Birkbeck welcomes generous alumni back to Malet Street

The College invited alumni and guests to learn about the difference gifts in wills can make to Birkbeck’s students and community.

Master of the College, Professor David Latchman (r) speaks with an alumnus over tea.

Many Birkbeck alumni and supporters have generously chosen to help secure Birkbeck’s future by remembering Birkbeck with gifts in their wills. On Tuesday 13 November, the Master of Birkbeck, Professor David Latchman CBE, invited some of the College’s alumni to Malet Street to tell them more about this way of giving and to thank those who have already remembered Birkbeck in their wills.

Gifts in wills have made a huge difference to Birkbeck. From 2016-2018, Birkbeck received £2.5million from gifts in wills. These gifts have supported Birkbeck students,  provided for student-centred facilities as well as enabled world-leading research projects.

The late alumna Constance Kenway provided a very generous gift to the Psychology Department to support excellent students in financial need. Christine Ozolins, recipient of the Constance Kenway Scholarship in 2017, spoke to the guests about her story.

Christine Ozolins, recipient of the Constance Kenway Scholarship, addresses the group.

She said: “As a child, I had a difficult home life and was unable to finish my schooling.  I spent many years working in a variety of different jobs. However, I always felt unfulfilled and longed to be in a career where I could help others and fulfil my potential.  It took me years to get the courage to change my life, but when I eventually did, I commenced a BSc in Psychology here at Birkbeck.  This degree transformed my life in ways I never could have imagined. I fell in love with the brain and with cognitive neuroscience, something I was not expecting.”

Christine graduated with a first-class degree, and went on to a master’s degree. When her marriage broke down, she worried she would no longer be able to afford to continue her studies. She applied for, and was offered, the Constance Kenway Scholarship which is available for postgraduate psychology students experiencing financial hardship. The scholarship enabled her to complete her MSc.

She continued: “I believe it is so important that people like myself are given a chance to fulfil our potential and create value for society in the present and the future. I believe Birkbeck stands alone in its mission to provide the highest quality education to everybody, regardless of age, background or gender.”

Christine now plans to start a PhD, and she is putting all her energies into finding a way to fund her studies. As there are few funding options available for part-time candidates, she plans to become successful enough to leave money in her own will to support students like herself and to make the path easier for those who will come after her.

Chris Murphy, Director of Development and Alumni and himself an alumnus of Birkbeck, also addressed the group and explained that he and his wife had both chosen to leave a gift to the College in their wills. Gifts in wills, Chris noted, are one of the most private and therefore most generous ways that alumni and supporters can give to the College.

The tea was an opportunity for some of our supporters to find out how integral these types of gifts are to the future of the College. They fund a variety of research projects and support students in different ways. Whatever the amount, gifts in wills make an enormous difference to the College and to students who may otherwise be unable to continue in education.

Legacy gifts of every size have a lasting impact and help to ensure that Birkbeck’s high-quality teaching and world-class research continue to serve future generations of students. If you would like to know more about remembering Birkbeck with a gift in your will, please get in touch with the Development & Alumni Team by calling Kara McMahon on 020 7380 3187 or sending an email to

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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: A Controversial Life

Join an upcoming symposium, exploring the life and legacy of Winnie Mandela through screenings of two documentaries, Winnie (2017) and Winnie Mandela and the Missing Witness (2010), followed by discussions with the directors and further panel discussions. This will take place on Friday 16 November 2018, 9am-4.30pm, at the 43 Gordon Square Cinema. 

In death, as in life, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela continues to excite strong views. Exemplified in the Independent headline, ‘Winnie Mandela: the turbulent life of the woman who went from “Mother of the Nation” to “mugger”’, most narratives of this global icon either fall into the binary trope of good/bad mother, or trace the fall from grace of a respected and courageous comrade. Excoriated by her critics, most significantly, for her association with the Mandela United Football Club’s violent activities in the 1980s, her life and legacy has gained a renewed saliency in South Africa in which her visions of a radical democracy speak anew to a younger generation of activists disillusioned with the fruits of the ‘Mandela miracle’ and with what they see as the compromises of the ANC leadership.  Both the essentially mythical Madikizela-Mandela and the complex and controversial historical figure call for re-examination.

This day’s symposium, held to mark the centenary year of Nelson Mandela’s birth, and the year of the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, seeks to play a role in this reappraisal. Beginning with the screening of two recent documentaries of her life, the Sundance Award-winning film Winnie (2017) and Winnie Mandela and the Missing Witness, (BBC Inside Story series. Episode TRC 99, Part 01, 2010), and discussion between the directors Pascale Lamsche and Nicholas Claxton, and film-scholar Dr Jacqueline Maingard, the days’ events conclude with a round-table and Q and A session with columnists, writers and academics. Columnist and publisher Palesa Morudu, historians Drs Elizabeth Williams, Emily Bridger and Professor Colin Bundy, and writer, Fred Bridgland will form this second panel, chaired by the former BBC correspondent, Martin Plaut. They, together with an audience of academics and the interested public, will reflect on the turbulent and dramatic life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela looking beyond one-dimensional vilifications and rose-tinted eulogies and immortalisations to consider the historical figure in all her complexity.

An initiative of the University of London Southern African Studies Seminar, and generously funded by BIMI, BISR and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, it has been convened by Sue Onslow (Institute of Commonwealth Studies), Emma Sandon (Birkbeck) and Hilary Sapire (Birkbeck)

Click here for further information and to register.

