Meet the Santander Scholars

This post was contributed by Andrew Youngson, media and communications officer

“Why are you the ideal candidate to receive the £5,000 Santander scholarship?”

This is the question posed to all Latin American students hoping to be selected for a special scholarship opportunity at Birkbeck. It’s a straightforward question, but one that needs a certain amount of objectivity and a keen insight into your skills and plans for the future to answer effectively.

Each year – providing they have an unconditional offer from the college – applicants are invited to answer the question in an essay of no more than 500 words. If successful, they receive £5000 to be applied towards their course tuition fees at Birkbeck – a significant sum of money that is provided by the college’s longstanding corporate partners, Santander.

Lauren Prone, Head of International Marketing and Recruitment at Birkbeck said: “We are very grateful for Santander’s donation, which has allowed Birkbeck to support the studies of promising scholars from across Latin America.

“This has proved highly attractive opportunity for students to pursue their passions, and in the past two years since launching the scholarship, it has been granted to students pursuing a range of courses, including the Arts, Social Sciences and Business Studies.”

Michael Wilson, University Regional Manager-London and East for Santander Universities UK, said: “We signed our agreement with Birkbeck in 2013 and we are delighted to see how the students have benefitted from this agreement.

“Talented young people have been able to study in the UK thanks to our funding and UK students have been able to have study abroad experiences. We are extremely pleased with the university’s approach to internationalisation and the transfer of knowledge between universities and we are proud to be part of this long-term partnership.”

So, who are the latest lucky recipients of the Santander scholarship? We caught up with the three successful applicants from the 2015-16 intake, to find out how they are getting on in their studies.

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Camila Villegas

  • MA Arts Policy and Management
  • From Bogota, Colombia

 

 

 

 

How are you finding Birkbeck’s learning environment?

“My teachers here have been really supportive, and have always been available to help me. It has been a major shift for me educationally, because British education is very theoretical and I hadn’t experienced that much before. So it’s been challenging. For example, I didn’t do a dissertation at my last university; it was just projects and portfolios. I had never done research before, and it’s been a while since I have done essays, so it’s been a challenge, but I feel there’s a lot of support here.”

Read Camila’s full interview here and watch her video interview in English here and below, and in Spanish here.

 

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Fernanda Costa

  • BA History and Archaeology
  • From Curitiba, Brazil

 

 

How are you finding the Birkbeck experience?

“I’m really enjoying my lectures. At first I wasn’t keen on the seminars because I don’t like speaking up, but now I enjoy the discussions. I’m talking much more in class than I used to. At first I didn’t think I was clever enough but I feel like I understand the readings a lot better now so that has helped my confidence.”

What is the makeup of your classes?

“There’s a real mix. There are people of all sorts of ages – from my age, some are a bit younger, and some who are much older which is really nice because they have so much more life experience. I find that listening to what other people have to say is really mind-opening because hearing different points of view helps you rethink your own.”

Read Fernanda’s full interview here and watch her video interview in English here, and in Portuguese here and below.

 

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Diana Navia

  • MSc International Management
  • From Bogota, Colombia

 

 

 

 

How did it feel to be selected for the Santander scholarship?

“I was very happy, very very happy. I think you feel it’s like you are pursuing your dreams, you’ve found the right path and finally you’re going to achieve your goals. I was so happy to hear I got it, I think I must have called everyone to tell them!”

Read Diana’s full interview here and watch her video interview in Spanish here and below.

Applications for the 2016-17 cohort of Santander scholarships are now open, and must be made before 1 June 2016. Scholarship recipients will be chosen based on academic promise, the essay, the personal statement submitted with the course application, and need. The £5,000 scholarship will be applied towards course tuition fees.

Apply here

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The Santander Scholars (left to right): Camila Villegas, Fernanda Costa and Diana Navia

Find out more

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Languages….what for?

