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Students tell of lives transformed by part-time study

Students explain how part-time study at Birkbeck has changed their lives and why they are supporting the Part-Time Matters campaign

Inspiring stories of lives transformed by part-time study at Birkbeck have been shared thanks to the national Part-time Matters campaign.

The astonishing accounts reveal how part-time study has helped students achieve their ambitions, forge new careers, return to education after many years, and help them overcome adversity and bereavement.

More than 140 Birkbeck-related stories have been submitted to the Part-time Matters website. Part-time Matters champions the benefits of part-time study and raises awareness of the challenges facing part-time education today. It is led by an alliance of high-profile educational institutions, including Birkbeck, businesses and unions.

Other developments supporting the Part-time Matters campaign include the House of Lords debate about part-time study on 24 July. Peers highlighted the benefits of part-time study and urged the Government to help part-time students during the discussion led by Baroness Joan Bakewell, President of Birkbeck. The review by Universities UK of part-time and mature higher education will be published this October.

Student case studies

Brendon Hughes, BA German
“It really is no understatement to say that Birkbeck transformed my life. Firstly, by giving me a chance to enrol on a BA course despite my lack of formal qualifications, and secondly by allowing me to continue working while studying in the evening. I won't pretend it was easy, because balancing the two was pretty exhausting at times, but as the saying goes: no pain, no gain. I graduated from my BA (German) course four years later with a 2:1. I was immediately offered a job with a translation company based in Hamburg and spent three fantastic years there. I am now back in the UK and have recently set up my own translation company, of which I am the director. None of this would have been possible without Birkbeck and its unique approach to higher education.”

Jeff Porter, MA Contemporary History and Politics, PhD Medieval and Modern History
“I left school aged 16 with no qualifications and ended up in an engineering factory, where I completed training courses through the trade union movement. Following the deindustrialisation of the 1980s, I went to work for London Underground as a ticket collector then as a guard and for the last 24 years as a train driver. I became involved again with the union movement and thought I could learn about things that interested me. I gained a first class honours degree from the Open University in 1999. I had a few years off but the study bug kept nagging away. I completed an MA in Contemporary History and Politics at Birkbeck and am now a year away from finishing my PhD at Birkbeck researching post-war Germany. It has been a fabulous experience. Without the Open University and Birkbeck I would not be half the person I am now.”

Adrian McMenamin (pictured, right), MSc Computer Science
“I returned to higher education in 2009, studying for an MSc in Computer Science at Birkbeck, part time and in the evenings. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made and now I am studying part-time for a PhD at the University of York. Doing the degree part-time was not easy: the course work and the exams are just as difficult. The difference is that there is some allowance made for your circumstances. In my case that meant keeping a full-time job. The degree made me realise that I still have lots of challenges in life and that I am still young enough, even in my late 40s, to get on with facing them. But it is not just about me: my hope is that eventually my academic work will be part of a contribution back to society through technological improvement.”

Kim Spickett, Postgraduate Certificate, Web Design and Development
“The recession pushed our happy family into chaos and hardship almost overnight. We celebrated a wonderful Christmas and then it seemed we were all unemployed - myself, my husband and my married daughter who by this time was also expecting her first child. They had to come and live with us. At the end of January, my mother died. So I threw myself into postgraduate study. I wrote my final paper with a teething baby granddaughter in the house. Why did I do this at fifty years old? To move forward. To be positive. To be ready for better times. For my husband, children and grandchildren. How did I do it? Part-time study on Saturdays at Birkbeck. Thank you for saving my life.”

Paris Jefferson, BA Politics, Philosophy and History
“Birkbeck changed my life. Not only is it a world-class institution, it is also a part-time university, with hours that welcome all ages from all backgrounds. People with children and/or jobs can enter into the world of academia. It serves as a dynamic and supportive university which can only improve the lives of Londoners and all who study there. I am indebted to Birkbeck for all that it did for me.”

Sean O’Curneem, MSc European Politics
“Had I not had the opportunity to study part-time in the evenings with Birkbeck I would not be doing what I am doing now. It changed my career and opened up whole new opportunities for me, at a global level. The opportunity to study part-time, allowed me to continue working during the day while preparing for a new career. This is not just about individuals fulfilling their potential. It is also about the needs of society in the 21st century. When more and more emphasis is being placed on lifelong learning, and it is expected that there will be less and less lifelong jobs, it is clear that part-time study will play an increasing role in allowing adults to retrain and react to changes in the world's economy.”

Sid Roberson, BA Politics and Society, MSc International Security and Global Governance
“At 70, peripheral neuropathy got me, and I became disabled to the point where it was difficult to get around easily. I became profoundly depressed. I had always felt a lack of formal education, but had an interest in politics and had been contracted to make Party Political Broadcasts for the Labour Party. I decided to apply to Birkbeck to study politics. I was accepted.  As a part time student I completed my BA in Politics and Society. I can say, unequivocally, that the experience saved my life. It gave purpose to my life. After a year off, I reapplied to Birkbeck and am completing a postgraduate MSc in International Security and Global Governance. I am recounting this journey as a tribute to the value of part- time education.”

