Getting the best from Birkbeck

I was brought up by a single parent on a very low income and attended a local comprehensive school. After completing my A levels earlier this year, I am starting university at Birkbeck, University of London. As well as studying, I am a Youth Councillor for the London Borough of Newham.


Over the last couple of years, I have also been starting out as a freelance journalist on the side to my studies. I am a member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), who have been supportive in offering advice, training and a place to meet with more established journalists and share experiences. 

I'm a member of the NUJ's London Freelance Branch which is a friendly, vibrant and active branch who put on some great events for their members. I would certainly encourage other journalists, whatever their progression, to join the NUJ - there are countless benefits from membership of a trade union, and the NUJ goes above and beyond to support their members.

I'm beginning my studies for a Bachelor’s Degree in Contemporary History and Politics, which fuses my strong interest in everything history and politics. I chose the course for several reasons. First of all, I believe in the merit of learning for learning's sake. University education is a public good, and it should be available to all who want to experience and benefit from it. I love history and politics, and I want to have the opportunity to further pursue my interests in these fields. Further to that, a university degree also provides experiences and skills that will give me greater options in the future. 

Only recently I was made aware that Birkbeck offers a discount to trade union members. Every student who enrols, and is a trade union member can apply for a 10% discount on their tuition fees. This is really great, as it means that all union members can benefit from the discount. 

Many of my peers have seriously considered not going to university, with the cost of three years at university for students from low income backgrounds well surpassing £40,000. Being able to reduce the cost of a degree by £3000 is therefore a great incentive for workers from low-income backgrounds such as myself to go to university.

I got offers from every university that I applied to, including the London School of Economics, but I declined those offers in favour of studying at Birkbeck. What drew me to Birkbeck is the flexibility and inclusiveness of its programmes. Being able to study in the evening and work during the day to support your studies and start building your career is a big plus for many 18 year olds such as myself. 

While most universities saw a drop in applications this year, applications for Birkbeck were up 19%. I believe this represents a trend of school leavers feeling burdened by the extreme cost of university and a depressed labour market seeking alternative options to traditional full time courses where students have to wait three years before starting their career or beginning to pay off their debts. 

Young people don't want to be in debt and we don't want to be a financial burden on our parents after we complete our studies at university. Therefore, the flexible programme that Birkbeck offers is really appealing to ambitious young people who want to work while they study.

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Alex Holmes

Alex Holmes is 18 and was born and raised in East London. He is a Youth Councillior and presently studying Contemporary History and Politics at Birkbeck College – making use of the 10% discount that Birkbeck offers union members.