Tag Archives: London

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.  

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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.

Further information:

  • Read more of our 200th anniversary blogs
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A day in the life of a commuter

Valentina Vlasich, BA Film and Media with Foundation Year student, commutes from Milton Keynes for her work and lectures at Birkbeck. In this blog, she offers advice to other students commuting and explains why living outside of London is the perfect solution for her.

The streets of Bloomsbury, London

Bloomsbury, London

Commuting to university, a total nightmare according to some. A waste of time according to others. But living in the heart of London can be expensive, so many of us don’t have any other option but to commute. The issue, I believe, is that there are many misconceptions about commuting. For instance, that you can’t have a social life, that you must spend hours on a train or that you won´t have a true university experience if you do it. All of this, according to my experience, is not true. So let me give you some tips on how to make the best use of your day and money, and show you what a typical day looks like for me, a commuter in my first year of university.

My day starts in Milton Keynes. I try to get up as early as possible to fit in my workout routine and get ready. If I have the time in the morning I also catch up on lectures and take notes for my next class. When the time comes to go to the train station, I cycle there which takes me 10 minutes, and I usually take the train at noon, which gets me to London in about 40 minutes. A great tip for commuters who take the train is to check out the National Rail Railcards, which reduce your travel costs by a substantial amount. For example, I bought the railcard for 16 to 25-year-olds, which cost £70 and it saves me a third on rail fares for the next three years. Another hack is to get on trains that are off-peak or super-off-peak because they are cheaper, you can check this out on the Trainline website. When I arrive at Euston Station it’s only a 10-minute walk to my work which is at Birkbeck. After that, I usually have about two to three hours before my classes begin at 6pm.

So, what do I do in my spare time in London? Well, a lot of things, but my top recommendations, which aren’t far away from Birkbeck, are the following: the British Museum, which is just around the corner; Chinatown, which is a great area to enjoy a variety of food; and, if you don’t mind a little walk, Southbank has a great vintage book market that I love. Sometimes, when I have a lot of time to spare, I plan my day and visit a Picturehouse cinema or a theatre in Soho with a friend. And for those lazy days, I just grab a coffee and sit in Russell Square reading a book (it’s also a good park to have an outside workout). After that, I head to my classes.

Most of my classes are three hours long, so when I finish it’s already dark outside. Sometimes I head straight to Euston Station and go home, other times I stay for a while in London and go to a pub with my friends. There are also many nightclubs in London to check out. However, when it is one of those days when I go home earlier, I tend to take advantage of my time on the train and complete homework.

As you can see, commuting isn’t the end of the world. It even helps me make the most out of London because not living there makes it more exciting to visit. It also forces me to have a more established routine and helps me make the most out of my day. Therefore, from one student to another, I wouldn’t worry too much about commuting, it is part of the experience. Just enjoy your years at university and make the most out of every situation.

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How to get your Birkbeck studies off to a flying start

Student Engagement Officer Rebecca Slegg offers top tips to new students, to help you settle into Birkbeck, get your studies off to a flying start and help you make sure you get the most out of your time here.

  1. Set up a study space at home. If possible, decide on one place where you will be able to study. Keep it free from clutter and other distractions as much as possible and make sure that your family/flatmates know that when you’re there they should avoid interrupting you if they can.
  2. Talk to your friends and family about your course. If the people in your life know why studying is important to you and what it involves, they will be able to better support you throughout your course. They’ll understand why you might not be able to go out every weekend at exam or assignment time. They’ll also be interested to hear about the new ideas and topics you’re now an expert on!
  3. Attend Orientation and the Students’ Union Fresher’s Fayre in September. This is a great opportunity to meet fellow students, find out about life at Birkbeck and join some of the many clubs and societies open to students.
  4. Create a wall planner and use it to map out your first term. Plot on your term dates, exam dates and assignment deadlines. This will help you to know when the pressure points are so that you can plan ahead in other areas of your life to accommodate your study needs and be well prepared to meet all of your course requirements comfortably.
  5. Set up a WhatsApp group/Facebook group with your classmates. This will enable you to share tips and information between lectures and seminars and help you get to know each other quickly. You will probably find that your classmates quickly become a source of support and encouragement.
  6. Sign up to academic skills workshops. Birkbeck offers a wide-range of resources for students to brush up on their academic skills, whether you need a refresher on essay writing or an introduction to academic referencing – get ahead with these skills now so you’re not trying to master them at the same time as researching and writing your first assignment.

