Skip to content
The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

Where and what did the Cabinet study?

  • 14 October 2022

There has been much talk about the diversity of Liz Truss’s new Cabinet. Even US news outlet NPR reported:

It is notable that for the first time in British history, none of the four most senior ministerial positions — prime minister, finance minister, foreign secretary and home secretary — have been taken up by a white male.

The Guardian reported that, by contrast, ‘in 2001 91 per cent of Conservative MPs were male, and every single one of them was white’.

But what about the educational backgrounds of the current Cabinet? In her speech to the Tory Party Conference, Truss infamously claimed to be the first PM to have ‘gone to a comprehensive school’. The claim elicited controversy, with Schools Week running the headline, ‘Government’s own website contradicts Truss’s comprehensive PM claim’.

Drawing on Who’s Who, the websites and UK Parliament profiles of ministers, and media reports, HEPI analysis suggests that 68 per cent of the current Cabinet attended independent schools; 23 per cent went to comprehensive schools; and 10 per cent of the Cabinet were educated at grammar schools.

Sixty-five per cent of Cabinet ministers were educated at universities that are currently members of the Russell Group. Thirty-two per cent graduated from Oxbridge.

One degree not so commonly held by Cabinet ministers includes that undertaken by Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, who graduated with a BA in Hospitality Management from Thames Valley University (now the University of West London). The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and the Attorney General share an alma mater less frequently attended by Cabinet members. After their studies at independent fee-paying schools, Brandon Lewis and Michael Ellis graduated from ‘the only independent university in the UK with a Royal Charter’, the University of Buckingham. Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Chief Whip), Wendy Morton, is the only Open University alumna. Morton graduated with an MBA after attending a comprehensive school in North Yorkshire.

Given what is often said about the subject, there is a notable absence of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) graduates – just one, in fact, the PM herself. There are three economists, four historians, and six lawyers. Degrees in the Humanities and in those in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects stand graduates in good stead for Cabinet careers in almost equal measure. While just over a quarter of ministers studied English, History or Politics, 23 per cent graduated with a degree in STEM. After failing her first-year exams at Oxford, Deputy PM Thérèse Coffey graduated with a BSc and later PhD in Chemistry from UCL. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Nadhim Zahawi, holds a BSc in Chemical Engineering also from UCL and COP26 President, Alok Sharma, holds a BSc in Applied Physics from Salford University. All three attended independent schools.

There are equal numbers of Old Etonians (Kwasi Kwarteng and Jacob Rees-Mogg) as there are alumni of the then-fee-paying Liverpool College (Kit Malthouse and Jake Berry) and the independent Glenalmond College in Perth and Kinross (Graham Stuart and Alister Jack).

The only Welsh school to be represented is the independent St Michael’s School, Bryn, attended by the Secretary of State for Wales, Robert Buckland. Northern Ireland is the only one of the devolved areas of the UK to be represented by a grammar school alumnus, Chris Heaton-Harris.

Analysis draws on Who’s Who & Who Was Who (Oxford, 2022), Ministers’ own websites and UK Parliament profiles, and media reports. Rounding is given to the nearest %.

Table 1. Types of schools attended by Cabinet ministers.

[table id=15 /]

Table 2. Types of schools attended by Cabinet ministers.

[table id=16 /]

Table 3. Types of institutions attended by Cabinet ministers.

[table id=17 /]

Table 4. Ministers and their alma maters.

[table id=18 /]

Where it is known that ministers attended more than one type of school, we have listed the one about which there is more, or more reliable, information. The educational background of some Cabinet members is opaque and there are many moving parts to this research. HEPI therefore particularly welcomes any feedback that would enable us to build up a more complete picture.

Future HEPI Events:

HEPI is hosting a research conference in central London on Thursday, 3 November 2022, in conjunction with Elsevier, a HEPI Partner. For further details, including an agenda and details on how to book a place, see Organisations that already support HEPI are entitled to free places.

Get our updates via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *