A 100K Offa you may be able to refuse... unless you're hard enough

July 9, 2004

A £100,000-a-year carrot awaits whoever has skin thick enough to become the bogeyman - or woman - of vice-chancellors across the land.

The Times Higher this week carries the first job advertisement for the director of fair access to higher education, the new university access regulator.

The political battering the Office for Fair Access received in the House of Lords will leave the successful candidate in no doubt that universities have little appetite for an outsider meddling in their admissions systems.

The advert calls for candidates with "experience, resilience and toughness" and a readiness to defend their judgements to the press, Parliament and the public.

One vice-chancellor told The Times Higher : "It sounds like they are recruiting a rhinoceros."

The advert says that candidates will have experience in "negotiating with top executives" - hinting, perhaps, that a former trade union leader might fit the bill.

But knowledge of higher education policy is an "advantage" rather than essential, suggesting that Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, is keen to encourage candidates from outside academe.

Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham North, who has called on the Government to "toughen up" Offa, quipped: "Charles Clarke will be thrilled to know that I'll be putting my name in the ring to make this job something that will crack the 40-year trend of only 20 per cent of working-class kids going to university.

"This is the vice-chancellors' agenda as well, so I look forward to tremendous cooperation between them and myself as the incoming director of Offa... that is all tongue in cheek, by the way."

Interviews will be held in September and the successful candidate will start work in autumn, just as universities submit their access agreements for approval.

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