  7. Explore the campus. Get to know Bloomsbury. There is a wide range of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, indie bookshops and cultural facilities close to our campus.
  8. Arrange to meet your personal tutor. Your tutor is there to offer advice and support on issues that may affect your academic progress. Some of the topics you might discuss with your tutor include module choices; exam revision; meeting deadlines; any personal or professional issues that are affecting your studies.

  9. Buy some nice stationery. Investing in some nice paper and pens is a subtle reminder to yourself of the investment you have made in coming to Birkbeck and that this is something that you believe is worth doing and will help you to move ahead with your life goals.
  10. Find out about Birkbeck Talent (the in-house recruitment agency) and the Careers and Employability Service. These two services can offer advice on CV writing, interview techniques, setting up your own business and can suggest suitable short- and long-term positions to match your skills and interests.
  11. Make sure you’ve ticked off all the items in our new student checklist, which includes all the practical details you need to have covered like enrolling on the course, paying your fees and setting up library and WIFI access.

At our graduation ceremony we asked those who had made it what advice they would give new students:

If you’re a current student, why not add your own advice for those just starting out in the comments section?

 

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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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Widening access to postgraduate courses

Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department have been working with the local community in the London borough of Newham for many years. In this blog, Hester Gartrell, Senior Outreach Officer at Birkbeck discusses what widening access to postgraduate courses looks like in the Birkbeck context.

A post-it with a lightbulb

There is a lot of buzz around ‘Widening Participation (WP)’ or ‘access’ to Higher Education. In fact, the Government, through the Office for Students, requires universities to prove that they are actively engaged in activities that will support students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds into undergraduate study. At most universities Widening Participation activities focus on supporting secondary school pupils into university. Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department challenges this model, supporting BTEC and Further Education College students alongside prospective mature students from a variety of backgrounds including Trade Union members and people who are Forced Migrants.

At Birkbeck, we also want to challenge approaches to access that only focus on undergraduate students. We have a fantastically diverse undergraduate cohort, but this diversity is not reflected to the same extent in our postgraduate student body. As our postgraduate student numbers grow and a Master’s degree becomes increasingly important for gaining a professional job we have pioneered new approaches which reach out to potential postgraduate students.

Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department have worked in the east London borough of Newham for many years and in 2018, the department received funding from the London Legacy Development Corporation enabling them to expand their work in Newham and began trialling advice and guidance for potential postgraduate applicants. While there has been substantial economic development in the borough since the 2012 Olympics, many local graduates still find themselves underemployed or unemployed.  For graduates looking to move on from zero-hours contracts, take the next step after poor attainment in their first degree or stepping back into a career after taking time to care for family, postgraduate study can be just as life-changing as undergraduate.

Working with potential postgraduate students through the lens of access enabled us to explore the many unanswered questions around ‘what actually is non-traditional’ and what is defined as ‘widening access’ at postgraduate level. Across a sector dominated by 18-year olds, the traditional widening access criteria and interventions for undergraduate can’t simply be transferred wholesale to postgraduate applicants. This is especially relevant for Birkbeck, where our undergraduate access work already looks very different from the rest of the HE sector, leading to the question, if our access work at undergraduate aims to reach those left behind by traditional widening access work, what does postgraduate widening access look like in the Birkbeck context?

Our postgraduate Information, Advice and Guidance pilot enabled us to begin exploring this question alongside a wider strategic project going on across the College to improve access to Masters programmes for a diverse range of students.

To find out more about our learnings from the east London widening access at postgraduate programme, watch our webinar. We also have a range of open-access videos for potential postgraduate students that can be used in student communications.

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Making a difference in the local community: learning from the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA

With over thirty years’ experience working in his local authority, Eubert Malcolm brought a wealth of knowledge to the classroom. Having just been promoted to Assistant Director for Stronger and Safer Communities, he reflects on how the MBA has supported him to make a positive difference.

Picture of Eubert Malcolm

As local authority leaders go, Eubert Malcolm must be among the most personally invested in his community.

“Somebody said to me the other day that I’ve been in Haringey from boy to man,” he laughs, but with over thirty years’ experience in various roles in the local authority, this isn’t far from the truth. Eubert joined Haringey Council as an environmental health officer apprentice in 1988. From there, his role expanded into different fields as his skillset developed, encompassing housing, food safety and pollution.

“I made my way up the local authority and picked up Diplomas in Environmental Health and Management Studies along the way,” explains Eubert, “but I always felt that not having a first degree would hinder me at some point.”

