnational relationships of unquantifiable importance. I am aware of many activist scholars and students who have shown an interest in the Summer School for both its content and the calibre of intellectuals who are invited to participate. I look forward to returning to this space. 

Further information 

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Top tips for spending Christmas in London

Shweta Menon, BSc Marketing student, gives her tips for what to do over the festive period if you’re in London and away from home.

Helter Skelter at Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park

Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas all around London. If like me you are away from home for the Christmas festivities and yearning for some festive warmth, London is the place to be! Gather your fellow globe-trotting friends as I take you through some of my favourite ways to spend Christmas in London:

Winter Wonderland: this is without a doubt London’s most treasured Christmas attraction located in Hyde Park. Step into a world of Christmas bliss with its very own Bavarian village and yuletide attraction. If you’re in the mood for adventure it’s got you covered with its roller-coaster, thrill-seeking rides and more. Hop onto the 53-metre-high Ferris wheel to enjoy breath-taking views of Hyde Park and Kensington Palace and gardens. Filled with bars, food market and Christmas markets, Winter Wonderland is sure to warm you up!

Ice skating: What a better way to get into the Christmas spirit than to wrap warm and ice skate across London various ice skating rinks? The Natural History Museum, Canary Wharf, Winter Wonderland and Somerset House, among others, are all home to Santa-approved ice skating venues in London.

Facebook groups: London-based Facebook groups are a great way to meet people in London as an international student, though do ensure your safety first. The groups regularly organise Christmas parties, Christmas Day dinners, Boxing Day lunches and even secret Santa’s! If you’re in London and your friends are UK students who have gone back home for Christmas, you can still soak in all the festivities even without your family around.

Christmas markets: It doesn’t matter if you’re on Santa’s naughty or nice list, you can still be on your nice list and indulge in a little “me” time by pampering yourself in the many Christmas markets in London. The main Christmas markets are at Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, and they have dazzling Christmas displays and seasonal decor. Also, most of the boroughs in London hosts their own little Christmas markets as well. Look up your local Christmas market and meet your neighbours and make some new friends as well!

Immerse yourself into these activities or visit your local Wetherspoon’s for a glass of mulled wine – either way do get out and soak in the festivities of the city, because London is the most alive during Christmas!

Hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

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How to manage your studies during the festive period

Balancing studying and having fun over the Christmas break is a challenge! In this blog, three student ambassadors, Becca Aveson, Cecilia Danielsson and Shweta Menon, share their tips on how to enjoy Christmas whilst staying on top of your studies.  

Becca Aveson, MA Museum Cultures student 

Becca Aveson

One thing I like to try and do is give myself some mini targets and goals to reach each day that I study. This helps me overcome the holiday fatigue and pressures and puts less stress on me if I feel I am not working to my potential. My usual go-to is writing a bullet point list of things to do for that day, for uni, my job or any other tasks, including; reading and research, household chores, or work on ongoing projects like my dissertation(!).  

Don’t try to do too much in the day focus on one assignment, and then look at what you need to do for that. As you go through your list, set yourself some goals and rewards – such as after reading a chapter of a textbook, have a chat with someone you live with or have a coffee and a mince pie – or whatever makes you feel happy! This way you won’t feel as though you’ve missed out on any festivities, and when it comes to the various social gatherings you attend you won’t feel that pressure to be studying and you can enjoy yourself! 

Cecilia Danielsson, BA Linguistics and Language student   

Cecilia Danielsson

Studying during Christmas arrives with greater distractions, making it harder to focus and get assignments over the finishing line. However, Christmas introduces frivolity and fun and means we can decorate our study areas. I’d recommend putting up a miniature Christmas tree on your desk and finding fresher stimuli for mind maps, such as using Christmassy colours, like red and green. You could also put some Christmas music on in the background and lightly scented candles whilst you are studying. The festive period provides a time for reflection on the year gone by; use it to celebrate your achievements so far and have a wonderful Christmas break!  

Shweta Menon, BSc Marketing student 

Shweta Menon’s festive decorations

  1. It’s the most wonderful time of the year to SCHEDULE 

Plan how you are going to study and spend time with friends and family. Ask your family and friends what they’ve planned out over the festive period and set aside a couple of hours in the week for your social activities. Share your study schedule with them so they know when you won’t be available. Give yourself some zero-study days such as Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve – these days you must switch off completely and soak in all the festivities! 