Renata ArchanjoThis post was contributed by Dr Renata Archanjo, an Associate Research Fellow in Birkbeck’s Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication and the Centre for Multilingual and Multicultural ResearchIn her research, she has worked on questions about multilingual education and language policies for the improvement of languages teaching and learning strategies. Dr Archanjo is also an Associate Professor of Foreign Language and Applied Linguistics at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), Brazil.

If Brazil hopes to ensure the success of international educational exchange programmes and boost the internationalisation of economic, political, social, educational, and cultural initiatives, it needs to develop comprehensive programmes to promote multilingualism.

In Europe, the acquisition of one or more foreign languages makes a lot of sense, especially if one considers all of the countries in the European Union (EU), and others in the process of integration. According to EU policy, the promotion of language learning is an objective to be fulfilled. The inclusion of regional, minority and sign languages into society, the promotion of early language learning and bilingual education are some more specific linguistic policies. The aim is to ensure that European citizens will be empowered by those linguistic tools to move, learn, and work freely within the EU, contributing to the region’s development and the improvement of living standards. I regard this as a good strategy.

Interestingly enough, a similar policy to what happens in the EU has recently been adopted in my home country, Brazil. It is just a beginning, but more is expected to happen in the near future. In Brazil, having “one country, one language” is believed to be a mark of national identity. This is a Portuguese-speaking country, surrounded by Spanish-speaking neighbouring countries. The setting is that of a poor, third-world country. Perhaps for this reason, for several decades, public policy priorities were centred more on social and economic issues and, with less diversity, mobility and intercultural interactions than in the European context, little attention was given to language policies.

All of this has changed. Today, Brazil is the 7th major economy in the World, one of the BRICS countries, an emergent force in the G20, the leading political and economic group of world nations. The country tries to boost its development in and outwards with economic, political, social, educational, and cultural initiatives in several domains. In the education domain, particularly in the higher education sector, internationalisation is at the forefront. In line with successful initiatives in Europe such as the international mobility programmes like Erasmus, Brazil launched the Science without Borders Programme (SwB), in 2011, targeting the consolidation and expansion of science, technology and innovation. Brazilian students and researchers are awarded grants in order to go to centres of excellence all over the world for a year of exchange study. Accordingly, the programme also grants substantial resources to allow students and researchers from abroad to go to Brazil.

As expected, language competence is here of major importance. Just as European language policies promote multilingualism, Brazil needs to implement policies to ensure a multilingual education. In my current research about the linguistic competencies of Brazilian undergraduate students attending the SwB Program, the first results indicate that a high percentage of students are sent abroad with a low level of proficiency in foreign language. The results also show the improvement in language skills for the majority of students at the end of the mobility programme – which is something to be expected when one is immersed in a foreign language environment. However, language is a means – not the objective – in the SwB programme, and it should be expected that students have a good foundation and language skills beforehand. So far, Brazil is rated very low regarding linguistic capability as perceived and recognized by specialised rankings such as the EF English Proficiency Index. The country appears here in the 38th position, in the range of countries with low proficiency in English. This is something that policy-makers should worry about.

Reacting to that, a good governmental initiative has been recently announced: the Languages without Borders Programme. Developed under the auspices of the Brazilian Ministry of Education, its main goal is to encourage the learning of foreign languages by ensuring an extensive and structural change in the national foreign language teaching system in universities. Like other nations in the world, Brazil appears to understand that the teaching and learning of foreign languages are of major importance, not only for personal achievements, but for the national economic and scientific development. In a country championing social and economic equality, any initiative to improve education, especially in the public system, is to be welcomed. Much more has yet to be done and not only in higher education, as the gap in the domain of languages (both first and foreign languages) starts at an early age.

The answer to the question ‘Languages… What for?’ is not a simple one. A language helps to shape an identity. Through language we give sense to the world. Linguistic knowledge might bring development. At least, it is a condition that must be fulfilled for development to occur. In this case, a multilingual education should be provided. More importantly, extra linguistic knowledge will boost general discernment, the lenses to see the world in a more comprehensive way. Here, again, a multilingual education is critical.