The value of life experience

It was during the hunt for an undergraduate degree that Eubert stumbled across the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA. The idea of studying part-time at the weekends was a particular draw, but was it really possible to do a Masters level programme without an undergraduate degree?

“I went along to the open evening without much hope,” says Eubert, “but I really liked the course leaders and they encouraged me to apply. I think I was the least qualified but most experienced of that first cohort, and the idea of a co-production and developing new types of leaders seemed perfect for my role. It felt like I was in the right place at the right time.”

Seeing things differently

The collaboration between Central Saint Martins and Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics offers an innovative perspective on businesses and the problems they face. This, combined with the diverse international cohort on the MBA, gives students an opportunity to look at situations from a fresh angle. For Eubert, this proved invaluable when looking for ways to connect with the local community:

“When I first started the MBA, there was lots of gang activity and a spate of deaths in the community. I wanted to learn more about how violence was affecting young people in Haringey, so I commissioned a community group to speak to them and to people in prisons to figure out the drivers of criminality. Until you actually sit down with young people and hear from them, their teachers and their parents, you don’t really understand the challenges that they are facing. We need to engage with them and ensure that they are part of the solution.”

Eubert’s MBA dissertation was Haringey’s public health approach to tackling serious youth violence, a combination of academic research and an in-depth evidence base that came from his experience in the local authority, which informed the young people at risk strategy.

“At Haringey, we want to co-produce strategies with the community,” he explains. “Now, we’re incorporating business principles into our local authority point of view and using action learning techniques to think issues through from beginning to end, predicting the challenges we might need to address along the way. It’s an approach the managers I work with are now also starting to adopt.”

Leading in the pandemic

The rapid unfolding of events in the COVID-19 pandemic has made an agile approach essential:

“If you look at how much COVID-19 has cost local authorities,” says Eubert, “I don’t think we’re going to be fully recompensed for that. It has made us look at what opportunities could come out of it instead.

“For example, we couldn’t deliver a lot of our face to face services during the pandemic and many of them went online. We found that the young people we work with instantly took to that approach, which we hadn’t really considered before.”

Now Eubert, his team and the wider council are working on campaigns to bring the local community together to reduce the spread of COVID-19: “The approach we’re taking, trying to get right to the hearts and minds of people in the borough, is something I don’t think we would have attempted before. It just goes to show that with the right support and network in the workplace, you can be successful even through challenging times. I know that anything I set my mind to I will be able to achieve.”

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What’s the best way to raise funds for a startup?

Alexander Flint Mitchell, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship alumnus and founder of Blind Cupid shares his experience of raising capital for his business venture.

Picture of business man launching into the air.

Like most first-time entrepreneurs, Alexander was a total novice when it came to funding startups before setting up his own business.

Having now secured £175,000 to launch, with the prospect of completing fundraising over the next six weeks, he shares his experience of raising capital for a startup.

Angels and venture capital

When Alexander began fundraising for Blind Cupid, a matchmaking app that uses systematic philosophy and artificial intelligence to match users based on their fundamental values, he took a traditional route of approaching angels (high net worth individuals who provide financial backing for startups) and venture capital firms.

“We contacted many venture capital companies and had some very successful conversations with them,” explains Alexander. “These companies are usually specialists in a certain field and it’s common to be asked to deliver as many as five or six presentations to secure funding. While we would obviously spend some of this time talking about the business idea, the key thing to get right was the financial information.”

The downside of this method of fundraising? Time.

“Venture capital funders are demanding and even getting a response from them, never mind retaining their interest, requires a lot of time and effort,” explains Alexander. “There’s a lot of back and forth, often with your whole team needing to attend calls or presentations, which can feel never-ending when you’re in it.

“We also faced difficulties with our product not fitting neatly into a specialist area. The app we’re developing combines matchmaking with brand new artificial intelligence that has never been built before, and so there are no investors currently specialising in it. Given the amount of money that venture capital funds invest, it’s understandable that they would prefer to go with something tried and tested. We raised around half the funds we needed through this method, but I began to look for alternatives to speed things up.”

Gaining crowd appeal

Many different methods of fundraising are covered in the Entrepreneurial Venture Creation module taught at Birkbeck, among them crowdfunding.

Alexander admits to being sceptical to this approach: “I had the impression when I started that crowdfunding was on a smaller scale and more about conventional ideas than disruptive new businesses – I had no idea that companies do their series A and series B rounds on crowdfunding.”

