Championing higher education through trade union discounts

Earlier this year, to mark Heart Unions week, we showed how Birkbeck recognises trade unions through offering a 10% discount for union members in partnership with Unionlearn. In this instalment of the blog, we’ll meet two students who have taken up the trade union discount at Birkbeck, to hear about why they have come to Birkbeck and what the discount means to them as trade union members.

Felix Hamilton is a member of Unite and is a former secondary teacher from Ghana who is in the second year of the BSc Criminology and Criminal Justice. He came to Birkbeck for a change of career.

“Birkbeck’s evening classes are perfect for working people in London. I work full-time as a health and safety inspector for a housing trust and also study full-time. It’s very difficult but I have to manage my time well. It’s not easy doing a full time course and working. It’s all about dedication and commitment. I couldn’t afford to do the full time course without working because I have other responsibilities so I couldn’t give up work, plus I wouldn’t get any other financial support. The discount is really helpful in that respect.

“I came out of teacher training college in 2002 so I had been out of education for a long time. I had done other distance courses but it had been over 10 years without being in the classroom.

“I’m studying Criminology and Criminal Justice because I love the criminal aspects of sociology and learning about human behaviour and how to solve crimes. I’ve been a victim of crime myself, and through my experience I was interested in why people commit crime and wanted to learn more. I had done a Forensic Psychology course before but now I’m learning more about the theory behind offending. Hopefully I can gain experience in the practical side through a career in the Probation & Prison Service after I graduate.”

Barney O’Connor was a rep for GMB which gave him a head start for the LLB course, and he is now in his second year of the Law (LLB) course at Birkbeck after having a difficult time at school:

“School didn’t work for me, I never enjoyed it. I am dyslexic then in my twenties I’ve also been diagnosed with ASD, dyspraxia and ADHD. I‘m bright, I’m clever, I’m just ‘not academic’. This year I got my first 2:1 and I feel great.

“One of the benefits of doing this and being older is that if I’d gone at 18 and failed a module like I did last year, I would have dropped out. Now I’m older, I’ve realised that not everything goes well first time and you just learn to keep on trying. I was told I would never read for pleasure as a kid so nobody would have expected this.

“I heard about Birkbeck through my trade union, GMB, because someone mentioned you could get a discount and then I found out that Birkbeck had a good Law School. I liked that Birkbeck looks at your background, what you’ve done in life, your work experience, trade union work. It just fit what I needed at the time, and it’s still working.

“The trade union discount helps to tell people what Birkbeck was, why it was set up and how it’s still connected to that. My interest in employment law got me here. Through being a trade union rep, I did training on health and safety and the law behind that but I’ve now had the chance to learn more about different areas of Law. I get excited when I talk about Law. I’ve found something academic which I enjoy and that’s never happened before. It’s improved me all round, helped me to deal with lot of stuff from the past, school-wise. Not everyone does law for the same reasons but if you’re involved with the trade union and you have the trade union mindset then it’s a way of keeping that going.”

Further information about the trade union discount can be found here: http://www.bbk.ac.uk/student-services/fee-payment/discounts

To find out more about the union learning project at Birkbeck and opportunities for trade union members, contact union-learning@bbk.ac.uk

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At the heart of unions

Trade unions have been and continue to be crucial for improving conditions in the workplace and union learning reps (ULRs) have a special role in promoting and supporting the learning needs of members. As part of #heartunions week, Sophie Swain from Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement department talks about the 10% fee discount for union members at Birkbeck and the launch of a new outreach programme for trade union members interested in studying at undergraduate level.

A long-established partnership with the TUC’s unionlearn has enabled union members who wish to study at Birkbeck to receive a 10% discount on their fees, and last year over 700 students took up the discount. The Access and Engagement department are now underpinning this opportunity with targeted outreach activities for union members to support them in their journey to higher education. In line with the department’s mission to support non-traditional students including those who have low prior attainment or who have been out of education for a number of years, this outreach work will focus on those without an existing undergraduate degree or who are returning to university to gain the skills and knowledge needed to progress into a new line of work.

This new initiative has been developed as a timely response to challenges facing London’s workforce, in recognition of the need to adapt to changes in the workplace. Research by the Centre for London (2018) estimates that up to a third of London’s jobs are at risk of automation, which has a disproportionate impact on low and medium-skilled workers. For these workers, higher education study can be a way of preparing themselves for the changes by equipping them with new skills, knowledge and career prospects. Lifelong learning is at the heart of Birkbeck’s ethos, and for almost 200 years we have offered students access to higher education at whatever stage in life, regardless of previous experience.

Trade unions play a vital role in supporting the learning of their members. In a survey of Union Learning Fund learners undertaken by the University of Exeter in 2018, 7 out of 10 reported that without union support, they would not have taken up the opportunity. This study also highlights the importance of information, advice and guidance when supporting learners: for those without any qualifications, 79% said that they would not have taken part without union support. Therefore, we’re building relationships with trade union learning reps (ULRs) to enable them to inform prospective students about opportunities available to them at Birkbeck.

The Access and Engagement department are calling on colleagues from across the college to collaborate on planned initiatives to support current students from a trade union background, as well as anyone who is interested in delivering informal learning activities to trade union members. We would also encourage admissions staff to share details of the discount and outreach work with their applicants, to ensure that those who might benefit can take advantage of the offer. To get in touch and find out more, please email union-learning@bbk.ac.uk.

 

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