BIS Committee may have blocked Les Ebdon from Offa job

Speculation is rife that the government’s preferred candidate for the post of director of fair access – Les Ebdon – has been blocked from the role by Conservative MPs after a delay in the announcement over the appointment.

February 6, 2012

News about whether Professor Ebdon, the vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and chair of million+, had been approved by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, was due soon after MPs had met on 6 February.

However, Times Higher Education understands the decision may now have moved into a mediation process with ministers in accordance with official rules – suggesting that his appointment has not been approved by the committee.

It is also believed that only the MPs who were present at Professor Ebdon’s “pre-appointment” hearing last week were able to vote on whether to approve him.

Two Labour MPs and one Lib Dem MP were known to be missing from the hearing – giving the Tories a majority in any vote.

Professor Ebdon faced intense questioning from members of the committee last week about his suitability for the role, including whether his previous views on the sector would influence his approach.

He responded by laying down the gauntlet to highly-selective universities with “patchy” records on access, saying that he would be prepared to use the “nuclear option” of stopping institutions from charging higher fees if they did not measure up.

Last week, THE reported how some vice-chancellors at the elite end of the sector were known to be shocked by the decision – approved by both Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary, and David Willetts, the Conservative universities and science minister - to put forward Professor Ebdon.

There are now suggestions that some interest groups in the sector have put pressure on the government at a higher level to get Professor Ebdon’s appointment blocked by the Conservative side of the coalition.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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