“Education is the best passport for life”
Congratulations to Somerville alumnus Sam Gyimah (1995, PPE), who has been appointed Minister for Universities and Science. For someone who has always been vocal about the importance of education, it’s an exciting opportunity. “I know the role education has played in my own life,” Sam said when he was Minister for Childcare and Education, “and now I have the opportunity to show how it can make a difference in the lives of others”.
Once described by the Independent as ‘not your typical Tory minister’, Sam was educated at state schools in Ghana and then in the UK before winning his place at Somerville to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). Born in Beaconsfield, he returned to Ghana with his mother and his younger brother and sister when he was six. He considers himself fortunate to have been able to benefit from the educational values of two countries: “The big thing in Ghana is a strong sense that if you failed in your education that was it… this is your life chance and you have got to take it,” he says. He came back to the UK for GCSEs and A Levels at Freman College, a state comprehensive in Hertfordshire, and found there a spirit of “being inquisitive about the world around you and really challenging ideas and critical thinking”.
Sam feels particularly strongly about the support he received from Somerville during his time here. While he was studying, he began to struggle financially, but it wasn’t until he was approached by the College’s Bursar that he felt able to admit what was happening. “So they converted my entire rent while I was there into a loan which I subsequently paid when I graduated”. Since then, the cause of supporting students has remained close to his heart and he has continued to help Somerville raise money for its bursary funds.
While at Oxford, Sam was President of the Oxford Union and became a member of the Conservative Party, but it would be another decade before he would get directly involved in politics. In the meantime, he worked for Goldman Sachs and then set up businesses specialising in recruitment and training (he was voted 2005’s CBI Entrepreneur of the Future).
When David Cameron became leader, Sam decided to put himself forward as a Conservative candidate, and in 2010 he was elected MP for East Surrey. As Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, then as Minister for Childcare and Education and Minister for the Constitution and latterly as Minister for Prisons and Probation, Sam has occasionally courted controversy, but has always been adamant that “The modern Conservative party cannot have no-go areas”.
“This is an exciting and challenging new brief, with our future at its heart,” Sam said, speaking to Somerville today: “giving students the best opportunity to make the most of their lives, championing cutting-edge science, research and innovation, and supporting our world class universities”. The aspirational message of the Conservative Party “always chimed with me,’” he says, and he continues to be motivated by the importance of opportunity, whether as a Minister, a Member of Parliament or in his volunteering work for children’s charities. The “values of hard work, aspiration and giving back are,” Sam says, “the ones I hope to pass on to my children.”