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How free taster courses at Birkbeck are inspiring people to enter higher education

For those who have never studied at a UK university, knowing where to start can be daunting. In this blog, Birkbeck Access Officer Ali Sheldrick discusses the taster courses available at Birkbeck and demonstrates how the courses are run by explaining the recent Management taster course.  

Applying to university can be a confusing and unsettling process. Deciding which course to take, which university to study at, whether to study part-time or full-time, or in-person or online, can easily overwhelm students. And this is especially true for those who are thinking about going to university for the first time. To help with this, Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement department have created a series of free taster courses to provide a way for potential students to try out a university level course in an easily accessible way.  

Our ‘Get Started’ taster courses are a free programme of classes which aim to give people without experience of studying at a UK university an opportunity to sample evening study at Birkbeck. We run each course in collaboration with Birkbeck lecturers, with a two-hour evening class running once a week over four or five weeks.  The courses also include access to a series of pre-recorded lectures and a Birkbeck site packed with free resources and readings which students can access in their own time. 

“The pre work was amazing and very insightful… it was a useful taster for what studying Management will be like at university”
Management taster course attendee

 Management taster course 

Our Management taster course ran for the first time between November and December 2021, and followed the success of courses in Law, Psychology for Education, History and Archaeology, and Community Leadership in the 2020-21 academic year.  

The pre-recorded lectures and first four classes were delivered by Dr Ian Harrison and Dr Mary Otiotio, both lecturers in the Department of Management at Birkbeck. The classes were delivered online using Microsoft Teams to a cohort of around 30 learners, many of whom were engaging with a university and online study for the first time.  

The course content revolved around some of the foundational questions in Management studies; asking attendees to consider ‘What is management?’, ‘What role does management play in organisations?’, ‘Who are managers?’ and ‘What do managers do?’. These broad questions were brought to life through case studies featuring Apple, Tesco and the NHS, and attendees contributed to classes by discussing experiences from their own places of work. Discussions even included thought experiments involving broccoli and Marmite! Here’s what we covered each week:  

Week 1: Managing in organisations  

In the first session we considered the role of management in organisations, what management is and what it involves, who managers are and what they do. 

Week 2: Models of management  

We introduced theories and models of management and how they have shaped management thinking and influenced approaches to managing in organisations. 

Week 3: Leadership and motivation  

We considered a specific but integral aspect of management: leadership. We looked into what leadership means, what it involves and how it influences other workers in organisations.  

Week 4: People management and diversity  

We focussed on the key resource of any organisation: its people. How we manage, inspire and empower a diverse workforce to achieve individual and organisational goals.  

Week 5: Emotional intelligence for managers and continuing your learning 

In the first part of this class, we explored the importance of emotional intelligence to managers, what it involves and what we can do to increase our own emotional intelligence. The second part of the session provided attendees with an opportunity to talk with current students and reflect on what they learned during the course. We finished the course by exploring potential next steps for attendees’ learning journeys. 

“The course exceeded my expectations. I came with no knowledge prior to the sessions and I feel enlightened.”
Management taster course attendee

The Access and Engagement department will be running a second free taster course in Law starting on Monday 28 February 2022 – sign up here to register your place! 

We will also be delivering a taster course in Psychology in Education in May 2022 (date tbc) and a wider programme of outreach activity with both current and prospective students across the academic year, including ‘Is University for Me?’ events in February and May 2022, plus much more!  

For more information about our work and how to get involved, please email getstarted@bbk.ac.uk or explore our webpage 

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A warm welcome to our 2021 Compass Scholars

After another competitive application round, Birkbeck once again welcomed 20 new students onto the Compass Scholarship Programme this October. The students, who are studying a range of subjects such as Psychology, Maths, Business and Politics, are almost at the end of their first term at Birkbeck already. Here’s a look back at their journey so far and some of the things they have been up to.
A group of Compass students outside of the Malet Street building

We were kindly hosted by the fantastic Library staff at Birkbeck for our two-day Orientation. In addition to a friendly welcome from the Access and Engagement Department staff who run the Compass Project, our Scholars heard from Birkbeck’s Wellbeing, Study Skills and Library team about the services available to them this year. They also enjoyed some tasty food from Terrace 5, a restaurant in the main building and a tour of the facilities. Thankfully the weather was great and showed off Bloomsbury in its best light during our mini tour of the area.

Following Orientation, our Scholars were introduced to their volunteer academic mentors. Our mentors participated in online training with mentor lead, Luke Williams, over the summer and have been checking in with their students throughout the term. A huge thank you to our mentors as always, for the support and guidance they offer to our scholars.

Birkbeck Students joining our friends at Student Action Refugees at the Anti-Refugee Bill Demonstration on 20 October

Birkbeck students and Compass team holding up signs that say; "Refugees welcome"Some of our scholars have already teamed up with last year’s Student Action Refugees (STAR) committee. In addition to the meetings to plan this year’s activities, they got stuck in straight away through their contributions to the Anti-Refugee Bill rally that took place on 20 October in Westminster. It was lovely to see representation at the rally from so many of our partners in the sector. Birkbeck is proud of its STAR student society and are excited to see what things they get up to this year.

If you would like to find out more about the Compass Project at Birkbeck, see our webpage or email the Compass Project team.

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Graduate launches a teaching career at 59

Nick Townsend graduates this week with a BA in History after returning to education in his 50s. We spoke to Nicholas about how he balanced his studies with work, and what he would say to someone considering a degree later in life. #BBKgrad

Before Nick embarked on his degree at Birkbeck he was an advocate for education, at every stage of life, and he put this into practice with his work with Unite, a British trade union organisation that seeks to serve the rights of workers. “I volunteered at the Heathrow branch where we have 300 members who are mainly London black cab drivers and Heathrow airport staff. We helped them with queries or issues, computer literacy, and ran Spanish classes members who were looking to move abroad.”

