Churchill College is pleased to welcome Andrew Robbins (G20) who is studying for a one year MPhil in Politics and International Studies, during the academic year 2020/21. Andrew brings a unique perspective to Cambridge which reflects a lifelong interest in politics and current affairs, having worked his way up from comprehensive state school to amass a record of academic excellence and extensive employment experience as a journalist and community organiser.
Andrew’s aptitude and intellect was first recognised as an A-Level Government and Politics student at Luton Sixth Form College where his teacher, Mr Ramm, selected him to take part in a BBC News broadcast, speaking on the issue of student finance. This inspired Andrew to undertake a number of journalistic roles, working as a producer and radio presenter for Diverse FM and later AUK Radio. He subsequently hosted live youth, current affairs, and political debates covering issues such as Brexit and climate change.
Alongside media work, Andrew has also been a strong advocate for multicultural cohesion, social inclusion, and developing closer ties between people of different age groups. He had led and supported various initiatives with membership-based organisations in Kent, East Sussex, and the East of England. This includes work with Beds Senior Citizens Arts and Recreational Forum, Love Music Hate Racism, and the University of Bedfordshire Students Union – among other organisations. These initiatives involved coordinating community projects, developing recruitment strategies, building teams, organising cultural events, running conferences, organising debates, and holding other public gatherings. Andrew has consequently worked with officials including Lord McKenzie and Gavin Shuker MP, celebrities including Dame Esther Rantzen DBE and the rapper ‘Lowkey’ – as well as members of the faith community, teachers’ organisations, and university students.
Building upon this experience, Andrew was appointed as an academic intern at the University of Leeds, where he coordinated advice and support for politics students. He was also thereafter appointed as a Peer Reviewer with the University of Leeds Human Rights Journal, where he was engaged in selecting academic submissions for publication.
Alongside these positions, Andrew completed a BA in Politics at the University of Leeds and was awarded first-class honours in each year of study. As an undergraduate, Andrew was recognised for his exceptional research – particularly around the issue of international development. While studying at Leeds, Andrew also established an academic focus investigating anti-extremism strategy in Britain during the inter-war years. As a student at Churchill College, Andrew is building upon this academic focus, conducting a more contemporary study concerning the impact of anti-extremism strategies in the 2010s.
Andrew is the first member of his immediate family to undertake such postgraduate study. Growing up in Luton, Andrew’s family background is representative of the traditionally working class, industrial town in which he attended school. Both of Andrew’s parents were employed in Luton’s famous motor industry at a time when it was less common to go to university – his mother having worked for Renault and his father working for Vauxhall. As a member of the Jewish community living in one of the most diverse, multicultural towns in the UK – issues of social cohesion, inclusion and opposition to extremism have always been very important to Andrew and his family.
As a centre of excellence, it is important that Churchill College has the capacity to offer places to the brightest and the best students – such as Andrew – irrespective of their background or financial means. It was therefore important that Churchill College was in a position to offer Andrew crucial financial support in partnership with the Cambridge Trust; a jointly funded Cambridge UK Masters. The studentship is worth £12,000 and covers roughly 60% of Andrew’s MPhil tuition fees. Andrew would not have been able to accept the offer to study at Cambridge without the studentship’s support. In completing his undergraduate degree Andrew exhausted his savings, and with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic he was also limited in the amount of paid employment he could undertake. He was therefore unable to accumulate the funds he needed to subsidise study at Cambridge without financial support.
Obtaining my studentship has ensured that I am in a position to afford to study alongside peers of appropriate academic calibre, at the University of Cambridge. My studentship has ensured that there is no gap in my overall funding for essential expenses which are not fully covered through Postgraduate Student Loan funding. I have consequently been able to cover the cost rent, utility bills, necessary clothing and household belongings, public transport, academic resources, and IT equipment. In providing financial security, studentship funding has also ensured that I can effectively forward-plan – focussing my time around educational deadlines without having to undertake paid work, which would be detrimental to my studies. I would like more students to have the opportunity to access studentship funding. Everyone should be able to develop their talents to the fullest. Education is good for the individual, and is an investment in society and the economy. Studentships help to make education a viable reality for everyone.
Joining Churchill College during a pandemic may have restricted the opportunities available but Andrew has still found much to admire. He has particular praise for the efforts of staff at the College to organise socially-distanced activities such as pizza nights for households at the start of the year. This set in motion a sociable tradition that continued most Friday or Saturday nights in his house – making it much easier to get through lockdown. Andrew has also found it really helpful that the College has been able to maintain important services with social distancing – such as library facilities, study spaces, and catering. In respect to College life Andrew also commented that:
Churchill College is really diverse. The students I have been living with on campus are from Hungary, Cyprus, Chile, and elsewhere in the UK. It is great to meet people from so many different cultures, to network and to share experiences. It is also unique to meet so many high-achieving individuals in one place. Each new person I meet has an incredible story to tell.
In his spare time Andrew enjoys live music, pub quizzes, karaoke, Italian meals, seaside visits, picnics, walking, cycling, and taking part in amateur dramatics. After completing his studies Andrew will be returning to his job in marketing. He also hopes to conduct a lecture tour to discuss his dissertation research later in the year and plans to resume rehearsals with his drama group – performing a comedy he recently wrote.
In the longer-term, Andrew is aware his studies will open a number of doors including the option to pursue a PhD, and potentially an academic career. He is also interested in the option of working in research of a political nature, financial services, the civil service, local government, third-sector roles, or roles with international organisations such as the UN. Andrew is grateful to have been given the opportunity to undertake postgraduate study at Churchill College and very much hopes studentship funding will be offered to others in his position.