A row has blown up about a new appointment in the government’s gift: head of the Office of Fair Access, which can fine universities for not admitting the ‘right’ kinds of students.
Don’t get me wrong – I admire Les Ebdon as an outstanding educator and Vice Chancellor (though I think he’s wrong about student fees).
But why is there such a non-job as ‘university access tsar’ in the first place? ‘There were thought to have been few applicants for the role’ – hmm, people aren’t as stupid as Vince Cable thinks.
Higher education needs an access regulator like it needs a hole in the head. The government thinks that it can solve issues of social mobility by bullying universities. It hasn’t the faintest idea of how university admissions operate. Universities don’t care who their students’ parents are. They have a vested interest in fair access already, for goodness sake. The reason why more kids from poor families don’t go to very selective universities, or any university, is that many of them get a truly lousy education at school.
And we already have plenty of universities that admit people with low or no qualifications. We demean their efforts and their academics’ commitment to students by implying that their students have a sub-standard experience. OFFA is essentially a bastion of elitism, talking up ‘top’ universities as if only they can provide a decent higher education.
Don’t expect it to be abolished soon. It touches all the right statist buttons beloved by the Coalition and the mob who made such a mess before them – bureaucratic, top-down, meddling, controlling, patronising, wasteful of public money, arrogant and vague.