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Open Access: process, ethics and possibilities

For International Open Access Week 2018, the Birkbeck Library held a panel discussion exploring the future and the radical potential of open access publishing. Melissa Steiner, Assistant Librarian, reports on the event.

What would the world look like if access to knowledge was free? This was the question we at the library asked our students during International Open Access week, 22-28 October. Many responses cited advantages not only to students’ own education but also to the development of knowledge across the world, with the winning answer stating it would ‘unleash people’s potential… Who knows what people could achieve if the barriers to education were removed?’

The theme of International Open Access week this year was Designing Equitable Foundations for Open Knowledge. At Birkbeck, we considered this theme through a panel event held in the Keynes Library entitled Open Access: process, ethics and possibilities. This was chaired by Sarah Lee, Head of Research Strategy Support at Birkbeck and was held the day after the launch of Birkbeck’s new Research Office.

The first speaker was Martin Paul Eve, Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing here at Birkbeck and member of the UUK Open Access Monographs Working Group. His presentation considered the implications of HEFCE’s proposed mandate that monographs will be required to be made available open access (OA) for the REF in 2020.  Martin laid bare the (high) costs of monograph publishing, and considered funding options for OA publishing in the humanities. He concluded that time was running out for a framework to be built to make this mandate possible, given that the various options available would have repercussions for one or more stakeholders.

The second speaker was Simon Bowie, a library systems worker at SOAS, University of London. He has worked on the implementation and support of open-source systems in HE libraries. Simon’s talk focussed on the radical and disruptive potential of using open source software/infrastructure in libraries. He critiqued the assumption that technology is neutral and proposed an alternative to the hold proprietary software companies have over libraries, urging systems librarians to consider the ethical implications of the software they use and realise the potential that open source offers.

The final speaker was Lucy Lambe, the Scholarly Communications Officer at the LSE. Lucy’s talk focused on an initiative at LSE in which researchers were paired with comics creator Karen Rubins, who developed the abstract of their academic articles into comic strips. The success of this initiative demonstrates the power of open licensing (in this case Creative Commons) and open access publishing. The research, which may have been otherwise inaccessible to those outside of the university, was turned into something more easily disseminated to the non-academic public, an important factor when considering how much research is publically funded, and increased the researchers’ impact.

Birkbeck Library was very pleased to be able to bring together a panel with the expertise and thought-provoking insights of our speakers, and it was an excellent opener to the rest of OA week which included sessions on using open access resources, understanding green & gold open access, a DOI for data/ORCID drop in, and of course, the Open Access board game all run by library staff.

Removing barriers to accessing knowledge is an issue close to the heart of library and information workers and we look forward to next years’ International Open Access Week!

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A new world to be explored

Rukhsana Yeasmin recounts her experiences of studying BA Classics at Birkbeck and the deep love she developed for the subject, which she is now continuing at MA level. She credits her tutors for support and guidance that got her through her degree in difficult times.

The year I decided to study for my undergraduate degree, Birkbeck seemed to be the best option with its strong reputation, its rich facilities in the heart of London and teaching from world-leading experts in the field of Classics. I have never regretted choosing Birkbeck since then.

My journey into the classical world started with my love of philosophy, although I never knew at the time that I was merely looking through the window, with a big new world still waiting to be explored. As I delved deeper into classical literature, it taught me in the most profound – yet accommodating – way that truth is the greatest of all virtues. It is the perfect beauty of truth that provided courage to both Odysseus and Aeneid to undertake the long journey of uncertainty. Similarly, it inspired Plato, Aristotle and Seneca to dedicate their lives in explaining and teaching philosophy. Classical literature teaches us that the search for truth remains sacred to all human existence, and the very thing that makes a hero out of a man.

Although passion will carry one through tough times, achieving good results in a subject requires constancy, dedication and persistent effort every day. While having to care for an elderly parent and going through my own personal crisis in relationships and almost all spheres of life, I found deep solace in classical literature. One of my favourite verses that I learnt in my time at Birkbeck is ‘Dum spiro spero,’ or, ‘as I live I breathe.’

I had regular meetings with my personal tutors, who so kindly and promptly replied to all my emails with guidance and support every time that I reached out to them. In my two year-long modules on Greek history with Dr Christy Constantakopoulou, I was transported to Greece in every lesson, and all ancient writers and warriors came back to life. In the presence of my teacher and dissertation supervisor, Professor Catharine Edwards, everywhere my life glanced I saw possibility. I have had supreme pleasure and the deepest sense of fulfilment while working under her supervision. I am thoroughly indebted to the selfless support and guidance of both my personal tutors Dr Serafina Cuomo and Dr Christopher Farrell for supporting me in completing my undergraduate degree. Moreover, I have never met an undergraduate administration staff member as helpful as David Jones, who was always welcoming and ready to support me whenever I was in need. If it wasn’t for the help and support of them all, I do not think my hard work alone would have got me this far. I remain deeply grateful to Birkbeck and all these members of staff.

I am now studying for my MA in South Asian Area Studies while focusing on the history, philosophy and literature of Ancient India at SOAS. My studies of the classical world at Birkbeck have prepared me to bring new perspectives into my recent studies, and I wish to carry on with further education focused on the historical, cultural and ideological transaction with Graceo Bacterian Kingdoms.

Once one has studied the classical world, one is ultimately placed into the axis of world literature, from where literature of every era becomes relative. The fusion of the past, present and future is so inevitable within classical literature within classical literature that one gets lost and found simultaneously. This is exactly what a classicist experiences, and this is why we study classics.

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