Category Archives: News – On Campus

Room for Improvement?

A shortage of teaching space is one of the biggest problems facing Birkbeck. The nature of evening study means demand for classrooms is concentrated during a short period of the day. Yet while student numbers have grown significantly in recent years, the number of classrooms has failed to keep pace.

The university’s planners are working on ways to increase capacity, including acquiring new buildings. In the meantime however, the overflow has been dealt with by decamping classes to offsite venues run by third parties. Some of these, such as Westminster Kingsway College on Grays Inn Road, are some distance from Malet Street, and lack facilities such as access to the eduroam Wi-Fi network. Many students are unhappy with the situation.

“In the three modules I’ve had so far, two have been off campus,” says David McGuinness, a first year journalism and media student. “At Kingsway we had our room moved once or twice, which would be fine except they didn’t know where they were putting us, so wasted an hour of a lecture.”

Others have more general concerns. “It hasn’t really presented any practical issues,” said Ben, a history undergraduate who has been offsite for every one of his classes this year, “it just sort of presents an odd image.”

Staff have been affected too, with some frustrated academics saying they struggle to get between classes on time. “It’s a huge problem,” said one, who estimates around 40% of students are being taught away from Birkbeck on any given evening. This number is roughly in line with the calculations of Jeremy Tanner, director of commercial services and estates development at the university, who plans how space is used.

“About 70% of student teaching hours take place in Birkbeck-controlled rooms,” Mr Tanner says. “I’m aware of the perception, and it’s something we’re really working to improve. We do an annual survey of classrooms and we’ve dropped venues in the past on the basis of that.” He welcomes engagement with students to address concerns.

A stated mission of the Master of Birkbeck Dr David Latchman is for all students to be taught in on-site classrooms by the time the university celebrates its bicentenary in 2023. But there are several barriers to expansion, including a lack of space for development in Bloomsbury, council rules on what uses buildings can be put to, and the hard reality of competing for property on the commercial market.

A step forward was taken in 2015 when the university acquired Cambridge House, a four-storey building on Euston Road. Minutes from a meeting of the university’s governors in May show it was purchased for £15.4m using “substantial cash reserves built up over recent years”.

The intention is to move administrative staff to the premises, freeing up room for between twenty one and twenty three new classrooms at Malet Street by 2017 – 10% of the number needed to reach Dr Latchman’s target – and saving around £1m a year on external classroom hire. Looking further ahead, Birkbeck also plans to extend the main building at Malet Street, something which is described as “a key part of the longer term estates strategy”.

It’s a start, but what about the glittering new East London campus? Millions have been poured into the development, and Birkbeck’s website claims Stratford is attracting “a growing number of students”. However some staff have claimed the project – a joint venture launched with the University of East London (UEL) in 2006 – has now been quietly dropped.

“It’s a white elephant,” said one, who agreed with claims the university has backed off and blamed this on the coalition government’s raising of tuition fees. Birkbeck initially had one third of the total space on the Stratford campus, he added, but this has now been reduced to, “about three classrooms and an office”.

Jeremy Tanner rejects this and calculates that between seven and 10 rooms, out of a total of 17, are in use on an average evening. “We haven’t walked away from it at all,” he says. “We retain the same number of rooms we always envisaged we would.” He admits that Birkbeck has reduced its ownership share after earlier plans changed, but says this has saved money on the investment. Meanwhile money is being made by hiring out unused space to UEL during the daytime. “I think we’ve actually been reasonably cute and secured a good deal for the college,” he says.

All of this sounds reassuring, but will be of little comfort to those still stuck in offsite rooms, who will graduate long before the practice has been phased out in 2023. Those presently enrolled may also wonder why Birkbeck has taken on so many new students – the number of undergraduates rose by 308% between 2011 and 2013 – while surely knowing that there wasn’t going to be enough space to accommodate them.

Every university must be pragmatic to some extent, weighing educational principles against the bottom line. But they must be careful not to let their students get impatient.

Have you been affected by room shortages?

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Universities Minister Jo Johnson visits Birkbeck

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson was welcomed to Birkbeck this week by the Master, David Latchman, and spent time talking to students about their College experiences.

Making his first visit to Birkbeck, Jo Johnson MP was keen to speak to students about the potential impact of maintenance loans being newly available to part-time undergraduate students. The new loans, which will be available from 2018-19, were announced in November last year as part of the Government’s Spending Review.

The Minister’s visit to Birkbeck also reflects growing government interest in alternative models of higher education provision, such as Birkbeck’s unique three-year, evening taught undergraduate courses, which give students the opportunity to combine study with work and other commitments.

