Knowledge without borders

Baroness Bakewell, President of Birkbeck, addresses the College’s newest graduates as she congratulates them on their achievements during Graduation Week.

In her speech, she emphasises that the upheavals of a changing world and the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union should not be allowed to stand in the way of knowledge-sharing and education, and how our news graduates can help to break down borders.

It is always a great pleasure to be with you here and offer my congratulations to you on your success. This is a day you will always remember; a watershed in your lives, your careers, that will have a lasting influence on how you live your future life – where you go, what you do and. most importantly, what satisfaction it brings you.

When I look out across a sea of faces and listen to your names, I am impressed by the range and diversity of our graduates. As for your names – you may notice that I try to catch the first name of each of you as I meet you as you cross the platform. That’s because each of you matters individually to Birkbeck. It’s not always easy; I can’t always get it right. There are some names that are not familiar to my own background in the north of England. But even as I hesitate in my wish to get it right, I take pleasure in knowing what a global reach Birkbeck has. I am always delighted to speak with those of you from places across the world. Birkbeck embraces you within its academic fold. And that goes too for my fellow Europeans.

Indeed, I want to say something more about this sense of belonging and the barriers that inhibit it. These are troubled times, when matters of identity – who you are and where you came from – are increasingly used to define and, indeed, restrict what you can do, where you can work and where you can make your home. The whole of Europe – and indeed the larger world – has a long history of men who drew lines on maps and made laws giving power to those lines. We are the inheritors of those maps, and we both thrive and suffer because of them. Not just in Europe but across the Middle East, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Americas  – tribes of mankind have settled and developed, have lived within those lines and traded across them. They are the nation states we have today.

I, the people on this platform and all of you enjoy crossing those lines.  As a young student long ago I remember being woken in the night on the train south by a man in uniform demanding my passport and shouting:  “We are now crossing into Switzerland.” I was thrilled. At the first station I got out to buy fresh Swiss coffee and cakes. It was all so new. I had grown up in a country at war so, of course, only the servicemen of our armed forces got to travel abroad. France, Belgium, Holland and beyond were all occupied by the Germans. I got my first taste of crossing a frontier when I went to France at the age of 16.

I offer these personal reminiscences to show just how much times have changed. And then something important happened: the foundations of what we today call the European Union were created. And something happened in our family, too. Something I had never seen before: my father wept. He wept with joy that never, never again would there be war on the continent of Europe such as he had seen twice in his lifetime: the First World War with its death toll of 17 million. And the Second World War, including the war in the Pacific, with over 50 million dead.

He cried for himself and for his children: they would inherit a safer, more coherent Europe. And so it came about.

But wars did happen, and barriers took on a new significance. In the Middle East, and across Africa, people fled their homelands, crossed legal lines between countries to seek refuge from conflict or to seek a better life for themselves. They crossed frontiers in their millions and, in so doing, changed not only their own lives but the lives of those from whom they sought asylum. One of the outcomes of these shifts has created the world we have today: a world at odds with itself, finding it hard to formulate new rules by which to live – and, incidentally, defying the precepts of many of the world’s great religions which is always to “welcome the stranger”; make him welcome within your gates. People have increasingly become dogmatic, hostile, uneasy about their lives and their homelands.

But there is another – and, I believe, more powerful – impulse at work in the world: and we here today can be part of it. Knowledge is universal. The discoveries of science, medicine, social welfare, anthropology, literature, cultural studies are shared by scholars and institutes of learning around the world. It is crossing lines. It knows no boundaries.   The wisdom of study, the richness of shared understanding, the value of scholarship is something we are taking part in, simply by being here today.

Your remit extends around the world and your future careers will reach into many countries and communities. What we have in common is stronger than what divides us; stronger than the lines on the map; and we are here today to celebrate that shared outlook. Congratulations again to you all.

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Future Focus workshops: Careers and Employability

With the new academic year well underway, the first Future Focus workshop was held at the Bloomsbury campus this month, as part of a series of five workshops that support mature learners with advice and guidance on career prospects.

It’s the start of the new academic year and our very own version of the ‘New Year, New Me’ mantra dawns on Birkbeck; a chance for us to contemplate our goals and the tangible steps we need to take in order to get there. Deciding those next steps can always be made a little clearer with the support and guidance of others and attending Future Focus, a workshop organised by Birkbeck’s Widening Access team and designed and delivered by the Careers and Employability team, is a great place to turn to for that.

The first Future Focus workshop of the academic year took place in early October. Delivered by Birkbeck’s Employability Consultant & Events Manager, Alex Jones, attendees were encouraged to use the time to reflect on their motivation, decisions and skills, and whether the next step they were about to embark on fed into these goals. In our busy lives, taking the time to consider and plan, is all too often swept under the carpet, pushed for another day.

By coming along to Future Focus, attendees gave themselves the headspace to contemplate, make informed choices and seek the motivation and confidence to take those exciting first steps.

