'Fearlessly independent' judge to mark Ebdon's work

The government has appointed a reviewer to assess any appeals by universities against decisions taken by Les Ebdon, the director of fair access.

January 8, 2013

Geraint Jones QC, who sits as a recorder and is a part-time judge of the Tax Tribunal, has been named as the statutory reviewer for the Office for Fair Access.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills says in a statement: "Should a university or college object to a provisional decision by the director of fair access, the reviewer can be asked to assess the case impartially. He may recommend that there are grounds for the director to reconsider his decision."

BIS describes Mr Jones as "a leading commercial and Chancery practitioner with extensive experience of judicial review work. He has an undoubted reputation for fearless independence and impartiality in upholding the rule of law."

The decision of David Willetts, the universities and science minister, to appoint Professor Ebdon as Offa director attracted great hostility from the right-leaning press and many Tories.

By emphasising the new reviewer's "fearless independence", Mr Willetts may be trying to signal that Professor Ebdon will not be allowed a free rein.

Mr Willetts said: "I am delighted that Geraint Jones will be the reviewer for Offa, his skills and experience, if called upon, will be of great value."

The advertisement for the post said the successful applicant would be paid at a rate of £1,500 to £3,000 a day, when required.

Although someone had been appointed to the reviewer's role in the past, there has been no reviewer in post since February 2010.

Under its founding director Sir Martin Harris, Offa has never rejected a university's access plan, thereby exposing the university to a financial penalty.

The need for a reviewer now may suggest that BIS expects Professor Ebdon to be far likelier than Sir Martin to confront universities on access plans - and to be far likelier to attract appeals against his decisions from universities.

A BIS spokeswoman said in August when Times Higher Education first reported on the move to appoint a new reviewer to the lapsed post: "The services of a reviewer were never called on, and therefore the previous arrangement expired unnoticed."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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