Cable holds firm to appoint Ebdon

Les Ebdon has been formally appointed as the new director of fair access, with business secretary Vince Cable telling the parliamentary committee that rejected him there were no “new, relevant facts” preventing his selection.

February 20, 2012

Professor Ebdon will succeed Sir Martin Harris as head of the Office for Fair Access later this year despite the government coming under intense pressure from Conservative MPs to rethink its choice.

Professor Ebdon’s selection was rejected in a report backed by four Tory MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, leading to a political stand-off and a stream of negative press articles questioning his suitability.

But in a letter to the committee chair, Adrian Bailey, Labour MP for West Bromwich West, Vince Cable, the business secretary, says that the government had conducted a “lengthy and careful search for the right candidate, twice over”, and that he and David Willetts, the universities and science minister, are “confident” they have the right man.

Mr Cable adds that he had considered the committee’s report “most carefully”, but had concluded that it did not raise any “new, relevant facts about Professor Ebdon’s suitability for the post such as to cause me to revise my original position”.

However, he suggests that Professor Ebdon should appear before the committee at “regular intervals” so that it can monitor his progress.

In a press release announcing the appointment, Mr Cable adds that he has “no doubt that Professor Ebdon has the qualities and determination to help those students from low-income or other under-represented groups to secure the places in higher education that their attainments and potential show they deserve”.

Mr Willetts says: “The appointment of Professor Ebdon, and the additional resources that we will make available to the Office for Fair Access, will help develop its role working with universities. This reflects the importance we place on improving access to higher education for students with potential from all backgrounds.”

Professor Ebdon said he would respect “the diversity of the sector and institutional autonomy”.

The announcement comes amid attempts by Tory MPs to ratchet up the tension surrounding the appointment, with reports that they would attempt to force Mr Cable to explain his decision to Parliament.

A report from the Fair Access To University Group of Tory MPs has also been published, which concludes that improving school achievement rather than altering university admissions policies is the best way to help poorer applicants.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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