David Latchman said; “We were delighted to welcome the Minister to the College today and to have this opportunity to show him what we do.  We discussed the very welcome recent government announcement of loans for postgraduates, which will come into play from 2016-17, and the introduction of maintenance loans for part-time undergraduate study from 2018. Both of these will be of great benefit to our students. We want to see an increasingly level playing field between full-time and part-time study, and these are encouraging steps.

“We also discussed Equivalent Level Qualifications (ELQ), as we’d like to see further subjects exempted from this ruling.  We were also able to raise concerns about the alarming fall in part time study in England and whether all the measures announced in the Spending Review will be enough to stem this decline. We hope Jo Johnson will take these concerns on board as the White Paper develops.”

Postgraduate student Patricia Whitehorne spoke to the Minister and said afterwards: “He seemed really interested in how we thought the maintenance loans might work, and how much difference they would make to potential part-time students – whether at Birkbeck it would mean a student would choose to do a four-year part-time course, or the three-year full time evening course, for example.

“I think it was very valuable for him to speak to actual students, and for us to help inform him as he makes policy decisions.”

The Master added: “The Minister was very interested in Birkbeck’s unique evening teaching model, and had plenty of questions about our role as a specialist higher education institution in London. He also asked about the ‘typical Birkbeck student’ and I was delighted to be able to tell him there was no such person – our students come from all backgrounds and range in age from 18 to 80-plus.”

Birkbeck welcomes Sir Keir Starmer MP for campus visit

Sir Keir Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, received a warm welcome at Birkbeck, University of London where he met staff and students from across the college community.

The Labour MP, elected in May 2015, visited the University on Friday, 23 October and had discussions with Professor David Latchman, Master of the college about a range of topics including Birkbeck’s advocacy for the societal and economic benefits of combining work and study.

Recent Birkbeck initiatives include a joint submission with the Open University to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, calling for policy changes to help stimulate part-time study, and Parliamentary briefings on the decline in part-time students and the opportunities apprenticeships present for expanding university study and widening participation.

Sir Keir also met a group of students who shared their stories of the difference studying at an institution dedicated to providing degree-level education in the evening has made to their lives.

One of these students, Michael Peltier, who has successfully completed Birkbeck’s three-year degree in BSc Accounting and is studying for a Master’s degree in Accounting and Finance at the college, said:

“I am already seeing the fantastic benefits of studying and working simultaneously – I’m now employed in a role which otherwise would have required me to have years of experience, so studying at Birkbeck has definitely given me the edge. I’ve already learnt that employers really value Birkbeck students because balancing work and study shows you can deal with the demands of a career.”

Also in attendance was Birkbeck student Alicia Caley, who earlier this year successfully completed a BA Global Politics and International Relations (full-time) at the college, and who has now commenced studies on the MSc Government, Policy and Politics (part-time).

Alicia said: “Having the opportunity to study in the evenings has really opened up opportunities for me over the past three years. I have been able to gain invaluable experience of full time work whilst being able to gain a degree in the evenings over three years. Now I am studying for a Masters at Birkbeck that compliments my career perfectly. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the flexibility that comes with the structure of evening learning at Birkbeck.”

Sir Keir also toured the Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus to find out more about our world-class facilities in the heart of London’s Knowledge Quarter.

Speaking after the meeting, Professor Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, said:

“It has been an honour to welcome Sir Keir onto campus and to introduce him to Birkbeck’s work and the key role we play in enabling Londoners to combine work with study to gain new skills and knowledge.”

Article written and originally published by the Birkbeck External Relations Team, reprinted with their permission

Vacancies – Managing Editor (Print) – Lamp and Owl

Managing Editor (Print)

The Lamp & Owl is looking to appoint a Managing Editor (Print) for the 2015-16 academic year.

This person will be charged with the day-to-day management of the termly print edition for Birkbeck’s student magazine.

The Managing Editor (Print) will:

  • Manage the commissioning, editing and production of content for the print edition of the Lamp & Owl
  • Manage the design and production infrastructures of the print edition (e.g. InDesign layout template, logistics of printing)
  • Build upon existing design template of the Lamp & Owl to identify, plan and implement improvements that are realistic and feasible
  • Organize and/or attend regular meetings (e.g. editorial meetings) to build and maintain relationships between Lamp and Owl platforms (e.g. print, digital)
  • Assist the Editor-in-Chief in attracting, developing and retaining production staff and writers, including acting as a staff mentor where appropriate
  • Monitor adherence of production staff and writers to appropriate standards (e.g. ethics, style, production schedule) reporting any issues to the Editor-in-Chief
  • Assist the Editor-in-Chief and Business Manager in identifying revenue streams and business models pertaining to the print edition, as appropriate and feasible
  • Liaise as required with the Communications & Activities Officer of the Birkbeck Student Union

Candidates who would like to apply for the role should submit a CV along with a 250 word statement, outlining how they would fulfil this position at the Lamp & Owl, to s.rodgers@bbk.ac.uk by midnight on Sunday 28 June 2015.
Interviews with shortlisted candidates will take place in the afternoon of 8 July 2015. The selection panel for will include representatives of the Birkbeck Journalism Society, Birkbeck Student Union and Birkbeck’s School of Arts.

