The appointment of “Tory cheerleader” Toby Young to the board of England’s new higher education regulator has been criticised by the University and College Union.
Mr Young, a journalist and the director of New Schools Network charity, which supports free schools, was one of six final board members announced as the Office for Students officially came into force on 1 January.
Sally Hunt, the UCU’s general secretary, said the appointment raised questions about the OfS’ role in the sector.
“If this organisation was to have any credibility it needed a robust board looking out for students’ interests,” Ms Hunt said. “Instead we have this announcement sneaked out at new year with Tory cheerleader Toby Young dressed up as the voice of teachers and no proper representation from staff or students.”
Mr Young is a friend of Michael Gove, the environment secretary and former education secretary, and an advocate for the establishment of free schools outside local authority control.
The OfS is charged with improving choice for students in England and driving up competition by encouraging more private providers to enter the sector.
The Department for Education said the final six members of the 15-strong board, which include a student representative, would ensure the board would “not only reflect the diverse needs of the HE sector but will also make sure the interests of employers and students are represented on the new body, which will also hold universities to account over issues such as vice-chancellor pay and free speech”.
The final appointees also include: Ruth Carlson, a student at Surrey University; Simon Levine, managing partner of law firm DLA Piper; and Elizabeth Fagan, senior vice-president of Boots. Also announced as board members on 1 January were Katja Hall, former group head of external affairs and sustainability at HSBC, and Monisha Shah, chair of Rose Bruford College.
Sir Michael Barber, the chair of the OfS, said the new board members’ “broad mix of skills and experiences complement those already appointed”.
“I am confident that the OfS has a board in place that is well placed to successfully oversee the creation and guide the operation of a new organisation which will be shaping our brilliant higher education sector in the interests of students, short, medium and long term,” Sir Michael said.
Sir Michael sits on the board alongside Martin Coleman, the deputy chair, Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive, and Chris Millward, the director for fair access and participation. The other board members are Gurpreet Dehal, Kate Lander, Carl Lygo, David Palfreyman and Steve West.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, said that the OfS would “introduce a truly modern approach to regulation – one that will further enhance the reputation of our university sector”.