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World Bank watch out, the BRICS Bank is a game-changer

Ali Burak GuvenThis post was written by Dr Ali Burak Güven, Lecturer in International Relations & International Political Economy in Birkbeck’s Department of Politics. It was originally published on The Conversation.

The top news from this year’s BRICS summit was the announcement of a New Development Bank. Headquartered in Shanghai, the bank will become operational in 2016 with an initial capital of US$50 billion. Its core mandate is to finance infrastructure projects in the developing world.

The bank, announced at the summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, will also have a monetary twin to provide short-term emergency loans, the Contingency Reserve Arrangement. While the bank will be open to all UN members, the reserve will lend only to the contributing BRICS countries in times of crisis.

This combination of timing, actors, and institutions is noteworthy. It was in July 1944 that the Allied nations gathered at Bretton Woods to form two of the most vital institutions of the post-war era: the International Monetary Fund and what would become the World Bank. Now, 70 years later and only a few years on from the global financial crisis, the leading developing nations of our time have joined forces to forge new institutions of international economic cooperation with mandates identical to the World Bank and the IMF.

This move is born out of a belief that the Bretton Woods twins, despite numerous governance reform initiatives over the past decade, remain set to reflect the policy preferences of their original creators. In creating complementary institutions, the BRICS will be hoping to use these alternative platforms of international economic governance and as leverage to accelerate the reform of existing arrangements.

Game-changing potential

The New Development Bank is currently the more interesting of the “Fortaleza twins”, for it is designed as a freestanding organisation that’s open to all. Yet it has not received a warm welcome in business columns. While the political symbolism of the new institution is widely acknowledged, its immediate economic utility has been challenged – why do the BRICS need a development bank of their own when infrastructure projects are already easily financed through private as well as official channels, especially through the World Bank?

This is a narrow criticism. In the long run, the New Development Bank has the potential to become a game-changer in development financing. In fact, if its evolution even remotely parallels that of the World Bank, it might end up having a formative impact on economic policy-making and overall development strategy in the Global South.

To begin, while there is no shortage of national and regional development banks as well as private financiers of infrastructure projects, there is still a massive gap in development finance, estimated to be as high as US$1 trillion per year. Many developing countries encountered significant financing problems during the global crisis of the late 2000s. This shortfall necessitated a surge in World Bank commitments, from an annual US$25 billion in 2007 to about US$60 billion in 2010.

But commitments declined just as swiftly over the past few years, and as of 2013 stood at about $30 billion. Given these figures, the New Development Bank’s readily available $10 billion in paid-up capital and the extra $40 billion available upon request are not exactly pocket money for development financing.

Yet just as the World Bank was never simply a money lender, so too will the new bank represent far more than a mere pool of funds. The existing geostrategic and policy inclinations of its founding stakeholders imply a bigger role to play for the institution. In the process, it is bound to offer a formidable challenge to the World Bank’s financial prominence and so influence policy in the developing world.

Client-side

The new bank has been long in the making. It is the culmination of nearly two decades of intense South-South cooperation and engagement. In recent years especially, the BRICS and other emerging nations have become donors and investors in both their immediate regions and in less developed areas of the world – with Chinese and Brazilian involvement in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America representing the prime examples.

They have made an effort to establish more equal relationships with their lower-income developing peers and emphasised an attractive narrative of partnership, non-intervention and knowledge transfer, instead of smug, superior Western notions of top-down aid and restrictive conditionality. To the extent that it could keep its rates competitive, the New Development Bank is unlikely to suffer from a dearth of clients from among its fellow developing nations.