While individual investment amounts can be much smaller, as little as £10, on crowdfunding sites, Alexander now sees this as an opportunity:

“Compared to venture capital, crowdfunding is a really quick and innovative way to finance startups,” he says. “The main difference is that our investors through crowdfunding are likely to also be our users, which is really exciting. Even if they only invest a tiny amount, they will benefit from a future IPO – it’s similar to holding shares in the stock market.”

The personal touch is also something that appeals to Alexander and the ethos of Blind Cupid:

“We aren’t just trying to match people together; we really want to make sure that these matches are accurate and that once you meet someone you will stay together. We’ve done it for 80% of our beta test users, and now we want to do it throughout the rest of the UK and world. It’s an unusual business concept in a way, because we don’t want people to come back – we want people to find the person that’s right for them.

“Our business model is very different from other players in this market because of this — and other reasons. We offer a premium service which gives our users access to podcasts, blogs and more written by experts that advise them on every aspect of their lives. Topics include how to discover who you really are, what self esteem is and how to build it, how to nurture a healthy relationship and more.”

Blind Cupid have now launched their crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube. For Alexander, it will be a relief to move to the next stage:

“When you’re looking for funding, it feels like it’s never-ending, but I know that when it’s complete I‘ll forget the months that it took. Many things in life are a learning curve and you find what suits you best. It’s great to finally see it all come to life.”

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Cancel the Window-Cleaning Contract!

Professor Jerry White, Professor of Modern London History at Birkbeck recounts how the College faired during the Second World War. This blog is part of the 200th-anniversary series, marking the founding of the College and the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

Bomb damage to Birkbeck Library

Bomb damage to Birkbeck Library. The area around Birkbeck College was bombed during the air-raid of 10-11 May 1941. The resultant fire destroyed the Library. Image courtesy of Birkbeck History collection.

Most of London University shut down on the declaration of war in September 1939. The headquarters at Senate House was taken over by the Ministry of Information and most colleges were evacuated (like much of the BBC, many government departments and most of London’s hospitals) to areas thought to be less vulnerable to bombing. University College shifted to Aberystwyth and elsewhere in Wales, King’s to Bristol, LSE and Bedford to Cambridge, and so on. Birkbeck, its London roots deeper than any of its sister colleges and so unable to be useful to Londoners if sent to the country, resolved to close on the outbreak of war and for a time did so. But the war failed to open with a bang and in the absence of air attack, or apparently any likelihood of bombing for the immediate future, Birkbeck reopened at the end of October 1939. Indeed, it didn’t merely reopen but expanded its offer: for the first time, extensive daytime teaching was made available for those London students unable to follow their chosen university colleges out of the capital. And despite the blackout, a wide range of evening teaching also resumed.

Birkbeck was not yet at its present Bloomsbury site. That building contract had been let but work had to stop in July 1939 because of the uncertain international situation – contractors were given more pressing projects to work on, both civil defence and industrial – and in fact the new college would not be completed and occupied till 1951. So Birkbeck was still in its late-Victorian location in Breams and Rolls Buildings, straddling the City and Holborn boundary west of Fetter Lane, incidentally sharing a party wall with the Daily Mirror building. It had some near misses during the main blitz of 1940-41 and narrowly escaped total destruction in the great City fire raid of 29 December 1940, which opened a view – never before seen – of St Paul’s from the college windows. From that time on all places of work had to arrange a fireguard of staff to be in the building at night time to deal with incendiaries and raise the fire brigade if necessary. There followed nearly three-and-a-half years of relative quiet, with sporadic bombing of London and the Baby Blitz of early 1944 rarely troubling the college and its work. But Birkbeck would nearly meet its nemesis from a V1 flying bomb (or doodle-bug) at 3.07am on 19 July 1944.

Dr A. Graham was a member of the college fireguard that night, on the 1-3am watch.

I wakened Jackson [the College accountant] to do the 3-5am spell…. We were saying a few words to one another when we heard The Daily Mirror alarm go. Suddenly the bomb, which had merely been a near one until that second … dived without its engine stopping. Its noise increased enormously; Jackson and I looked at one another in silence; and I remember wondering what was going to happen next. What did happen was all over before we realised it had happened … a gigantic roar from the engine of the bomb, not the noise of an explosion, but a vast clattering of material falling and breaking, a great puff of blast and soot all over the room, and then utter quiet. Massey [another fire watcher] raised his head from the bed where he had been asleep and asked what all that was….

