Birkbeck, University of London
Logo of Birkbeck, University of London
|Latin: Collegium Birkbeck Londiniense|
|Motto||Latin: In nocte consilium|
Motto in English
|Advice comes over night (Tomorrow is a new day) |
|Type||Public research university|
|Established||1823 – London Mechanics' Institute |
1866 – Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution
1907 – Birkbeck College
1920 – Birkbeck College, University of London
|University of London|
|Chancellor||The Princess Royal (University of London)|
|Vice-Chancellor||Sir Adrian Smith (University of London)|
|Master||David S Latchman|
London, England, United Kingdom
|Affiliations||Association of Commonwealth Universities|
European University Association
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Birkbeck, University of London (legally Birkbeck College, University of London; informally Birkbeck and abbreviated BBK) is a public research university located in Bloomsbury, London, England, and a constituent college of the federal University of London. Established in 1823 as the London Mechanics' Institute by its founder, Sir George Birkbeck, and its supporters, Jeremy Bentham, J. C. Hobhouse and Henry Brougham, Birkbeck is one of the few universities to specialise in evening higher education in the United Kingdom.
Birkbeck's main building is based in the area of Bloomsbury in London Borough of Camden in Central London. In partnership with University of East London, Birkbeck has an additional large campus in Stratford, next to the Theatre Royal. Birkbeck offers over 200 undergraduate and postgraduate programmes that can be studied either part-time or full-time, though nearly all lectures are given in the evening. Birkbeck's academic activities are organised into five constituent faculties which are subdivided into nineteen departments. Birkbeck, being part of the University of London, shares the University's academic standards and awards University of London degrees. In common with the other University of London colleges, Birkbeck has also secured its own independent degree awarding powers, which were confirmed by the Privy Council in July 2012. The quality of degrees awarded by Birkbeck was confirmed by the UK Quality Assurance Agency following institutional audits in 2005 and 2010.
Birkbeck is a member of academic organisations such as the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the European University Association. The university is also a member of the Screen Studies Group, London. The university's Centre for Brain Function and Development was awarded The Queen's Anniversary Prize for its brain research in 2005.
In 1823, Sir George Birkbeck, a physician and graduate of the University of Edinburgh and an early pioneer of adult education, founded the then "London Mechanics' Institute" at a meeting at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand. More than two thousand people attended. However the idea was not universally popular and some accused Birkbeck of "scattering the seeds of evil."
In 1825, two years later, the institute moved to the Southampton Buildings on Chancery Lane. In 1830, the first female students were admitted. In 1858, changes to the University of London's structure resulting in an opening up of access to the examinations for its degree. The Institute became the main provider of part-time university education.
In 1866, the Institute changed its name to the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution.
In 1904, Birkbeck Students' Union was established.
In 1907, Birkbeck's name was shortened to "Birkbeck College". In 1913, a review of the University of London (which had been restructured in 1900) successfully recommended that Birkbeck become a constituent college, although the outbreak of the First World War delayed this until 1920. The Royal Charter was granted in 1926.
In 1921, the college's first female professor, Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, began teaching botany. Other distinguished faculty in the inter-war years included Nikolaus Pevsner, J. D. Bernal, and Cyril Joad.
During the Second World War, Birkbeck was the only central University of London college not to relocate out of the capital. In 1941, the library suffered a direct hit during The Blitz but teaching continued. During the war the College organised lunch time extramural lectures for the public given by, among others, Joad, Pevsner and Harold Nicolson.
In 1952, the college moved to its present location in Malet Street.
In 2002, the university was renamed Birkbeck, University of London, having dropped the word College from its branding, but "Birkbeck College, University of London" remains the institution's formal legal name. In 2003, following a major redevelopment, its Malet Street building was reopened by the Chancellor of the University of London, The Princess Royal.
In 2006, Birkbeck announced that it had been granted £5 million by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to expand its provision into east London, working with the University of East London. The partnership was formally launched on 21 November 2006 and is called Birkbeck Stratford.
Birkbeck is one of the largest colleges of the University of London not to award its own degrees. Although it has held its own degree awarding powers since 2012, Birkbeck has chosen to hold these in reserve, preferring to award University of London degrees. It also offers many continuing education courses leading to certificates and diplomas, foundation degrees, and short courses.
The School of Continuing Education
In 1876, the London Society for the Extension of University Education was founded, boosting the aims of encouraging working people to undertake higher education. In 1988, the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of the University of London was incorporated into Birkbeck, becoming at first the Centre for Extramural Studies. In 1903, it became the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of the University of London and it was integrated into Birkbeck in 1988 as the School of Continuing Education. In 2009, the Faculty of Lifelong Learning was incorporated into the main College structure.
Campus and location
Birkbeck is principally located between Malet Street and Woburn Square in Bloomsbury, with a number of institutes, teaching hospitals, and scientific laboratories on nearby streets. The Friends House is also partially owned by Birkbeck Law School. The School of Arts, including the Department of English & Humanities, is housed in Virginia Woolf's former Gordon Square residence in Bloomsbury. Other notable former residents of this house include John Maynard Keynes, Vanessa Bell, and Lydia Lopokova. The Gordon Square building includes the Birkbeck Cinema and the Peltz Gallery.
Many Birkbeck classes are taught at other locations around the Bloomsbury area, due to a combination of Birkbeck's widening participation strategy to make higher education accessible and also because nearly all classes on one day are taught at the same time, resulting in heavy competition for limited space.