Paradoxically, BRICS and other large middle-income countries still remain the most valuable clients of the World Bank. Since the financial crisis, India has been the largest borrower of the World Bank, and has been closely followed by Brazil, China and a few other near-BRICS such as Indonesia, Turkey and Mexico. But, once the new bank fully kicks off, it is possible the World Bank will lose a lot more business from this traditionally lucrative market of large middle-income borrowers who now have a serious alternative.

Political implications

A reduced loan portfolio will ultimately translate into declining policy influence for the World Bank, which has held near-monopoly of development wisdom over the past 70 years. Perhaps in recognition of their waning power, there has already been a slight but steady decline in World Bank loans that emphasise policy and institutional reforms.

Also, a larger portion of the Bank’s resources have been allocated to conventional development projects, such as environment and natural resource management, private sector development, human development, and social protection. These are precisely the types of projects the Bank will encounter fierce competition from the new BRICS-led bank.

Knowledge and power

Consider also that the World Bank has labelled itself as a “knowledge bank” in recent years. Employing thousands of policy specialists, it doubles as one of the biggest think tanks in the world. Yet if it loses considerable financial ground to initiatives such as the New Development Bank, this threatens a decline in the power it has through knowledge.

Crucially, none of the BRICS adhere to the Bank’s standard policy prescriptions, nor do they advocate a different common strategy either. Brazil’s social democratic neo-developmentalism is quite different from China’s state neoliberalism, which in turn differs from established policy paths in others in the group. The only common denominator is a substantially broader role given to the state. But beyond this there is much flexibility and experimentation and little in the way of templates and blueprints like there is with the Western institutions. This policy diversity itself dismisses any idea of superiority of knowledge and expertise.

None of this suggests that the World Bank, as the dominant, Northern-led development agency, is now on an ineluctable path of decline. Cumbersome as they may appear, large organisations often accumulate considerable resilience and adaptive capacity over generations. Yet the World Bank does have a serious contender in the New Development Bank.

While it may not overtake the World Bank in financial prowess and policy influence any time soon, at a minimum it should be able to exert significant pressure over the World Bank to respond more sincerely and effectively to the new balance of power in the global economy.

The Conversation

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Slow-thinking the Revolution: Sound Diary from Brazil

This post was contributed by Raluca Soreanu, a Marie Curie Research Fellow in the Department of Psychosocial Studies, currently researching peace activism in Brazil.

[Homepage image of Brazilian protests: Agência Brasil.]

To move from Tahrir Square, to Syntagma Square, to Puerta del Sol, to Zucotti Park, to Gezi Park, to Brazil’s recent “20 centavos” movement, to capture their common rhythms as well as their distinctiveness, we might need a new vocabulary. To meet radical changes in the political imaginary, a new semiotics is called for. In Bracha L. Ettinger’s words, I wish we could slow-think, slow-feel and slow-paint these movements, in ways which overlay one form of understanding with another and with yet another. We could thus move beyond the hastiness of boxing one of the indeed unsettling semiotisations which the Brazilian movement has produced – “o gigante acordou” (“the giant has awoken”) as simply an instance of fascism. In the womb of the giant in the past week, I have encountered forms of social creativity and forms of sociability that invite me to slow-think. In the womb of the giant, people took care of one another, intervening to protect one another from being trampled. They met with strangers across their strangeness and across the colour codes of political parties. Surely, we will need to look closely at this alternative urban traffic of large manifestations, and see how it fits within the movement for the right to the city. There were also important forms of defence of patrimony, where the multiplicity of people surrounding a monument decided on the spot that the locus of memory that it carries is more important than the grievance of one individual who wishes to stand on its pedestal. Surely, this is not a movement toward the indiscriminate and confusion, but a collective spiral toward clarification on what matters and what needs to be preserved. And so, the chant “Vem vem vem pra rua vem!” (“Come come come to the street come!”) emanating from thousands of people on the same beat with one another is something quite localised when we shift to a new semiotics (perhaps a Deleuzian-Guattarian semiotics) where meaning is facialised and corporealised. What is the facialised consciousness and the rhythmic embodiment of the protester who does not aggress but protects, who does not provoke but contains, who does not destroy but creates political artefacts?

