Nadhim Zahawi appointed education secretary

The 54-year-old was born in Baghdad to Kurdish parents and moved to the UK at the age of nine

Nadhim Zahawi has been appointed secretary of state for education, Number 10 Downing Street has confirmed. 

He replaces Gavin Williamson, who was fired by the prime minister after a turbulent two-year tenure.

Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, was reappointed and Michelle Donelan, who continues as universities minister, is promoted to cabinet, a spokesperson for the prime minister confirmed. The name of the research minister is not yet public.

Mr Zahawi most recently held two junior ministerial roles concurrently: the minister for Covid-19 vaccine deployment and minister for the industrial strategy at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. His career includes junior ministerial spells at the Department for Education as minister for children between 2018 and 2019. He was elected MP for Stratford-on-Avon in 2010.

The 54-year-old was born in Baghdad to Kurdish parents and moved to the UK at the age of nine. He studied chemical engineering at UCL and founded YouGov, the well-known polling company, in 2000.

Said Zahawi: “From my own experience, I know what a beacon of opportunity this country can be and I want all children, young people and adults to have access to a brilliant education, the right qualifications and opportunities to secure good jobs. That’s both vital for them and also our economy and is more important now than ever before.

“I can’t wait to get started, working with the amazing teachers and staff in our nurseries, schools, colleges and universities as well as employers and businesses.”

Zahawi has not spoken frequently about universities in the House of Commons. During his time as minister for children in 2019, he warned MPs, “if we obsess over a target for 50% of young people to go to university, we end up neglecting the FE sector, and that is something we in this Government will not do”.

He also said that “widening access in higher education to ensure that an academic route is open to all is a priority for this Government, as shown in the recent report by Philip Augar”. 

As Covid minister, he frequently praised the research of UK universities in helping the government tackle the pandemic. 

Education select committee chair Robert Halfon called Mr Zahawi a “good and compassionate man”.

 Tory MP Tom Tugendhat tweeted: “What can 9-year-old migrants who don’t speak English achieve in the UK? Amazing things. Here’s one who became @educationgovuk secretary.”

The universities brief appears to have an elevated status after the reshuffle, with Michelle Donelan invited to attend cabinet. Her predecessor in the role, Jo Johnson, briefly attended cabinet as universities and research minister between July and September 2019.

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