As the dust settled Graham climbed over the flattened metal doors of the College and went into the street. The first thing he heard was footsteps coming at a run up Breams Buildings. It was a Metropolitan police constable: ‘he called backwards into the darkness… “It’s all right, George, it’s in the City”’; satisfying himself there were no urgent casualties he promptly disappeared. Troup Horne, the College secretary from 1919-1952, was also one of the fireguard but, not wanted till 5am, was in a makeshift bed in his office: ‘At 3.06am I was awakened by a doodle overhead. Thinking we were for it, I pulled a sheet over my head to keep the plaster out of my remaining hairs; and five seconds later the damned thing went pop.’ Horne was found ‘covered from head to foot with soot, dust, and thousands of fragments of broken glass and other bits scattered from the partition which separated the general office from his room.’ His chief assistant, Phyllis Costello, was also sleeping in the College that night and was frequently part of the fireguard. She rushed to see if he was injured and was greeted by Horne instructing, ‘Cancel the window-cleaning contract’.

Indeed, there were no windows left anywhere in the College. For some time after, a witticism coined in Fleet Street during the main Blitz, was Birkbeck’s watchword: ‘We have no panes, dear mother, now.’*

*Edward Farmer (1809?-1876), ‘The Collier’s Dying Child’: ‘I have no pain, dear mother, now.’ All the information used here comes from E.H. Warmington, A History of Birkbeck College University of London During the Second World War 1939-1945, published by Birkbeck in 1954.

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“I chose Birkbeck for its multicultural community and its evening courses.”

Francis Olie, from Abuja in Nigeria, talks about embarking on his MSc Information Systems and Management at Birkbeck and settling into London life as an international student.

Francis Olie

Francis Olie

I grew up in Nigeria (Abuja F.C.T.) and completed my education, up to my first degree (BSc. In Computer Science) at Baze University. I worked at the Nigerian Institute of Science Laboratory Technology as a Computer Analyst before arriving in London on the 13th of October 2019.

Studying abroad for the first time is a very important step forward for anyone, so I had to make sure my university of choice was right on the first attempt. I contacted an Education agent for advice and guidance. The agency was mainly responsible for recommending me for a scholarship at Birkbeck. Ultimately, I chose Birkbeck for its multicultural community and its evening courses.View from Eleanor Rosa HouseView from Eleanor Rosa House

Travelling to London was hectic as I did not know if I would be able to make the arrival deadline, but I did. It was also my first time abroad as an International student and as a first- time international traveller. My sister who is established in London made it very easy to get my residence hall (Eleanor Rosa House). I love my accommodation; I wish it had a gym though or an indoor basketball court. London is a well-connected city and quite busy. I had help from my sister navigating public transport (Trains and Buses). I adapted to it in three weeks’ time.  Londoners are always in a hurry, to where only God knows.

Stratford

Stratford Town Centre

The cost of living is quite high since I live in Stratford (London), close to Stratford International train station. The cost of transportation is a little expensive, but that depends if you pay monthly and the number of zones you travel to. I pay for a Zone 1 to Zone 3 travelcard for £135 a month. Overall, London is an expensive city but it has lots to offer (stadiums, food, cinemas, libraries, cafes, malls).

Unfortunately, I arrived late and could not attend the orientation or the festival or the Fresher’s Fayre. It was a bit difficult to find the location of the university but starting my classes was easy once I visited Student Services for guidance. Due to my late arrival, it took a while to get my student card ready, which delayed my access to the library but a temporary card was provided. 

I did make use of the student support to access the digital skills awareness, but have not had the time to make use of the library tours and the Birkbeck career services. There have been several extra-curricular activities on and off-campus, three of which I attended. An insight to starting life as an English premier league coach, safety in London as an international student (hosted by real police officer) and another for dealing with culture shock.

I haven’t had the time to join the Student Union. However, I do appreciate some of the work the Student Union do, they really go the extra mile to create events for students. God bless them.

The most challenging aspect of life in the UK would be the high rent fees (about £940 per month) as I live close to the city centre. The baked bread is quite tasteless compared to the bread back home, as a student who has to move quickly sometimes, breakfast can be unsatisfying.

The public transport is quite efficient and well organized, you can rely on it almost 24/7. The evening classes at Birkbeck are really awesome, gives room for other activities. I looked forward to completing my studies and moving onward with my life. I strongly advice anyone from Nigeria to be financially ready, have an open mind and be quick to adapt and learn every day.

Growing up in a less privileged society has not only offered financial and academic challenges, but has also helped me realise the value of a college education. My educational pursuits would not be possible without the generous scholarship from Birkbeck.

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