Keir Mather, breaking down barriers with the Political Leadership Scholarship

Keir MatherAs one of the Blavatnik School’s first Political Leadership Scholars, Keir Mather’s (MPP 2020) motivation to pursue a career in public service stems largely from his upbringing in Hull, a city in northern England with high levels of poverty and deprivation. “I benefitted from a system in which political representatives ensured that people like me could receive a good education and go on to study at world-class universities,” says Keir. “I feel a moral obligation to work towards ensuring future generations of children have those same opportunities.”

After completing a BA in History and Politics at the University of Oxford, Keir spent a year as a Parliamentary Researcher for UK Member of Parliament Wes Streeting. It was during this time – working on issues like Brexit and COVID-19 – that Keir found out about the Master of Public Policy (MPP). Although initially concerned that he might not have enough experience to apply, discovering the Political Leadership Scholarship – which is open to applicants from the UK and Republic of Ireland who intend to run for public office – cemented his decision. After graduating from the MPP, Keir hopes to return to his home city to get back involved in local politics, with the aspiration to run for elected office to serve his community in the future.

“The Political Leadership Scholarship is a perfect opportunity for those in the early stages of their political career who want to combine a practical commitment to public service with an academically rigorous grounding in public policy.”

Keir’s experience on the MPP so far has been rewarding and intellectually stimulating – with the opportunity to gain insights from 143 classmates from over 50 different countries and territories. With such diversity bringing inevitable differences in opinions and perspectives, the two-week induction period at the start of the year seeks to foster the strong sense of community that stays with MPP students during their time in Oxford and beyond.

“The induction period highlighted that success on the MPP comes through collaboration and teamwork. You come to understand why people hold the views that they hold, which helps you to engage and work effectively with others.”

Having worked at the heart of UK politics, Keir has had a first-hand insight into the importance of collaboration and relationship building needed to be an effective public servant. With much of his role having centred on research and writing, he also values the MPP’s focus on honing students’ communications skills across a range of contexts.

“The MPP refines your ability to process information and communicate it to people effectively, and to analyse complex problems and find frameworks through which to implement solutions.”

Beyond the classroom, a highlight of the MPP so far has been the intellectually stretching discussions that come at unexpected moments – whether discussing a policy insight with a classmate over lunch, or chatting with a faculty member after class.

“There’s no city in the world like Oxford, where you’re surrounded by such intellectually curious people who want to have in-depth discussions about big ideas.”

As for returning to Oxford in markedly different circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Keir has been impressed by the School’s response. “The effort that has gone into making things feel as normal as possible means that, although things may seem unfamiliar outside of the classroom, you’re still benefitting from the personal learning experience and sense of community that make the MPP so rewarding.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, Keir is particularly enthusiastic about the MPP’s professional skills programme: “All MPP students want to make a positive difference in the wider world, but you need to know how to translate that into the professional environment.”

“The MPP’s focus on professional skills is an equalising and democratising aspect of the course – it ensures that no matter your background, you have the skills to know how to speak to people and to adapt to your working environment.”

For those who are considering applying to the MPP, Keir’s advice is not to perceive the MPP or Oxford as something out of reach, whatever your background. “It’s easy to think that someone else could do things better, but if you’re thinking that way then you’re already showing the kind of humility and self-awareness that enables you to embrace the many ways the MPP changes you.” As someone who was able to pursue the MPP thanks to a fully funded scholarship, he also encourages applicants not to be put off by financial barriers, citing the wide-ranging financial support available.

For Keir, the experience of the course so far has confirmed that his decision to pursue further study on the MPP was the right one.

“Speaking to people from all over the world about their understanding of being ethically motivated to run for office has opened my mind, and it’s only at the Blavatnik School that you get this unique opportunity. If you’re thinking about applying to the MPP, you will never regret having the courage to put yourself forward.”

Keir is a Political Leadership Scholar.

November 2020