Office for Students: New university watchdog officially launched

The Office for Students (OfS), the new universities regulator designed to ‘to hold universities to account and promote students interests’, has legally come into force from January 1.

The new regulator ‘will hold universities to account for the quality of teaching they provide’. (Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license).

In a press release, the Department for Education (DfE) said the watchdog – created after the passing of the Higher Education and Research Act last year – ‘will hold universities to account for the quality of teaching they provide’.

“They will shine a light on the grade inflation that we have seen tearing through the system and play a central role in pressing institutions to respect student’s rights and comply with consumer law consistently across the sector,” it reads.

As well as announcing the launch of the regulator, the DfE also announced the final six people to make up the OfS board’s 15 members – including a Surrey University student and the Managing Director of the pharmacy chain, Boots.

Sir Michael Barber, OfS chair, said: “I am delighted to be welcoming another outstanding set of appointments. The new Board members’ broad mix of skills and experiences complement those already appointed.

“I am confident that the OfS has a Board in place that is well-placed to successfully oversee the creation and guide the operation of a new organisation which will be shaping our brilliant higher education sector in the interests of students, short, medium and long term,” he said.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson MP also welcomed the appointments.

“I am confident that the OfS has a board that will champion choice and competition, and put the interests of students at the heart of regulation,” he said.

Days after the news was announced, one of the board’s members – journalist and Director of the New Schools Network, Toby Young – was criticised for his appointment.

Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Dawn Butler MP, said on Twitter that Theresa May ‘cannot allow this appointment to stand’.

She said: “She must also explain what exactly made [them] appointment him in the first place. Transparency is key to changing attitudes and outcomes.”

A petition has since been launched to sack Mr Young from his position, and the writer has also faced backlash regarding an article in The Spectator from 2012 and comments made about inclusivity in schools.

Following the criticism, Mr Young has since taken to Facebook and said: “Some of those things have been sophomoric and silly – and I regret those – but some have been deliberately misinterpreted to try and paint me as a caricature of a heartless Tory toff.

“For the record, I’m a supporter of women’s rights and LGBT rights. Indeed, I was a supporter of gay marriage, defended the policy in the Sun on Sunday and debated Nigel Farage on the topic in the Daily Telegraph.

“I’m also a defender of teaching children with disabilities in mainstream schools. I have an older brother with learning disabilities and I’m a patron of the residential care home he’s lived in for 20 years,” he said.

“But I am a Tory, obviously, and for some people that alone is enough to disqualify me from serving on the OfS’s board,” Mr Young went on to add. “That’s plainly nonsense. If the OfS is to do its job properly it should include people from both sides of the political divide, left and right.”

The full list of OfS board members can be found on the GOV.UK website.

Read more: Universities could be fined or suspended by new regulator for failing to protect free speech



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