We welcome applications from any individual regardless of ethnic origin, gender, disability, religious belief, sexual orientation or age.

All applications will be considered on merit.

Vacancies – Managing Editor (Digital) – Lamp and Owl

Managing Editor (Digital)

The Lamp & Owl is looking to appoint a Managing Editor (Digital) for the 2015-16 academic year.

This person will be charged with the day-to-day management of the digital platforms related to Birkbeck’s student magazine.

The Managing Editor (Digital) will:

  • Manage the commissioning, editing and production of content for the digital platforms of the Lamp & Owl (e.g. website, social media)
  • Manage the infrastructures related to all digital platforms (e.g. social media user accounts, website content management systems).
  • Build upon existing digital presence of the Lamp & Owl to identify, plan and implement improvements and new initiatives that are realistic and feasible
  • Organize and/or attend regular meetings (e.g. editorial meetings) to build and maintain relationships between Lamp and Owl platforms (e.g. print, digital)
  • Assist the Editor-in-Chief in attracting, developing and retaining production staff and writers, including acting as a staff mentor where appropriate
  • Monitor adherence of production staff and writers to appropriate standards (e.g. ethics, style, production schedule) reporting any issues to the Editor-in-Chief
  • Assist the Editor-in-Chief and Business Manager in identifying revenue streams and business models pertaining to digital platforms, as appropriate and feasible
  • Liaise as required with the Communications & Activities Officer of the Birkbeck Student Union

Candidates who would like to apply for the role should submit a CV along with a 250 word statement, outlining how they would fulfil this position at the Lamp & Owl, to s.rodgers@bbk.ac.uk by midnight on Sunday 28 June 2015.
Interviews with shortlisted candidates will take place in the afternoon of 8 July 2015. The selection panel for will include representatives of the Birkbeck Journalism Society, Birkbeck Student Union and Birkbeck’s School of Arts.
We welcome applications from any individual regardless of ethnic origin, gender, disability, religious belief, sexual orientation or age.

All applications will be considered on merit.

Vacancies – Editor-in-Chief – Lamp and Owl

Editor-in-Chief

The Lamp & Owl is looking to appoint an Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-16 academic year. This person will be charged with the overall strategic management of Birkbeck’s student magazine across its print and digital platforms.

The Editor-in-Chief will:

  • Oversee the commissioning, editing and production of content across and between the print and digital platforms of the Lamp & Owl
  • Seek to attract, develop and retain production staff and writers
  • Ensure, with the Managing Editor (Print), the publication of at least three issues in academic year 2015-16, including a Fresher’s Issue to be published by the end of September 2015
  • Ensure, with the Managing Editor (Digital) the ongoing creation/curation of digital content in conjunction with and in-between issues
  • Organize at least three cross-platform (e.g. print, digital) editorial meetings per year
  • Ensure adherence of managing editors, production staff and writers to appropriate standards (e.g. ethics, style, production schedule)
  • Develop strategies, with the Business Manager and Birkbeck Student Union, for new revenue streams and business models
  • Foster, with the Managing Editors for Print and Digital, the training and/or mentoring of junior editorial staff and writers to prospectively assume senior editorial roles at Lamp & Owl in the future
  • Ensure that the Lamp & Owl pursues its mission to be a publication ‘by the students, for the students’ by maintaining editorial independence from the College’s governing bodies, academic and administrative departments, and student union

Candidates who would like to apply for the role should submit a CV along with a 250 word statement, outlining how they would fulfil this position at the Lamp & Owl, to s.rodgers@bbk.ac.uk by midnight on Sunday 28 June 2015.

Interviews with shortlisted candidates will take place in the afternoon of 8 July 2015. The selection panel for will include representatives of the Birkbeck Journalism Society, Birkbeck Student Union and Birkbeck’s School of Arts.

We welcome applications from any individual regardless of ethnic origin, gender, disability, religious belief, sexual orientation or age.

All applications will be considered on merit.