  1. Santa Claus is coming to the coffee shop 

Studying at home with festivities around can be quite a distraction so try finding a cosy coffee shop or library where you can focus and get your studies done effectively. 

  1. All I want for Christmas is someone to help me…

Seek support from your friends at university. They are in the same boat as you. Make study groups with your friends for revision, sharing notes and assignments. 

  1. Have yourself a merry little Christmas 

Lastly be too hard on yourself. Take time out to enjoy the festivities and refresh your mind because: “All work and no play can make Jack a dull boy!” 

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Birkbeck beyond the boundaries

In 2023, Birkbeck celebrates its 200th anniversary. In this blog, Richard Clarke, a researcher, discusses how the College developed its extra-mural provision from the end of the Second World War to the beginning of the 21st century. 

One hugely significant event in the post-1945 history of Birkbeck College was its amalgamation with the (federal) University of London Department of Extra-Mural Studies (DEMS, or, simply ‘Extra-Mural) in 1988.  Then, almost all of the (pre-1992) British universities had some form of ‘outreach’ unit, charged with delivering their scholarship to a wider audience, and these tended to fall into one of two categories, both funded directly by the state under the 1944 Education Act.

A flyer advertising University Extension courses, featuring a drawing of Senate House One was the (Cambridge) ‘university extension’ model which typically involved academics travelling to deliver their expertise some distance from their university base.  Launched in 1873 and focused first on northern manufacturing cities, it reached London with the establishment of the London Society for the Extension of University Teaching (LSEUT) in 1876.  The other, beginning in 1878, was derived from a parallel (Oxford) ’tutorial classes’ model in which tutors (not ‘lecturers’) were provided by the university but the syllabus was negotiated with students themselves.  Courses were typically delivered in collaboration with other organisations including the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA, founded in 1903).  This provided two distinct traditions in tertiary level adult education, manifest variously in different university extra-mural departments.

London University DEMS was unique in that it consisted of two ‘Responsible Bodies’, each separately funded under the 1926 University of London Act which established its governing University Extension and Tutorial Classes Council (UETCC).  Both grew rapidly in the decades following the end of the Second World War.  The ‘Extension Section’ delivered a programme comprised mainly of accredited Certificates and Diplomas – everything from archaeology to religious studies, and it included several relatively autonomous vocational units, notably in nursing, in social work and in transport studies.  The other, the ‘Tutorial Classes Section’, focussed principally on non-accredited classes, covering if anything an even wider range of subjects, mostly delivered in conjunction with what was then a strong network of local WEA branches as well as with trades unions, local community organisations and third-sector organisations.  Together with their programme – in terms both of subjects, student numbers and of full-time equivalent (FTE) grant was significantly bigger than that of the College to which the amalgamation brought important additional funding.

By the time of the London ‘Extra-Mural’ centenary in 1976, Birkbeck College had itself survived more than one crisis.  This included a proposal in the 1960s “to change the character of the College from an institution for part-timers and evening students to a college for full-time undergraduate school-leavers, on some green-field site outside central London.” (1). While this was defeated by determined opposition on the part of Birkbeck’s staff and supporters, the consequence was that the College and the federal University’s Extra-Mural department continued their development along parallel, but largely separate paths – the College focussing on high-quality research and part-time degree teaching, and the Department developing an extraordinary diversity of activities beyond its traditional ‘liberal’ core.

By the mid-1980s, however, the anomalies had become a major challenge.  The independence of ‘extra-mural’ had been an advantage in the early post-War period when degree-level study was restricted to a few; but with the growth of the university sector the lack of connection between extra-mural ‘outreach’ and teaching and research within the University’s walls had become increasingly apparent.

