Manchester’s online and blended learning courses give students around the world the chance to transform their careers. For one of our Real Estate MSc students, it’s also helping to transform those of others.
It’s a rare day away from work and study. Elizabeth Opeagbe is reflecting on her career from her bedroom, which has doubled as an office during the coronavirus pandemic.
She shares the house in Dagenham – “halfway between Essex and East London, depending who’s asking,” jokes Elizabeth – with her parents who migrated from Nigeria in the 1980s.
The 25-year-old student and investment analyst grew up wanting to follow in her parents’ footsteps by working in healthcare. However, a medical appointment changed everything.
“I’d done my two-week work experience at the hospital, and I said: ‘Right, I’m going to become a nurse!’ Until I had to get a blood test,” laughs Elizabeth. “And I was like: ‘I hate blood!’ I realised that I didn’t think this was for me!”
After turning her attention to financial mathematics, Elizabeth graduated with a First from the University of Surrey. Now she combines a master’s in Real Estate at Manchester with her full-time job as an investment analyst at property group British Land. The degree is part-time and blends online content with biannual conferences in Manchester.
Elizabeth is openly ambitious about her plans to reach the top in real estate – a sector that covers property development and investment. But her ambitions also extend to those underrepresented in the sector.
According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), just 1.2% people of people working in real estate in the UK are Black, Asian or in a minority ethnic group, with only 14% of the industry being women.
“I would love to see people like me at the top, inspiring people like me. Then people like me can inspire the younger generation too,” says Elizabeth, who is part of British Land’s ethnic diversity committee and the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic network.
Despite her work and study commitments, Elizabeth finds time to mentor people from underrepresented backgrounds who want to climb the ladder. Accessibility is a key barrier for her mentees in progressing in real estate.
“When I finished my GCSEs, I wasn’t aware of real estate – I thought they were just estate agents,” she explains.
“If you want diverse individuals, you need to go into schools in inner cities and talk about the sector. Don’t just go to private schools where everyone’s parents are in real estate.”
“You’ll inspire at least one individual. Then they’ll go to university and speak to other people. And the more that happens, it’s a domino effect. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’ll eventually get that gender and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic balance.”
Elizabeth can only work, study and mentor thanks to the structure of the RICS-accredited degree at Manchester, which allows her to learn from home in the evenings and then apply her new knowledge to her day job.
“There are so many part-time degrees out there, but you really have to look at the structure,” she explains. “I wasn’t required to be at Manchester as much as other universities. I only needed to be there twice a year.
“Having biannual conferences where you get to meet your peers and academic tutors is amazing. I luckily went in November 2019, just before the pandemic started, and I met the majority of my cohort.
“We all spent three days together with the course director, so we really got to know each other.
“The module I just finished is strategic asset management. My group was from Greece, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. Because we saw each other that one time, it was just so free-flowing.”
Looking to the future, Elizabeth reaffirms her ambition: “I want to be a director. I want to have my own team. Then I want to give back to the world,” she explains. “Without the help of British Land and Manchester, it wouldn’t be possible.”
But in the shorter term, Elizabeth has her eyes set on graduation.
“I said to my family I plan to go to Manchester in December,” she says. “When I went in November (2019) they took us to the Whitworth Hall and I said: ‘Wow, this is amazing!’”
“If I do graduate in that amazing hall I’ll be forever thankful. I’ll be Manchester’s best alumna ever.”
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