The 1947-48 issue of the Annual Birkbeck College Calendar listed for the first time a certain EJ Hobsbawm as Lecturer in History and indicated that Mr Hobsbawm (as he then was), would lecture in Modern European History and in the History of Political Ideas.
As we celebrate Eric’s ninetieth birthday, we are also celebrating his 60-year association with the College as an academic and more recently as our President. Eric embodies the College’s mission of high-quality research informing the very best teaching, and clearly our graduates are excited and honoured to shake his hand on graduation day.
Recently, another event made me reflect on the College’s dual research and teaching mission.This was a visit to Birkbeck by the Director of the Leverhulme Trust, Sir Richard Brooke, together with their Director of Finance, Mr Paul Read.
The College has been extremely successful in obtaining prestigious research awards from the Trust, and Sir Richard and Mr Read met a number of Leverhulme-funded members of staff drawn from a range of different Schools.
They also heard outstanding presentations from Dr Sean Brady from the School of History, who is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, and from Dr Anthony Price from the School of Philosophy, who is the holder of a Leverhulme major research Fellowship for more senior staff. Indeed, the day before the presentations, the Dean of Arts, Professor Matthew Innes (himself the winner of a Philip Leverhulme prize) informed me that Dr Jessica Reinisch of the School of History, had just been awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, making three such awards in the School in the past four years.
After Sir Richard and Mr Read had had a flavour of the College’s research excellence, they also met three students who are supported by the generous bursary support (£55,000 per annum), which the Leverhulme Trust gives us to assist both undergraduate and postgraduate students. At lunch afterwards, our visitors indicated how impressed they had been with the students’ commitment and the manner in which relatively small amounts of money were allowing them to continue to pursue their chosen courses. I reflected on how, in a single morning and presenting only a fraction of our overall work, we had managed to demonstrate both our research excellence and our commitment to supporting our students.
Of course, this combination of research and teaching excellence is immensely satisfying for all of us in Birkbeck, who play a part in our unique mission. However, it is also absolutely key to our future strategy.
The Government now has a target of 40 per cent of those in work in 2020 having a university-level qualification. Obviously, this will not be achieved by educating more 18-year-olds, but will require exactly our form of higher education which allows people to work and study at the same time. More importantly however, it is absolutely vital that this teaching is of the highest quality and informed by high-quality research rather than being seen to be solely the province of the new universities.
We have a major role to play in ensuring that the future workforce is provided with both the subject-specific and the generic skills that they will require in order to contribute effectively to society.