Twenty years of the Baroness Birk Award

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the Baroness Birk Award, named for the alumna whose legacy gift established its endowment.

Baroness Birk

Alma Birk, Baroness Birk of Regent’s Park, studied a BSc in Economics from 1936 to 1939 and went on to become a Labour Party politician and government minister. She served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment, and as Minister of State to the Privy Council. She was appointed a life peer in 1967, and Baroness Kirk was also a Governor at LSE.

Since Baroness Birk’s death in 1996, the Baroness Birk Award has annually provided £1,000 to a research student who works in areas of political science close to interests she held.

In 2016 the Award went to Øyvind Skorge (PhD Political Science 2016) in the Department of Government, researching how political institutions and public policies affect women’s access to positions in the workplace, as well as in politics in advanced economies.

Øyvind, who is now a senior research fellow at the Institute for Social Research in Oslo, commented: “Women make up almost half of the labour force but hold less than a third of leadership positions in the economy. The Baroness Birk Award made it possible for me to investigate how full-time, affordable day care services enabled mothers to invest more in their career. Using instrumental variable techniques, I found that those using day care were more likely to choose occupations requiring longer hours and to enter into leadership positions, and so this Award ultimately helped me to identify how day care services facilitate the combination of family and work and of care and career.”

Baroness Birk’s daughter, Angela Camber (MSc Social Policy & Administration 1996), also an alumna and emeritus governor and honorary fellow of the School, meets with the award recipients each year. “I know my mother would have loved to have met with these students,” she said. “She enjoyed being with young people and was always interested in the path they had taken, and she derived enormous pleasure from supporting them in whichever way she could.” 

Reflecting on her own experiences of meeting recipients, Angela added: “I have always relished the opportunity to be in touch with students. I thoroughly enjoy engaging with such a lively, interesting and interested group of people, from whom I have learned so much. From their point of view, I think it is important for them to understand that there is a human element to their award, in addition to the financial.” 

Angela believes her that her mother’s long association with LSE was a natural fit, and this influenced her decision to make a legacy gift.

“Her own mother neither understood nor encouraged her determination to study at the School,” she explains. “In her opinion it was not something ‘nice young girls’ did. Yet I vividly recall my mother telling me how much she relished studying here and how it formed the basis of her decision to go into journalism and politics.”

She continued: “Her decision to include LSE as a beneficiary of her Will was unsurprising, given her strong commitment to its ethos: she was an active supporter of the Fabian Society and was passionate about the idea of a fair and just society. And she loved nothing more than to see others succeed and develop, so the award is a perfect fit.”