Baroness Valentine of Putney

(Elected 2013)

Baroness Valentine joined London First in 1997 as Managing Director, becoming Chief Executive in 2003. The organisation’s aim is to make London the best city in the world in which to do business, and Jo and her team work closely with national and local government on the most pressing issues affecting the city’s economy. Prior to London First, Jo worked in corporate finance and planning at Barings and BOC Group. She established and ran The Blackburn Partnership, a public-private regeneration partnership, in 1988 and the Central London Partnership in 1995.

Jo became a cross-bench peer in October 2005 and contributes frequently to debates, mainly on economic and competitiveness issues. A National Lottery Commissioner from 2000 to 2005, she is now a non-Executive Director of Peabody, and an Honorary Fellow of St Hugh’s College Oxford.

She says: ‘For me, Birkbeck represents one of the great things about London, which is the opportunity the city offers to anyone that wants to improve their life through study. London’s always been a global magnet for talent; many people come here to work or even to set up businesses themselves, but it’s not always recognised that London is also one of the world’s most popular places to study. Higher education is one of London’s leading sectors in economic value and it is vital to London’s success.

‘Obviously, for some, studying a particular subject is an essential stepping stone on their career path. But, to my mind, one of the great benefits of the Birkbeck model of part-time studying while working is the chance for someone at any stage in their life to study simply for pleasure or to satisfy their own intellectual curiosity.

‘This model may well become more common. We are in a period of economic turmoil that may continue for some years, people are recalibrating the balance between different elements of their lives and technology is providing the means to reshape the way we work, study and live. We must adapt accordingly and support and deliver more of these flexible learning modes if we are to provide the conditions where talent can flourish. Universities such as Birkbeck have recognised this.

‘Universities are, of course, businesses in their own right, and they need to be at the heart of the public policy debate, alongside business. In the new world order brought in by sweeping policy and funding changes in higher education, the value of closer commercial relationships between universities and business is becoming clearer. Those studying for career purposes will be focusing more closely on universities’ ability to get their students into employment while the universities themselves may seek to further diversify their income streams by offering courses more closely aligned to specific employer needs.

I am also excited to become a Birkbeck Fellow for personal reasons, Baroness Valentine adds: ‘I’m delighted to say that I already have family links with Birkbeck. My sister did her MA in History of Art here while my niece, Polly, is currently teaching the Africa module of the World Arts and Artefacts course and staying with my sister and mother, who also lectured on history of art in London. It’s a Birkbeck commune! They will be accompanying me to the Graduation ceremony, so I am looking forward to it enormously.’