Driven by a lifelong love of history and access to a Unite union member’s discount of 10% off each semester, Nick decided to take the leap into higher education in 2017 to learn more on the topic. He recalls the first time he set foot into the marbled halls of Senate House, as like “a Hollywood film moment, when the camera zooms back in and I thought to myself, what have I got myself in to? It really was quite an intimidating process.”

Despite the initial adjustment to life as a student, father and volunteer with a day job, he was able to establish a whole new routine which meant that three months in he was used to his busy schedule. He cites his prior responsibilities as part of the reason why he chose Birkbeck in the first place, “I couldn’t study during the day and Birkbeck had an extensive evening learning programme that was perfect for me.”

As an avid reader and writer in his spare time, Nicholas had no trouble adapting to the rigorous reading schedule, however he did struggle slightly with punctuation and grammar which he was able to address quickly after his tutors pointed him towards the Study Skills support available at the College.

Nicholas enjoyed delving into discussions about colonialisation and what effect it has had around the globe in his seminars and being able to share his opinions and views with his fellow students who were diverse and brought “a whole range of ideas” to the table. One aspect he particularly enjoyed was the Healing, Health and Modernity in African History module and the perspectives it offered on the effects of western medicine being imposed on indigenous cultures Dr Hilary Sapire, Reader in Modern History in the Department of History, Classics & Archaeology, who he says, “made the subject very interesting as she brought her own life experiences as a South African to her teaching of the subject.”

In his final year, Nick was able to explore his interest in social history and wrote his dissertation on the impact of Jamaican music on British culture from 1962-1983. He hopes that topics like these will become more commonplace in discussions of British history and that the subject will become more accessible in the media.

In the future Nick is open to further study, but in the short term he is hoping to begin a career in teaching at a secondary school where he can hopefully inspire young people to engage with the past.

When Nick reflects on how he achieved his academic ambition he boils it down to “time management and tenacity” and would say to someone doing the same to “not be too shy to speak in class, it’s the hardest thing to express what you want to say but it’s what you are there to do. Ultimately, if you don’t try, you will never know.”

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A ’late learner’ looks to counsel others to achieve great things

Nikesha Morris always knew she had it in her to learn despite only learning to read and write at ten years old. Graduating this week with a BA Psychosocial Studies and Principles of Psychodynamic Counselling degree, she’s setting an example on how to overcome life’s obstacles. This is her #BBKstory.

Nikesha Morris in graduation cap and gown

Ten years’ experience working in schools, supporting parents and students with their wellbeing, alongside having a natural capacity for advising others, provides Nikesha Morris with an ideal platform to pursue her goals in the field of counselling. Advising and supporting people has always been a key driver for her relationships with others.

Having recently completed a BA in Psychosocial Studies and Principles of Psychodynamic Counselling, she’s setting herself up well to progress her career and expand her support network.

With a baby on the way and raising “two beautiful children” with her husband, it’s difficult to imagine Nikesha facing any predicaments as she cheerily speaks of her husband trying to calm her down with her plans post-graduation: “I’m already planning and he’s right to say: ‘No. We don’t want to go through that again’. He tells me: ‘Just give yourself a break’, but I don’t want to. I mean, initially when I started this course, I wanted to go to PhD level. I’ve always viewed myself as a doctor or psychotherapist…something along those lines.”

Yet academic accomplishments eluded her during the earlier years of her education and life didn’t always appear so rosy. She explains: “There were very high expectations from my mum and she would just say, ‘Oh she can do it!’ I felt really embarrassed knowing that deep down I couldn’t do it. I was bullied in school. I was called ‘dunce’ as well. I wasn’t the smartest in class and it was quite a struggle which knocked my confidence.”

It wasn’t until Nikesha was working through her degree at Birkbeck, in 2018, that she reached out and received the necessary support from services at the College, and learnt that she was dyslexic. It led her to reflect on those earlier years of ‘poor achievement’: It’s funny because I felt it deep down throughout my whole childhood, I’ve always wanted to get to the next stage (of education), but I knew I didn’t have it in me and I didn’t have the support. I think moving to a new country from Jamaica, with new opportunities, kind of put me into a new dynamic and new mindset where I just thought: you know what…this is an opportunity and I’m going to try and see if I can catch up on what I’ve missed out on.”

Recognising and understanding the core of those earlier issues has given her some peace and she’s keen to use this personal learning to apply to her career. She’s also aware that a strong support system goes a long way in helping to achieve your goals in life.

“Anything is possible with organisations such as Birkbeck. It’s good to be honest in your own abilities and accept help wherever possible. There’s no shame in gaining knowledge from others, and it’s never too late, no matter what age you are or what your position is. Doing my degree at Birkbeck has been a life changing experience. It’s been fraught with lots of challenges, but in those I’ve found growth through a renewed effort, reaffirmation of self-belief, and most of all faith. I kind of feel like it was an experience that was needed.”

This week, she’s leaving her adversities in the past, including years of depression, a recent diagnosis of bipolar and fighting homelessness; and is setting her sights firmly on more positive things, with graduation being the first stop:

“Gosh, this means everything. When I clicked the submission button on my final assignment and I knew that I was coming to the end of my degree…when I received the graduation email and my grades… I was like ‘Oh my God’. It was one of the best moments of my life. Elation cannot come close to describing the feeling of achievement and reaching the summit, so to speak. It really does drive home the mantra of being halfway up the mountain, you know, keep going, never give up and just continue on the path to success.”

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