Many of those taking extra-mural certificates and diplomas wished to progress to degrees and postgraduate work but found it easier to do so at universities outside of London.  A major growth in the numbers of young – and not-so-young – people going ‘to’ university, reduced the demand for degree-level certificates and diplomas.  The success of the Open University had shown that universities do not need to have walls at all; there was a growing demand “to study with and through the University of London but not necessarily at it.”(2)  And the establishment of new universities (Essex, Surrey, Kent and later Brunel) all involved a contraction of the London extra-mural area.  This nevertheless by the mid-1980s still stretched “north to south from Chorleywood to Croydon and east to west from Southend to Uxbridge.”)(3)

At the same time, the distinction between what went on ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the walls had become an encumbrance.  Staff within the Extra-Mural Department were increasingly developing their own research specialisms and reputations and making, or wishing to make, links with cognate departments within Colleges and Schools.  It happened also that the then Master of Birkbeck, George Overend, was also Chair of the Senate Committee of Extra-Mural Studies.  In the session 1985-6, a Working Group was established, chaired by Overend, to consider future options for the London DEMS.  The Group had only met on a few occasions (its deliberations inclining towards some kind of merger with Birkbeck) when Birkbeck itself suffered a major financial crisis.  This led to another committee, chaired by Sir Barney Hayhoe MP, charged specifically with restructuring the College to meet the challenge.  The Hayhoe Committee, amongst its other recommendations, endorsed the proposal that DEMS should become part of Birkbeck as one of its new resource centres. The proposal also began to interest the University which had recently appointed Dorothy Wedderburn, the Principal of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, as its first Pro-Vice Chancellor for Continuing Education, as part of a policy to develop a coherent federal policy in this area.  Wedderburn in turn endorsed the proposal for incorporation, and established a formal University Working Party, chaired by Tim Brinton, a lay member of the University Court, to take this forward.

A key proposal of the Brinton report was for ‘complementary development’ of Extra-Mural Certificates and Birkbeck degree programmes.  Where cognate provision existed in both institutions, Brinton argued, it should be linked; subjects offered only ‘extramurally’ might stimulate the development of new degree programmes (acting, inter alia, as progression routes for certificate students) or offered as options within existing degrees, and elements of Birkbeck degree programmes not already matched by certificates and diplomas could be offered ‘extra-murally’.  In practice, integration did not go nearly as quickly as Brinton envisaged, partly as a consequence of the size of the extra-mural programme and fears of College staff that they might be ‘swamped’; perhaps because of reciprocal fears of ‘absorption’ and ‘dilution’ which had prevented any progress towards a merger in 1976, but also because of the significant organisational barriers to collaboration produced by the new College ‘resource centres’ that arose from the implementation of the Hayhoe Report.

Initially, DEMS was simply incorporated within Birkbeck in 1988 as a semi-autonomous Centre for Extra-Mural Studies (CEMS).  Subsequently, when the resource centre structure (introduced by Tessa Blackstone upon her appointment as Master in 1987) was replaced by academic faculties in 1999, it was renamed the Faculty of Continuing Education (FCE) and then in 2007, the Faculty of Lifelong Learning (FLL), throughout still occupying the two buildings; 26-28 Russell Square and 32 Tavistock Square (which hosted the WEA’s regional office on its top floor) to which it had moved in 1975 from its earlier home in Ridgemount Street.

At the end of the 2008-9 academic session — after two decades of semi-autonomous existence (and little more than a year after its change of name from ‘continuing education’ to ‘lifelong learning’) Birkbeck’s FLL, its staff, their teaching and research were finally assimilated into four new ‘super-schools’ alongside colleagues in cognate subjects ‘across the car park’ from their base in Russell Square.

Writing in 1988 on the eve of the incorporation of the ‘Extra-Mural’ Department within Birkbeck, its then Director, Brian Groombridge, had described the incorporation as “one of the most profound structural changes in the Department’s history.”(2).  The incorporation reflected the start of much broader changes in the structure of part-time higher education.

One factor was a rise in credentialism – both a demand for certification and an insistence on it by the DES as a condition of funding.  ‘Mainstreaming’ – the requirement for formal assessment of learning outcomes for all funded students meant a loss of flexibility in the Tutorial Classes curriculum.  This was followed in 2008 by the introduction of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), implemented in Britain as the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) whereby all awards were referenced to a series of levels and carry a credit rating in the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).  NQF was accompanied by ‘ELQ’ – the withdrawal in 2007 of funding from students already in possession of a qualification at equivalent (or higher) level than that at which they wished to study.  ELQ anticipated the subsequent abandonment of all state funding for liberal adult education by an increasingly instrumentalist neoliberal government.  In combination, their consequences (and the end of one of the last remaining university departments of adult and continuing education) may be seen also as the final stage in inexorable erosion of the ‘liberal ethic’ (and of partnership provision) within the university sector.

