Laurie Taylor column

May 7, 2004

It's enough to make one a socialist again, isn't it?

What's that?

All that research done by The Times Higher that shows that students from poor backgrounds stand less chance of securing a place in medicine than those from more prosperous backgrounds. You can see why the chancellor gets so worked up about fair access.

Well, there's no need to worry about that any more. It will all be sorted by Offa.

The Office for Fair Access?

Exactly. A brand new body that the Department for Education and Skills tells us will be completely independent.

But I thought Offa was going to be sharing the Higher Education Funding Council for England headquarters in Bristol. That's hardly independent.

You're being just a little silly. Because you share a building doesn't mean you share ideas.

I suppose not. But aren't the staff from Offa going to be taken on loan from Hefce?

In the first instance. But they'll soon get into the culture of Offa and start acting with complete independence. After all, they'll have their own budget of £500,000.

And how will they get it?

It will be channelled through Hefce but, of course, that's merely an administrative convenience.

So, we have just appointed a brand new body that the DFES describes as completely independent of Hefce that will be based in Hefce headquarters, staffed by on-loan Hefce staff and financed by Hefce and will be doing Hefce's job of ensuring fair access?

That's right.

But why couldn't we have just left Hefce to get on with the job itself? As it is, it looks like nothing more than spending half a million quid to buy the chancellor's vote for top-up fees.

Now, you're being really silly.

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