Leader: A flexible enforcer?

July 16, 2004

Charles Clarke's remit for the Director of Fair Access, hard on the heels of last week's job specification, has put some flesh on the bones of the Government's plans to regulate the new top-up fees market. It starts from the laudable but imprecise premise that the new office should be "well-focused and non-bureaucratic" and sets out a framework that is designed to reassure those who anticipate unwarranted interference. The guidance is littered with phrases such as "pragmatic and sensible" and guarantees that the "lion's share" of fee income will be available to institutions to spend as they see fit.

The sting is in the tail of the director's remit, however, with the exercise of powers to ban universities from charging top-up fees for an indefinite period or to fine them up to £500,000. He or she has been given considerable discretion on the circumstances that would trigger such action. Only when the appointment has been made and the first access agreements scrutinised will we know whether the flexible nature of the remit is to universities' advantage or not.

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