Faculties and departments
The University consists of five schools that comprise a total of 19 diverse academic departments, which are:
- Department of English, Theatre and Creative Writing
- Department of Cultures and Languages
- Department of History of Art
- Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies
- Department of Computer Science and Information Systems
- Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics
- Department of Management
- Department of Organizational Psychology
- Department of Law
- Department of Criminology
- Department of Biological Sciences
- Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
- Department of Psychological Sciences
- Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication
- Department of Geography
- Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
- Department of Philosophy
- Department of Politics
- Department of Psychosocial Studies
Research and teaching
The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIR) was established in 2004, with the renowned but controversial Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek appointed as International Director. According to its website, the Institute aims to, among other things, "engage with important public issues of our time through a series of open debates, lectures, seminars and conferences" and "foster and promote a climate of interdisciplinary research and collaboration among academics and researchers". The launch of the Institute wasn't without controversy, provoking an article in The Observer newspaper titled "What have intellectuals ever done for the world?" which criticised the ostensible irrelevance and elitism of contemporary public intellectuals. The current director of the institute is Costas Douzinas. 2004 also saw Birkbeck enter into a research and teaching collaboration with the Institute of Education, jointly founding the London Knowledge Lab. This interdisciplinary research institute brings together social scientists and computer scientists to address research questions about technology and learning.
Meanwhile, the London Consortium graduate school — a collaboration between Birkbeck, the Tate Galleries, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Architectural Association, and, until 1999, the British Film Institute – has been running since the mid-1990s, offering masters and doctoral degrees in the interdisciplinary humanities and cultural studies, resourced and jointly taught by all the participating institutions. Its permanent and adjunct faculty include figures such as Tom McCarthy, Colin MacCabe, Laura Mulvey, Steven Connor, Marina Warner, Juliet Mitchell, Stuart Hall, Roger Scruton, Salman Rushdie, Tilda Swinton as well as Slavoj Žižek. Its current chair is Anthony Julius.
Since 2003, when David Latchman of UCL became Master of the Birkbeck, he has forged closer relations between these two University of London colleges, and personally maintains departments at both. Joint research centres include the UCL/Birkbeck Institute for Earth and Planetary Sciences, UCL/Birkbeck/IoE Centre for Educational Neuroscience, UCL/Birkbeck Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, and Birkbeck-UCL Centre for Neuroimaging.
Science research at Birkbeck has a notable tradition. Physicist David Bohm who made notable contributions to the theory of Quantum mechanics was professor of Theoretical Physics from 1961–87, Nobel Laureates Aaron Klug at the Department of crystallography, Derek Barton at the Department of Chemistry together with eminent physicist Roger Penrose and David Bohm at the Department of Physics. Computer scientist Kathleen Booth wrote the first assembly language. Birkbeck is part of the Institute of Structural Molecular Biology, which includes the Bloomsbury Centre for Structural biology, established in 1998. This is a collaborative venture between Birkbeck College and University College London and is a leading academic centre for translating gene sequences and determining protein structure and function. It also includes the Bloomsbury Centre for Bioinformatics, a collaborative venture also between Birkbeck College and University College London for research into Bioinformatics, Genomics, Systems Biology, GRID computing and Text mining.
Birkbeck was ranked 13th in The Guardian's 2001 Research Assessment Exercise and 26th in the Times Higher Education's equivalent table. In the 2008 RAE results, Birkbeck ranked in the top 25% of UK multi-faculty Higher Education Institutions. The RAE rated the quality of research in a range of subjects at 159 Higher Education Institutions in the UK. Birkbeck submissions from Earth Sciences, Psychology, History, Classics and Archaeology and History of Art, Film and Visual Media were rated in the top five nationally. In REF2014, half of Birkbeck's submissions were rated in the top 20 nationally, and eight submissions received 100% ranking for Research Environment. 73% of Birkbeck's research was rated "world-leading" (4*) or "internationally excellent" (3*).
|Times / Sunday Times (2021)||N/A|
|British Government assessment|
|Teaching Excellence Framework||Silver|
Birkbeck's Centre for Brain Function and Development was awarded The Queen's Anniversary Prize for its brain research in 2005. In 2010, Birkbeck was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education University of the Year Award.
In 2019, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings ranked Birkbeck 85th in the world for Psychology. The university is constantly ranked in the top 100 in the world by QS World University Rankings for English Language & Literature and Philosophy. Internationally, Birkbeck is ranked within the top 350 universities in the world by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020 and QS World University Rankings 2020.
In 2018, Birkbeck announced that it will withdraw from UK university rankings because their methodologies unfairly penalise it, since "despite having highly-rated teaching and research, other factors caused by its unique teaching model and unrelated to its performance push it significantly down the ratings".
Initially governed by a Council, elected from and responsible to the students, today it is governed jointly by a Student Council, Executive Committee, Board of Trustees and Clubs & Societies Committee.
Students initially paid an annual membership fee to join, but students are now automatically registered as members when they enrol onto a course at the college.
Birkbeck Students' Union offers a number of societies for students, as well as a various sports clubs that compete in the University of London league. It also provides student representation and support, a student magazine, a student shop and a bar. Birkbeck students also have access to the societies and clubs of the Student Central, whose building adjoins Birkbeck's Bloomsbury site.
Patrick Blackett, professor of physics and Nobel prize winner in Physics 1948
T. S. Eliot, lecturer in English and Nobel prize winner in Literature 1948
Aaron Klug, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Eric Hobsbawm, historian
William Joyce, politician and Nazi propaganda broadcaster
Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, dramatist and stage director
Antony Beevor, military historian
Roger Scruton, philosopher and activist
Slavoj Zizek, philosopher and International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities
Bear Grylls, adventurer and television presenter
David Bohm, physicist and author
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