Paradoxically, the final assimilation of FLL within the new College structure made possible the realisation of some of the possibilities envisaged over two decades previously in the Brinton Report.  One of the DES funded innovatory projects already in progress as the 1988 incorporation of DEMS within Birkbeck was underway (and cited in the Brinton Report as potentially beneficial to the outreach capacity of Birkbeck) was an ‘East London Project’, aimed at exploring ways in which the University, through its extra-mural department, might contribute to the social and economic regeneration of the area.  Then the collaboration envisaged was with Queen Mary College and the London Docklands Development Corporation; today it is with the (‘new’) University of East London, the London Borough of Newham, and other organisations in the region of the London Olympics and the Thames Gateway, but Stratford East represents in many ways the fulfilment of the opportunities identified in the Brinton Report and by the 1988 incorporation of ‘Extra-Mural’ within Birkbeck.

Other recommendations of the Brinton committee were manifest in different ways.  For example, complementary development and integration of certificate and degree programmes were limited in practice to the Certificate in Ecology and Conservation which, in 1988, became a key ‘vertical’ slice through Birkbeck environment degrees, providing an ‘outreach’ element to students who might not otherwise have considered a full degree as well as an exit route for those who had done so but who found the time commitment of three evenings per week too demanding.  Other attempts to develop new integrated degrees and certificates by means of newly created joint (extra-intra mural) posts (for example in archaeology, development studies and in science & society) placed an enormous strain on the colleagues appointed, who were not only expected to do far more than their notional fractional allocation to each ‘home’ but had to operate dual incompatible assessment and administrative systems.

At the same time however new awards were developed within the new Centre, in part as a response to – or a defence against – a perception within ‘main College’ that much of its work was of ‘sub-degree’ standard.  Several of these new awards were at postgraduate level.  Examples included postgraduate diplomas in Environmental Management and in Counselling.  Partly because of a concern within the Centre that progressing approval through the College’s academic board might meet with opposition, these were taken through the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) route in 1992 – just before the CNAA was itself set up as part of the process of transferring degree awarding powers to the ‘post ‘92’ universities.  The CNAA confirmed their rating as postgraduate, and they became the core of new Masters’ awards (the first in the Centre) in 1995.

A leaflet that says 'Certificate in Earth Science'

The Masters in Environmental Management (Countryside and Protected Area Management) and another MSc in Environmental and Heritage Interpretation were particularly significant in that, being taught at weekends (coupled with week-long residential modules elsewhere) they attracted students from well beyond the London area, including Scotland, Switzerland and the USA.  Moreover, being ‘national’ in appeal, they attracted sponsorship, so that for a number of years both the then Countryside Commission and The National Trust each funded six scholarships – the former for local authority countryside staff and the latter for the Trust’s own employees.

Today few universities retain a significant level of extra-mural provision – part of the generalA leaflet saying 'Environmental Training collapse of liberal, non-vocational adult education.(4)  Exceptions include Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education and Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education.  Within Birkbeck, while little of the 1988 ‘outreach’ provision survives today, legacies of the incorporation can be found in the College’s research and teaching, for example in London studies, in links with significant institutions in working-class education such as Toynbee Hall and the Bishopsgate Institute, and in other, now mainstream areas of university provision which were pioneered with DEMS/ FLL.  For example, DEMS and – by inheritance, Birkbeck – was the first university institution to recognise women’s studies as a legitimate field of scholarship and teaching, manifest in the appointment of Britain’s first lectureship (Mary Kennedy) in the subject.  Extra-mural traditions of radical history and critical science complemented those that had already been pioneered within the College by such prominent individuals as Eric Hobsbawm and J D Bernal.  Another legacy is the relatively large number of hourly-paid associated fixed-term ‘teaching and scholarship’ staff which remains a feature of Birkbeck today.