Mary Meredith, BSc Geography
“My award letter from 1985 hangs on the wall right in front of me, right now, at my desk here in Florida. Had I not attended Birkbeck I doubt I would have earned a degree at all. Birkbeck provided the best environment for me to thrive academically. I am so proud of my degree, even these many years later.”

Monique Lester, BSc Psychology
“I remember being hungry for knowledge but suffered from a lack of direction in a school where further education at the local sixth form college was as far as it ever got for most. In January 2012, when in my forties, I turned up for an interview for Birkbeck. I began a BSc in Psychology two weeks later. I have never felt so utterly certain that this was the right move. Every time I attend a lecture, my mind is left spinning and humming with complete excitement. It took me twenty five years, but here I am a student, along with both of my children studying at other universities. Birkbeck is nothing short of superb and I make the most of this opportunity and grab every minute. Nothing has made my brain sing as much for a very long time.”

Catherine Kinley, CertHE Literature in English
“After 26 years working as curator of contemporary art at Tate and now widowed, I decided to sign on for some short Literatures in English courses at Birkbeck to discover how things might have been, had I gone down the accademic route originally. I have found the classes engaging and  intellectually challenging and have enjoyed everything about them so far. The teaching has been excellent, the tutors encouraging and inspiring, and fellow students great to work alongside. The age range and different life experiences ensures interesting feedback in class. Overall the experience has been life-enhancing and it seems to me that such opportunities should be fully supported by Government in the interests of allowing workers to study and keeping the older population engaged and healthy. Birkbeck, a truly  democratic institution, is an inspiring place and does a great job!”  

Lydia Hirst, MSc Organizational Behaviour
“A graduate of Natural Sciences (chemistry) led to working in the chemicals industry. I built transferable skills which were applied in my own business. With children flying the nest, I decided to build knowledge around the psychology of people in organisations, to enhance my leadership and strategy training and consultancy.  I chose Birkbeck as it offered part-time and face-to-face teaching, whereas most other universities only offered variations of online learning. The two years of part-time have been tough - intellectually and finding the time to balance study with work and family commitments. They have been so stimulating and a great learning experience. They have enhanced my teaching content and given me more confidence to challenge the standard consultancy approaches, which I have long felt were trite and only part of the story. My fellow students have been a great support and source of new networks.”

Simon Tilbrook, BA History
“I made a hash of my first degree, and ended up in series of dead-end jobs and feeling like I'd wasted my talents and could find no way out; I was the first member of my family ever to go to university, and I'd blown it. Then, I went to Birkbeck and did another degree, this time part-time, and it changed my life. Not only were they the most enjoyable four years of my life, but I also discovered a lifelong love of learning that I've taken into a successful teaching career I've had for more than twenty years now. Birkbeck changed my life: part-time education matters.”

Alison Stamps, BA Film and Media
“In my early 30s someone told me about Birkbeck, and the experience changed who I am. I took my BA Film and Media over a period of 6 years, going to class between 2 and 3 times a week after work. I worked full-time throughout the part-time degree and had to defer my second year to care for my sick mother. I passed my degree with first class honours, having never written an essay or taken lecture notes before my first class at Birkbeck. My degree gave me confidence and opened doors professionally and I could wax lyrical about Birkbeck and what it did for me. It changed my outlook on life and gave me goals and ambition. To in any way diminish the part-time study opportunities for potential students within the UK would be potentially catastrophic to a body of students/future students that have so much to give our economy.”

Dave Durbin, MRes Computer Science
“As someone who has worked in IT for over 20 years, I was looking for a move to a more challenging role. Experience alone is not enough for these roles, a PhD is practically a necessity.  While I have the ability, I didn't have the qualification. I have a great job and am able to support my young family but there was no way that I could give this up and go into full time education. Birkbeck offered me exactly what I needed; the ability to study part time for a post graduate degree from a respected institution. Not only am I now en-route to the qualification I seek but by reconnecting with academia I have been able to get involved in other business and personal opportunities which would otherwise have passed me by, as well as to share some of my experience in the work force with other students.”

Kim Langley, BSc Chemistry
“I started a chemistry degree during a time when my husband was very ill.  He died the summer in which I completed my degree. Being at home with small children I was unable to attend a full time university course and the course at Birkbeck meant I could keep up my full-time commitment as a mum and look after my husband. Having obtained a chemistry degree I started a teacher training course and progressed to head of science in a London secondary school. I remember my time at Birkbeck with great affection and its was a tremendous experience. Thank you Dr Lawrence for having such faith in me at a time when I did not have much faith in myself.”