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Birkbeck shortlisted for University of the Year in Times Higher Education Awards

Thu 04 Sep 2014

The 2014 award applies to the year 2012/13; a year in which Birkbeck proved its resilience and adaptability through its response to the consequences of the biggest changes to the funding of higher education in England by government.

Since direct government funding for English universities was replaced by higher tuition fees in 2012, part-time student recruitment in England has been in crisis. When Birkbeck saw part-time student numbers tumble by 45% in 2012, the College – where part-time students made up more than 90% of its undergraduate cohort – knew it had to adapt quickly or face an extremely uncertain and unstable future.

Birkbeck embarked on an expansion of the number of three-year, evening-taught degrees it offered and students responded positively – with a 335% increase in acceptances by 2013. As the only UK institution to offer all of its undergraduate degree programmes in the evening, the College believes that it is pioneering a new model of UK higher education, as students look to wrap high quality evening study around meaningful daytime work. The award entry focuses on this new provision and says:

“A well-conceived academic proposition, energetic cross-College advocacy, powerful marketing of a distinctive message and a whole-institution determination to succeed ensured students arrived in the classroom in record numbers.”

Securing Birkbeck’s mission was essential and the College was able to offer unprecedented levels of financial support to non-traditional students. 56% of the three-year students are from a BME background, 42% are in receipt of financial support and 70% are mature learners.

Professor David Latchman CBE, Master of Birkbeck, said: “As an institution specialising in part-time study, Birkbeck bore a major impact following the changes to the funding of universities in England. The recruitment crisis that followed had the potential to close us down. Instead, we demonstrated a capacity for rapid innovation that has ensured our survival and success. The expansion of the three-year, evening-taught model has been critical to securing our future, and student response to this provision shows that it suits the spirit of the times. Even better, our new offer is still consistent with our mission and continues to attract non-traditional learners of all backgrounds and ages.”

Other significant moments marked 2012/13 as a standout year for the College, including the opening of our new east London campus – University Square Stratford – the culmination of seven years of work with the University of East London to open up access to higher education amongst some of the lowest participation neighbourhoods in London. The life of the renowned historian and late President of Birkbeck, Professor Eric Hobsbawm CH was marked with a major memorial event and the launch of new, innovative postgraduate scholarships for promising future historians.

Birkbeck continued to lead a high profile defence of part-time higher education among government, business, opinion leaders and the wider higher education sector. The College worked tirelessly to demonstrate the importance of part-time study for the economy, employers, social mobility, society and individual students by working closely with Universities UK on the government commissioned first-ever review of part-time study which culminated in the publication of  The power of part-time report. Baroness Joan Bakewell became the College’s new President and immediately began a high profile campaign in support of part-time learners.

Professor Latchman concluded: “This excellent news follows closely on the heels of this year’s National Student Survey, where our students voted us number one for overall student satisfaction in London. I am delighted that the hard work of Birkbeck’s dedicated staff has been recognised by the shortlisting panel for the University of the Year award.”

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