  1. Hobsbawm EJ. ‘Birkbeck and the Left; Concluding address to the 175th Anniversary Appeal Lectures at Birkbeck’. Times Change 2001:14-17.
  2. Groombridge B. Extra-mural Futures: The Prospects for London. London: University of London Department of Extra-Mural Studies; 1998.
  3. Brinton Report 1986, unpublished
  4. Clarke R. ‘‘Really useful’ knowledge and 19th century adult worker education – what lessons for today?’. Theory & Struggle 2016;117:67-74: https://online.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/doi/abs/10.3828/ts.2016.17.

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Championing rights for disabled people in the workplace 

As the world prepares to observe the United Nation’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on Friday 3 December, we speak to Birkbeck PhD student, Stephen ‘Ben’ Morris who shares details of his own journey with a disability and his research on how neurodiverse individuals can be supported into the workforce. 

Stephen 'Ben' Morris

 The global, annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was proclaimed in 1992 by the UN to promote the rights and wellbeing of disabled people.  What has been your own personal experience with a disability? 

When people meet me, I hope they see me as ‘Ben,’ with all of the positive characteristics and contributions I can provide as a fellow human being. In most cases, I feel this is accurate; yet, when it has been determined that I am a person with a disability, the way I am treated varies on a regular basis. Some of the treatment is due to other people’s ignorance – for example, I can be bypassed in conversations even if they are about me; or, on occasion, malice, because others don’t understand or are afraid of my difference. Even when the intentions are positive, how I am treated can still have an effect on me.  

For example, people can become overprotective because of my disability, which can limit the opportunities accessible to me. I have been passed over for promotions because my employer is concerned about the expectations this advancement will place on me. Personally, I consider my disability as a positive because it gives me many strengths; nevertheless, I believe society needs to change its perspective and see me as a whole, not just see my limitations. 

Coinciding with the UN day of observance on 3 December is UK Disability History Month, which runs until 18 December. One of the key themes is around hidden disabilities- can you share a bit about your research and its links to those disabilities which are not necessarily ‘seen’? 

My research will centre on assisting neurodiverse individuals (who have a divergence in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal) in entering the workforce. This will be a two-pronged strategy. The first approach is to listen to the neurodiverse community and understand their needs, desires, and barriers to work. The second approach focuses on the employer and teaching them how to support neurodiverse individuals in order to make work more accessible and achievable.  

From the research, I hope that finding the correct ‘fit’ will benefit both the neurodiverse individual and an organisation. The individual will be included in the working society and possibly feel self-worth, while an organisation can utilise untapped skills and talent. 

What do you see as the greatest challenges as you proceed through your research? 

Right now, I’m concerned about the future. I’m concerned about those who refuse to take part in my research. I recognise that people are frequently afraid of change, and I hope that the findings can be used and benefited from. Fortunately, I am being sponsored by Hays Recruitment and have connections with employers and neurodiverse communities, so I’m hopeful that will help me to locate participants for my studies. 

I’m also concerned by the data: only 31% of disabled people in the UK are in employment. Many desire to work but for a variety of reasons, they are unable to do so. Getting a job, if you are neurodiverse, can be very difficult.  

What are you most inspired by when it comes to the disabled community and the progress in terms of championing for disabled rights, better services and more exposure of the issues? 

People should be willing to speak up for their beliefs, especially if it would benefit others. When people speak up for what they believe in, it can spark a movement in which other like-minded people work together to achieve a common objective. This collaboration decreases loneliness and isolation, and as this movement gains traction, more people will listen, and more action and understanding will begin. I believe that during the last few decades, there has been a growing sense of solidarity in the disabled community, and that some others are taking notice. More, though, is still required. It is vital to remember that it is just as difficult for a neurotypical (non-diverse) person to enter the realm of disability as it is for a neurodiverse/disabled person to enter neurotypical society. 

I wish to live in a world where everyone is recognised for their uniqueness and individuality. I believe that everyone has something to offer society, from innovative new ideas to spreading happiness and love. I believe there is an overemphasis on labels…people frequently notice the label before the person. I constantly campaign to highlight the advantages of what minority groups can do if they are given the opportunity. I believe it is equally vital for me to share my thoughts with other persons with disabilities, their family members, co-workers, and experts, because the more one teaches, the more one learns. It would be an accomplishment if my stories/experiences helped improve the lives of even one person. 

