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Kate Osamor MP: my pride at being a UEL graduate

Rising Labour Party star says the University gave her confidence to believe in herself

By Kiera Hay

Kate Osamor MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, learned many things during her studies at the University of East London (UEL). 

A hard-fought degree in international development provided the foundation for a career that has taken her to the House of Commons, where she represents the constituents of Edmonton and is seen as one of the Labour Party’s rising stars. 

But she says that some of her most important lessons at UEL did not necessarily come from books.

Kate said, “UEL was the first environment where I actually was able to say to myself, thank God I come from Haringey. Thank God I know what it’s like to not have a lot of money in my pocket – because when I do have money in my pocket, when I do have a voice, I can speak for others.” 

Kate was already a mother of one when she arrived at UEL after completing an access course at Hackney College. She said she had previously struggled at school.

“I knew that I enjoyed debating and I enjoyed conversations,” she said. “But when it came to written exams I struggled and I didn’t really know why. But I just thought, ‘I’m going to find a way’.”

At UEL, Kate’s studies were initially more difficult than she anticipated. But a pivotal moment occurred at the library one day early in her first term when she noticed a poster highlighting dyslexia. 

Kate said, “I thought, it’s a bit like me. Are they talking to me?”

She took a test administered by UEL and it was confirmed that she had dyslexia. Even though Kate said she had always had a sense something about her was different, the formal diagnosis was life-changing, giving her access to support services, among other things.

Kate said UEL helped her and her fellow students understand that they had something special to offer precisely because so many of them had life experiences which included prior employment and raising families. 

She said, “What UEL did was give you confidence to believe in yourself. There is a mix of people at UEL but you tend to be around people who have come here from somewhere else and bring different experiences to the table. I’m proud of that and UEL made me proud of that.” 

She continued, “Now that I’m at the House of Commons, I see how important that is because I’m talking across the chamber at people who may have more money than me but they don’t have my experience.”

Kate acknowledged that being a MP involved a large amount of work and scrutiny. She said she has developed a thick skin since her election in 2015. She is also constantly asking herself what she wants to achieve with her position. Most often, that involves helping people in some way.

She said, “I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want to be on TV every week. I don’t care about those things. I have colleagues like that but I’m not like that. It will come to me if that’s where I’m supposed to be.”

A recent example was when Kate was able to use her influence to stop two Nigerian immigrants from being deported from the UK. Kate currently chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria. 

She said, “If I can help people, I will help them. If you’ve got power and you don’t use it in the right way, you shouldn’t have it. That’s how I look at it.”

“And when I say power, I just mean that I’m privileged to have people who will actually listen to me. I don’t have power because I have money or because I’m strong.

“It’s just that I’m in an environment where, because of my title, I’m able to speak up for people who haven’t got a voice. And that’s all I want to do, really.”

Kate noted that, after graduating from UEL in 2005, she did not land a job that perfectly aligned with her degree in international development. 

Instead, she worked for organisations including The Big Issue magazine and the NHS. Now, of course, Kate is putting her university studies to good use with her shadow international development brief.

Kate’s advice to new graduates? “You may not get the exact job you’re looking for but you have a skillset that people will accept. Use your degree as a tool to promote yourself.

“And don’t forget who you are; don’t change into somebody that you are not.

“Remember all the unique things about you that brought you to UEL and view your degree as something extra. The rest will follow, 100 per cent.”