Tag Archives: campus

Returning to campus

Fraser Keir, Academic Registrar at Birkbeck, reflects on how life has changed since the start of the pandemic, and urges people to be kind and considerate of others as many students and staff return to campus next Monday 4 October for the start of the autumn term.

The past 18 months have been a roller coaster for everyone in the Birkbeck community, myself included. Overnight Microsoft Teams became our new best friend and the gateway to keeping in touch with colleagues, friends and family. I clapped for our NHS heros and learned the value of an hours walk when you were only allowed an hours walk a day. For those in hospitals and care homes every second was precious, and for many people they lived day by day as the virus ravaged communities. We were all living, praying and hoping the worst would not come. As the fragility of life and the power of viruses came to the fore so awakened our compassion for others and the importance and value we place on the NHS and keyworkers, many of whom are students at Birkbeck. Jobs and roles that we may not have considered that critical in the past became essential – carers, lorry drivers, supermarket workers, nurses and cleaners to name but a few. Seeing empty shelves highlighted the inter-connectedness of our society and the just-in-time nature of how we consume. When things got really tricky during lockdown I only had admiration for the people keeping our country running whilst trying to look after kids, the oldies and often in home circumstances that were not always conducive to work, study and home schooling. I didn’t take a drive to Barnard Castle during lockdown but following the rules and being a rule keeper as well as being a university rule maker really became important to me as someone who works in the public sector. Having colleagues and students trust you are doing the right thing by them was both humbling and a heavy burden in equal measures.

Altering the way school pupils and university students were assessed and examined was one of the most fascinating aspects of the lockdowns. Some pupils and students loved online learning and some didn’t. What we do now know is that there are options to the traditional 2 or 3 hour closed books exams that work and these options can create a more inclusive learning environment by taking out some of the ‘exam hall anxiety’. Learners can learn from the comfort of their own homes and academic standards can be maintained by careful assessment design. There is much we can learn and benefit from continuing to support elements of digital learning and assessment.

It was through higher education and our scientific community that hope emerged. Issues that would previously have taken years to implement happened almost overnight – lockdown, furlough and, of course, a vaccine roll-out. We learned that we could be agile and do things differently. For many of us, productivity increased whilst working at home and not having to travel 10 hours a week on public transport. Coming out of this phase of the pandemic I’m going to retain some of the benefits of this experience and work flexibly as are many of my colleagues in Registry Services and across the College. Personally I feel that a good home/work life balance makes us all more productive.

As I start to attend meetings back in Bloomsbury, l continue to take a cautious approach to coronavirus. Why? Part of it is me trying to be a good neighbour to others in clinically or emotionally vulnerable situations. Part of it is me wanting to avoid contracting COVID-19. My hope is care and compassion will continue into the future and a focus on mental health is only a good thing. So, I’m now double jabbed. Thanks to Oxford AstraZeneca I can say I’m an Oxford lad as well as an alumnus of Aberdeen and the Open Universities. I’ve also had my flu vaccine and will take a booster shot for COVID-19 when they become available and I’m eligible to have one. I’m happy to wear a mask on campus even if its uncomfortable. I don’t like wearing masks but it’s my personal contribution to the health and safety of a wonderful 12,000 strong Birkbeck community. I’ll keep washing my hands and I’ll give people space when they want it. I’ll also take lateral flow tests when I have to meet others indoors. Is all this an inconvenience and an assault on my personal liberty? No, not really because a resurgence of coronavirus is the real issue and the real assault on our freedom. Kindness costs nothing and it is our kindness that will be remembered by colleagues, friends and family in the years to come. As we go back to our new normal and regardless of how strongly we hold views; if we can be anything, lets be kind to one another.

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A new era for Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus

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

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

Birkbeck, the University and the Bloomsbury site

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

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

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

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

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

Birkbeck future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“We were really challenged to think for ourselves.” 

Pierre-Yves Rahari is a Partner at AlgoMe Consulting and alumnus of the Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching. This is his Birkbeck story.

Pierre-Yves smiling against a white background.

Why did you apply for the Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching Psychology? 

I started my career in Finance, working for investment managers, and was looking for a way to bridge working in a corporate setting to becoming a consultant and executive coach. I did this at work by taking on mentoring and leadership development assignments and decided that the best way to complement my training would be to study psychology. 

After completing a foundation course in psychotherapy, I began to look for an executive coaching course, but the typical format you see of learning then following a single methodology didn’t resonate with me. Birkbeck’s programme appealed as it seemed to be looking to go more in depth with students, plus the course leaders were from a psychodynamic background and active coaches themselves. 

Birkbeck’s London location was ideal for me and I liked the format of weekly classes, which meant we were fully immersed in the course for the duration of the year. 

What have been some of the highlights of the programme? 

During the course, we were really challenged to think for ourselves. The team didn’t give out a manual or tell us how to do it, but they had a magical way of getting us to think about our practice and by the end of the course we had a real understanding of what it meant to have a contract with a coaching client. I don’t think it’s an overnight thing, but gradually you find yourself listening differently when you speak to people. The framework that I use in coaching now is an extension of what we did in the course. It has prepared me well for running my own business and surviving during the pandemic. 

As a French person, I also really enjoyed being on an Anglo-Saxon style campus, surrounded by other university campuses and with coffee and book stores all around. My experience at Birkbeck was very nurturing and I look back on my time there very fondly. 

Can you tell us more about what you do now? 

I run a management consulting company called AlgoMe Consulting, which specialises in asset management. We aim to influence strategic and sustainable change in the investment management industry by helping executive boards and boards of directors strategise and successfully implement transformational projects in their firms, while improving transparency, integrity, inclusion and engagement. A lot of the work we do is with leaders and change management and people are fundamental to this process, both at an individual and team level.

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Take a virtual tour of our campuses

Explore our beautiful Bloomsbury campus in the heart of London and state-of-the-art Stratford campus in east London.

Both campuses offer all the facilities you need, which all Birkbeck students are entitled to use. They are also well-served by public transport, making it easy to get to and from the College.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaPFiJSYLiI

 

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