A multitude of voices

While many voices decry the lack of political organisation, I saw compelling organisation. How many times in our lifespan did we set a political rendezvous with 300.000 people and everyone showed up? With this new phenomenon of mobilisation we have temporarily lost our ability to count: there might have been 300.000 people out on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, or less, or more, nobody knows. This loss of the ability to count does not solely mark the scale of the protest, but its transcendence of the very context for counting and screening which the urban texture sustains. We couldn’t count the protesters because they circulated in a new way, constituting new flows of large gatherings: they were circular, oblique, spiralling, rather than just merely passing though obligatory points or grids. Zooming in, observations on robust forms of organisation continue. A community I follow closely, that of Horto Florestal, planned its presence thoroughly, walked for hours to the centre of the city, in defence of their right of dwelling, which is threatened by the redefinition of the boundaries of the Botanical Garden. There was an impressive anti-homophobia mobilisation nested within the protest. These are just instances of the plurivocality – for there were also the “negros” and the “sem-terra” embodying their long histories of struggle. There were militants of conventional party politics. And, surely, the extreme right performing its usual abuses and aggressions, but not in a position to engulf the whole vitality of the movement in its morbidities.

A temporary museum of grievances

There is plentiful organisation that we do not see for we might need a new semiotics; but there is also organisation that we do not see for there is a constant motion for opacity by an order that wishes to preserve itself unaltered. We here might need to think in terms of the lifespan of political artefacts surrounding the protest. The immense gathering in Rio de Janeiro produced thousands of banners carrying the messages of people and groups (in registers from tragic to ironic, to robustly humorous). These many hundreds of square metres of political expression were displayed on the fences of the Praça da República. People literally weaved their banners onto the fences, organising a museum of grievances. These compelling materialities, which would have helped us in the process of looking at ourselves and at one another, were no longer there ten hours later. They had been removed, cleaned away with the rubbish. I went back in the morning, anticipating the loss of this political object, and all that was preserved were the remains of broken glass panels of some bank headquarters, aiming to create an alternative museum of vandalism, underarticulation and indiscrimination. If anything, the fence of political grievances was discriminate, in its contents and weaved constitution. This too short and unaccomplished life of political artefacts speaks about capitalism’s capacity to consistently efface all traces of an emergent alternative political rationality.

The sound of war

On the scene, there is another force that disorganises. The simulation of the sound of war. On the day and night of the immense gathering, the streets sounded like war because of the constant background noise of explosions. What was exploding were the “bombas do efeito moral” (“bombs with moral effect”), as they are called here, in a perplexingly self-disclosing way. These bombs are used by the Military Police to intimidate and contain by sound a potentially or actually violent adversary. This is an ill-contained tool for containing violence, however: it does not act locally, it acts on the entire protest, even miles away; it does not clarify where actual violence might be taking place, so that protesters have a chance to synchronise away from it, or against it, but it multiplies it. But it is a fake bomb. It does not belong. Sly-bomb. Part-bomb. These tools of war institute a dangerous (and immense!) scene of constant re-traumatisation, where we indeed might lose all control we might want to be holding on to, and things might indeed drift anywhere. There are very recent traumas related to the Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPPs) entering the Rio de Janeiro favelas, starting in December 2008. Memories of violence here are overlaid on one another, and none of them are respected or creatively put to work by sinking 300.000 people in the sound of war. Why should we feel, because of sound, as if we were in war? What happens to the memories of the true deadliness and death-fulness of the bomb, within this simulated bombardment? Part of the right to the city is precisely that of not feeling as though we were in war times, if we are not.