One of last year’s Future Focus participants, Ana de Monchaux, talks about her experience of attending the workshop:

“My son was applying to university and in the process for this I had got on the Eventbrite mailing list. One of the events promoted was a Future Focus workshop at Birkbeck University. I had been toying with the idea of going to university to study history but I was unsure whether I was too old and would not fit in. I had done a couple of modules with the Open University but had found the lack of face to face time quite isolating, so I didn’t want to feel isolated in a room of younger people.

I had heard really good things about Birkbeck so the Future Focus workshop seemed the ideal opportunity to test the waters! The workshop looked at what kind of career you could get with a degree in your chosen subject. If you just wanted to study for study sake that was okay but it gave you an idea of what you could do.

Everyone was very welcoming and the demographic was varied, I did not feel the oldest one there. Some people wanted a career change, some wanted to enhance and progress in their chosen career and some just wanted to study a new subject. We were asked what we liked about our present job, if we were working, and what we didn’t like. It made me realised that it was interacting with people that I liked the most and being self-employed I liked the least. It also made me see that I could change my career if that is what I wanted to do.

What the Future Focus workshop did, was to give me the confidence that I was not too old and that I had something to offer and that I could go to University. I applied and got in!”

If you’re thinking about your future and the tools you need to get there, sign up to the next session!

If you have any questions or want to find out more, contact the team.

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Stella’s Starting Study Vlog

This post was contributed by Stella Asante (student ambassador) and Gemma Bauman (student engagement officer). Here, Stella gives an insight into starting at Birkbeck. 

Walking into your first class can be nerve racking! Gathering your books, taking a seat and looking around wondering who to talk to and what your lecturers will be like. This feeling of uncertainty is perfectly normal – it’s the feeling of a challenge; a new adventure.

But, what do you need to know to be a little more comfortable with this feeling?

Final year Linguistics and Japanese student, Stella Asante, shares her tips on Freshers at Birkbeck, covering:

Find out more

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Birkbeck Graduate Research School Relaunches

This post has been contributed by Rima Amin, Registry Officer at Birkbeck.

To Brexit or not to Brexit, that was the question posed to students and speakers at the Birkbeck Graduate Research School’s (BGRS) “Relaunch” event on Monday, 23 May. The event hosted a Brexit debate followed by a drinks reception and an informal group discussion on the development of the Research School.

The BGRS is a network providing resources, skills workshops and social events to support students during their time at Birkbeck. These are currently provided through the BGRS website, academibirkbeck-entrance1.jpgc workshop calendar and email communications.

The BGRS is currently revising the services it provides, how it communicates and seeking further ideas on how it can be improved to meet research students’ needs better.

In his welcome speech Pro-Vice Master Julian Swann said “Tonight is about engaging in debate on Brexit which is an event of great topical interest to us all. Development of the research school is a priority for Birkbeck, so along with the debate tonight we look forward to having you give us your views about how to create a stronger community for research students.”

Chaired by Professor Rosie Campbell from Birkbeck’s Politics Department, the debate began with Ben Harris-Quinney from the Leave side making his case saying: “Research students are a crucial group who can find great opportunity in Brexit as they are people ready to engage in the world with ideas.”

He said that Britain is a bigger contributor of academic research opposed to its European counterparts inferring that research students are currently giving more than they are gaining.

Next was the turn of Lord Richard Balfe from the remain side who began by criticizing campaigners on both sides of Brexit who treat the referendum as though Britain is going to end if they don’t get their way.

Lord Balfe spoke of Britain in the 1950’s where racism was rife and signs saying “No dogs. No Irish” were visible on the streets. He said that Britain had come a long way since then and migrants have played a key role to the current well-functioning economy in Britain.

The students raised challenging insights to both speakers. Lord Balfe was questioned over the lack of transparency over decision-making in European Parliament compared with British Parliament.

The conclusion from the remain drapeaux européensside: “One person’s red tape is another person’s working rights- we should be proud of what we have achieved.” And that from the leave side: “With champagne receptions and lobster dinners, the EU can appear glamourous, but when you see through it, you realise democracy is more effective when local.”

The Chair of the debate thanked the speakers and the questions from the students calling the contributions “a much richer discussion than what we can find in the papers.”

Research student Ekua Agha said “The debate was extremely innovative and provoked a lot of thought on the issues. The informal setting but formal discussion was struck at a nice balance.”

Birkbeck Graduate Research School would like to thank Ben Harris Quinney, Lord Richard Balfe and all attendees.

It’s not over.

If you couldn’t make last night’s debate, we still want to hear your thoughts on how we can develop the research school. Here are the questions we asked research students at the event. Please send your thoughts to researchstudentunit@bbk.ac.uk. 

1. What do you want the Graduate School to be/do?
2. What’s the best thing about studying at Birkbeck?
3. If you could change 1 thing about your time at Birkbeck, what would it be?
4. How do you want to find out about training & events?
5. What do you think about tonight’s event?/Ideas for future events?

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