Tag Archives: Colombia

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.



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.




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.




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


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

Find out more


Colombia’s lawyers under attack

This post was contributed by Professor Bill Bowring, of Birkbeck’s School of Law.

Lawyers in Colombia face daily threats of a severity that lawyers in Britain can hardly imagine, including murder.

On 13 June 2013 I was one of the signatories to a letter in The Times on Colombia’s lawyers. The letter was initiated by the Solicitors International Human Rights Group, and signatories included the President of the Law Society, former Court of Appeal judges and other supporters of Peace Brigades International, whose volunteers risk their lives “shadowing” lawyers at risk. We commented on the fact that while Colombia’s President Santos was in London the previous week, lawyers in his country continued to face great dangers. Six lawyers were killed between 24 January and 21 March 2013. Between 2002 and 2012, 4,400 lawyers were threatened, attacked and killed.

The letter referred to the Report of the Third International Caravana of Jurists to Colombia, dated 21 May 2003, entitled “Colombia: Protecting Access to Justice”. The Caravana consisted of 42 lawyers, mostly from the UK, barristers and solicitors, including the Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), Kirsty Brimelow QC. I was a founder of BHRC in 1992, and am a member of its Executive Committee.

The Report observed that “The most serious concern for the Caravana is that threats, attacks, persecution and the killing of lawyers continue. Lawyers are hampered in their work by having to defend spurious proceedings against themselves and by burglaries of their offices, and cyber-attacks on websites and vandalism of their office equipment. The legacy of the surveillance by the state intelligence agency…  has interfered with the protective measures which some lawyers should receive. In addition to the problems of state interference in their work are the risks that many lawyers face of physical violence and possible assassination. The lawyers most at risk work with clients such as political prisoners, those with problems related to the use of or rights to land, those accused of collaborating with the guerrillas, and representatives of minority or repressed communities.”

I signed the letter as Professor of Law at Birkbeck, and also as President of the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH), which was founded in Paris in 1993 and is now celebrating its 20th birthday.

As well as teaching and researching at Birkbeck, I am a practising barrister, taking cases to the European Court of Human Rights, and a human rights activist. In 2003 I founded the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) which represents hundreds of  applicants against Russia and other countries at Strasbourg.

ELDH has grown over the years, and now has member organisations in 10 European countries and the Basque Country, and individual members in a further 8 countries. In England I am the International Secretary of the ELDH member association, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, founded in 1930, with some 500 members, barristers, solicitors and people interested in law.

Birkbeck Law School and the Haldane Society have very close links. Several Haldane members teach in the Law programmes, and in each of the three years of its operation the Law School’s “Law on Trial” week in June has included a Haldane Society evening. This year Stephen Knight and Natalie Csengeri, young barristers in their 20s, gave brillian presentations and led a lively discussion on “legal Education – Socialist Survivors”. I am organising this year’s Cumberland Lodge weekend in September for Birkbeck law students on the theme of “Radical Lawyering – Theory and Practice”, with Mike Mansfield QC, Haldane’s president, and Liz Davies, its Chair, and other speakers.

Finally, back to Colombia.

On 24 January each year for the past two years ELDH and its partner organisation the European Democratic Lawyers (AED-EDL) have organised a “Day of the Endangered Lawyer”. Two years ago the focus was on lawyers in Turkey, especially ELDH member the Progressive Lawyers of Association of Turkey (ÇHD), still very much under attack. We picketed the Turkish Embassy. On 24 January this year Haldane members gathered outside the Spanish Embassy in protest against the treatment of Basque lawyers in Spain, and Mike Mansfield QC handed in a petition.

And on 24 January 2014 the Day of the Endangered Lawyer will focus on the situation in Colombia. Join us outside the Embassy of Colombia!