“Solidarity with the wretched of the earth”

And finally, a question I constantly return to these days: how do academics live the morning after? How does the university organise itself in relation to the polity, despite all the structural constraints, the novelty of the phenomenon to be dealt with, and the uncertainties that come with it? It is perhaps the time to return to Adorno’s thought on “solidarity with the wretched of the earth” and work humbly from there on. The matter of organisation is for me first and foremost a matter of self-organisation and of organising the proximities of our lived life. This movement will not call for leaders. It will and does call for co-inhabitors within a historical transformation. Some of the lawyers of Rio de Janeiro, for instance, responded beautifully to the local challenges, by offering their expertise to those who were subject to police abuse. I think of it as lawyer kairós. I believe the university can fast-organise frames of utterance where we can slow-think what is happening on the streets of Brazil. The intervention that I see myself a part of is one that will struggle to ensure that the fabric of the collective process we are experiencing is not being constantly ruptured and traumatised by the simulation of the sound of war. Thus, people and groups that are already thoroughly organised can sit together and organise themselves further, instead of having more recent or more distant violent past times enforced upon them.

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Notes from Brazil, June 2013

This post was contributed by Belinda Mandelbaum, Associate Professor in the Department of Social Psychology of the University of São Paulo. The Department has a partnership arrangement with Birkbeck’s Department of Psychosocial Studies, involving exchanges of staff and students.

Brazil is undergoing something unheard of in its history. A series of protests that began in São Paulo, due to the increase in public transportation fees, spread to various cities in the country, taking hundreds of thousands of people into the streets at the most unthinkable moment:  the beginning of the Confederations Cup, a sort of general rehearsal for the most eagerly awaited event ever – the World Cup – that will be held this coming year in this country. This popular uprising had not been foreseen by anyone here, and certainly not at this specific moment. The truth is that nobody can explain the phenomenon we are undergoing. And, given the heterogeneity of demands that characterize this movement, what we see now is a sort of a war of interpretations, in attempts to take “ownership” of the phenomenon and offer a specific political determinant to characterize it.

One reading of the situation is that there is a type of generic indignation, with no clear goal decisively defined.  Understood as a whole, we might comprehend it as a sort of collapse in the state of things as they have been up to present. In this sense, what we are living through in Brazil comes very close to what happened in Spain in May of 2011 (movement 15M), in the United States also in 2011 (Occupy Wall Street) and even with the protests in London in the wake of Mark Duggan´s death, between the 6th and 10th of August of that same year. There is also perhaps something that resonates with the so-called Arab Spring. The form the protests take emerges from electronic media as this is the tool used most broadly to mobilize participants; it reflects the breaking out into public spaces of people used to electronic virtual reality. The content of the protests tends to be as fragmented as the electronic media and takes on the characteristic of a rebellion which generates perplexity and unrest.  Media analysts are struggling to separate the wheat from the chaff, trying to legitimate what in truth is characteristic of a peaceful and just protest for enhancements in health, education and the way the public apparatus is managed, whilst separating this from the acts of violence that have been present, such as looting in stores, attacks on public buildings, bank branches, churches and cultural institutions, calling these acts of vandalism. What the media still does not seem to want to comprehend is that this violence is inherent to the phenomenon, that this vandalism is also political, that violence is part of these so called horizontal movements.

Freud has a text that has a title that is deeply appropriate nowadays in Brazil: Civilization and its Discontents. It is precisely this we are witnessing: a sort of discontent,  an outbreak of what has been repressed, not due to one thing or another, but looking at the situation at large. Looking at the way things unravel in a globalized routine that sets forth mega events – such as the World Cup, which in the case of Brazil represents the wastefulness of enormous resources in the construction of opulent stadiums – the bureaucratized administration of life, its forms of entertainment and means of communication. The phenomenon seems to be inherent to the way we live nowadays, globally.  What nobody expected is that it would burst out as it did in Brazil. The fact is it did, and at a moment in which the economic model which had been highly successful for an entire decade now seems to be collapsing. And all of this poses something profoundly unknown for the Brazilian reality.

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