Supporting Access to Education

In 1823, Birkbeck’s founders came together to create an institution focused on making quality education more accessible. Almost 200 years later, their inclusive founding mission is alive and well, and Birkbeck continues to stand out in ensuring that education is available to all who want it.

The College continues to deliver outreach initiatives to local communities with lower university participation rates, but also remains committed to extending our global reach and supporting students from overseas to achieve their aspirations. The stories of Karim* and Veena* demonstrate the impact of the support of our community and how creating opportunities to study can be life-changing.

Karim* came to London in 2020 seeking asylum from the Yemeni Civil War. Every year, with the help of our community of supporters, Birkbeck make scholarships available to students like Karim to ensure that no one misses out on the opportunity to pursue an education.

“With everything that is happening back home in Yemen, I’ve developed a real interest in global politics. I wanted to study in the UK and after looking into it I just kept coming back to Birkbeck and the staff who had been so helpful and supportive during the application process. I was accepted for a scholarship to study MSc International Security and Global Governance. It’s been intense, but my experience at Birkbeck has been great. I don’t feel like an alien here. This university is for everyone.

“Since arriving in the UK I have been volunteering as a translator for a charity that supports asylum seekers. It feels strange receiving support from Birkbeck when I’m used to giving support, but it’s important to recognise that you have your own problems. After graduating I’d love to do an internship in politics – maybe something to do with Yemen and security issues. I feel like I have something to give in this area and Birkbeck has helped put me in a position to do that.”

After graduating I’d love to do an internship in politics and security issues. I feel like I have something to give and Birkbeck has helped put me in a position to do that.”

Veena* grew up in a developing country in South Asia, which she describes as having ‘many cultural limits on women, particularly your individual freedoms.’ However, her parents always encouraged her to pursue an education and she achieved a first-class undergraduate degree in biology before moving to the UK.

“As I raised my family, I thought I would have to abandon my dream of becoming an environmental scientist. I was working as a teaching assistant at a local school in London when the pandemic hit, but COVID made me even more determined to further my education and to contribute to research that would help us understand and respond to these universal challenges. Being on a low income, as well as having young children and a husband with multiple disabilities, I couldn’t see a way to follow this dream.

“When I came across Birkbeck and the support that was available, I knew this was my best opportunity to progress my career and change my direction. Being awarded a scholarship to study MSc Microbiology has made such a difference. I no longer need to borrow my son’s laptop to complete my work, I have been able to reduce my teaching hours to focus on my study and it has helped me meet day-to-day needs to support my family. The flexibility of the course is perfect for someone like me, and the environment has been supportive and academically challenging.

“It really is an honour to be chosen for the Scholarship and it means so much during these difficult times. It has given me a greater degree of independence and helped me plan a path towards realising my lifelong dream of becoming a scientist.”

Without Birkbeck, many students would not have access or support to study. Now, Karim* and Veena* are both on track to graduate this year and move a step closer to achieving their ambitions.

Allen and Overy is one of the many friends and supporters whose generosity continues to make help available to all students with the talent and determination to succeed.

“The powerful stories of these students demonstrate the immense value of improving access to education, and what becomes possible when you help remove barriers to study. We believe the business community has an important role to play in advancing social mobility through access to learning,” says Kate Cavelle, Head of Pro Bono and Community Investment at Allen & Overy. “We are delighted to continue supporting Birkbeck with their almost 200-year-old mission of delivering flexible, high-quality and accessible education.”

*All student names have been changed to protect their identities.