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Meet Astrea: Anna Phillips, Deputy Director of Estates Resources

In the first in a series of interviews with members of Astrea, we talk to Anna Phillips, the Deputy Director of Estates Resources at Birkbeck about how she pivoted from being an air hostess to her current role, what inspires her, and how she unwinds.

Anna Phillips on some scaffolding net to her colleague Can you tell us a bit about your career journey so far?

I never had a career plan until I came to Birkbeck. It was frustrating as most of my friends had some kind of idea of what they were good at and what they “wanted to be”! I knew I was always good at being practical, organised, and “building and fixing things” but I went to a school very focussed on academia and so didn’t quite fit into their ideals of Doctor, Lawyer, Politician etc.  Had there been more emphasis and support for alternatives I would probably have accessed Estates and Project Management much earlier on, rather than via a combination of circuitous routes and happy accidents!

I ended up doing German Language and Literature at the University of Kent purely because I liked languages and literature but with no intention of using it in any of the career paths that usually follow. Four years later, armed with a degree I had no idea what to do with, and none the wiser as to what to do next, I saw a job advert for London-based but German-speaking Lufthansa flight attendants. It was the perfect first job for me – languages, travel, organisation, responsibility, accountability, teamwork and self-confidence. Two years later, after 9/11, there were a huge number of redundancies, and I was again jobless and unsure what to do next. I intended to temp or find something short-term in order to return to flying when the dust settled, but the job and the industry were never the same after that and recruitment never returned to pre 9/11 levels.

And so, I ended up at Deutsche Bank (DB) as a contracted worker, again by chance really, having got an interview on a recommendation from a friend who already worked there. Whilst I was grateful to only have been out of work for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t stand the corporate atmosphere, which made for a stifling work environment. I don’t even know how I got stuck there for so long – I worked my way up from Reception to Room Bookings Co-ordinator, arranging meetings, conferences, and events and managing a weekly rolling team of six out of a full 40. The saving grace was that I liked the job itself, managing teams, and organising the use of rooms and the Estate. I didn’t even realise that “Room Bookings” was an actual job title until the sister of a colleague who had just graduated from Birkbeck sent her a job role listed as Room Bookings Team Leader – a job advert she then sent on to me as it described almost word for word the job, I’d been doing for 10 years! Two weeks later I had the interview at Birkbeck and an hour after that I’d been offered, and accepted, what would become a life-changing role.

And so, where my previous role had broken me, left me with no confidence in my abilities and no vision to excel or succeed, Birkbeck stepped in, picked me up, dusted me off and built me back up. I was enormously lucky to have a line manager who encouraged me to take on more and more responsibility, who trusted me and saw the career path that had eluded me, and so fortunate that Birkbeck gives the support, training and encouragement to those who want it. I took on various different aspects of Estates and learnt the integration needed specific to higher education and the different requirements and demands an Estate needs to provide for that setting. I became Commercial Services/Room Bookings manager in 2014 taking on the financial management for both Commercial Hire and External venue contracting along with more input in to the use and upkeep of space as well as the potential for future estate expansion. Because I finally found my career and niche, I was able to keep expanding into Estates and areas I found interesting and took on more of an Estates role within the wider college, resulting in becoming Deputy Director of Estates Resources in 2019. So, there we are – I took the long way round to the place I should have started if only I’d known, but it was all worth it to have a career I love, in a company whose ethos I agree with and support, and to be part of and help lead the most fantastic department.

What are some tips for success?

Be confident in your abilities, if there is something you want to do, or think can be done more efficiently just say so, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve if you take ownership of something, no matter how small. Don’t limit yourself, look ahead to what you really want to do or where you want to be, and aim for that. Find the things you like and are good at even within something challenging or unknown, and take advice and support from colleagues in other departments to round out your knowledge and ability outside of your comfort zone.

What advice would you give to someone starting your career/field?

You need to experience all the facets of Estates – room bookings and events is a good place to start as you get a huge amount of knowledge about all different areas, demands and expectations that you need to know about going forward. Estates is weird, because the implications and use apply to absolutely everyone, it’s not an area specific to one person, group, department or faculty – it has repercussions for every single person coming through the doors, so the broader your knowledge the better.

What was the last thing you read/heard/saw that inspired you?

I’ve just read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. The man went from selling shoes from the boot of his car to an annual sales return of 30 billion dollars – but mostly he writes about how much he loves shoes, which is perfect – Do what you love!

What do you do to unwind after work?

When my workload is steady, I go out with friends from work or home, see family, potter round the house “fixing” things, wonder why my cooking doesn’t look like it does on MasterChef, binge watch TV…the usual 😊

At “peak” times of the Estates year, I sit in a dark room with a bucket of wine and a straw.

Astrea is a grassroots network for women, transgender and non-binary people in professional and support roles. Find out more on the Birkbeck website.

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Ten ways to have a more sustainable Christmas

Dr Pamela Yeow is Reader in Management in the School of Business, Economics and Informatics whose research currently focuses on ethical consumerism. She shares ideas to celebrate Christmas more sustainably in 2021.

In the run-up to Christmas, consumers are bombarded by Black Friday sales, tear-jerking adverts and a seemingly endless parade of stuff on our social media feeds.

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t even started to think about Christmas shopping and gift-giving yet! This is particularly so in the aftermath of the COP26 climate summit and the twelve-day marathon of presentations, debates and negotiations.

COP26 has brought home to us the importance and utter urgency of the climate emergency. Even with the agreements in place, more needs to be done to reverse the negative impact of decades of neglect of our planet.

My colleagues and I have been doing research on single-use plastic for a while now, and recent research has demonstrated that the inconsistent messaging and confusion around what and how to recycle means that householders are not recycling as much as they would like.

Of course, recycling is not the only thing we can do. Reducing consumption of single-use plastic, as well as repurposing or reusing single-use plastic is also key to helping our planet survive.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of all the upcoming festive consumption, here are ten ideas to help you have an enjoyable and more sustainable Christmas.

1. Instead of buying a tree, plant a tree

A two meter Christmas tree is equivalent to 16kg of carbon dioxide if it ends up in landfill. Why not plant a tree instead this Christmas? Websites like MoreTrees and Dedicate a Tree make this easy to do, and you can even gift a tree to others.

2. If you can’t imagine Christmas without a tree, rent one instead

Rented Christmas trees are a growing trend. For the rest of the year, rented trees are re-planted, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and providing a home for local wildlife, before brightening up your living room for the festive season.

3. Give a pre-loved gift

Want to give your loved ones something truly one of a kind? A thoughtful second-hand gift for someone who loves vintage, antiques or collectibles will be very much appreciated.

4. Give experiences

Often it feels like we have to spend a particular amount of money on gifts and sometimes that is justifiable. Rather than giving people things that might not be appreciated or even used, treat them to a memorable experience, such as a trip to the theatre or zookeeper for the day experience – the possibilities are endless!

5. Make a sustainable swap at the dinner table

Research tells us that eating a plant-based diet can help with climate change. If you can’t face cancelling that turkey order, consider swapping a side dish or starter for a vegetarian or vegan alternative. The planet will thank you.

6. Use recyclable wrapping paper

Avoid plastic glitter wrapping paper that can’t be recycled, or better still, use recycled or plain brown paper to wrap gifts. Whilst you’re at it, why not use paper tape as well.

7. Make do and mend your Christmas decorations

With a bit of extra care, Christmas decorations like tinsel will last for several years. If you’re feeling crafty, why not try making your own decorations out of things lying around the home?

8. Wear your old Christmas jumper

If you need to wear a Christmas jumper, try to re-wear your old one, swap or buy second-hand as it’s been found that most Christmas jumpers in the UK are made using plastic!

9. Shop locally

Reduce the carbon footprint of your Christmas shopping by opting for local retailers where possible. It also saves on packaging compared to a mountain of deliveries (Amazon boxes, we’re looking at you).

10. Go plastic-free where you can

Christmas crackers are another source of hidden festive plastic, but plastic free alternatives are becoming more popular. In 2019, John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose announced that its Christmas crackers from 2020 will no longer include plastic toys or be decorated with plastic glitter. Other large retailers quickly followed suit.

Finding ways to make Christmas more sustainable this year not only helps the planet, but can be lots of fun! Let us know your sustainable swaps in the comments below.

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