English regulator paid £80K to ‘terminate’ access chief’s role

Office for Students accounts also confirm £915,000 payment to for-profit college that successfully challenged refusal of registration in court

June 27, 2022
Chris Millward
Chris Millward

England’s higher education regulator paid its former director of fair access and participation £80,000 to secure his “voluntary exit”, new accounts reveal.

Chris Millward was appointed to the post on the Office for Students’ board on a four-year term that began in January 2018 and stepped down when it concluded at the end of December 2021. He is now professor of practice in education policy at the University of Birmingham.

When Professor Millward’s departure was announced in May 2021, Nicola Dandridge, who was then the OfS’ chief executive, said that he had “done an exceptional job”, and Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said she was “very grateful for all Chris’ achievements”.

But the OfS’ annual accounts for 2021-22, published on 27 June, describe Professor Millward’s contract as having been “terminated”. The document says that the chief secretary to the Treasury – most likely Steve Barclay, given the period in question – had “approved a special severance payment of £80,000 to agree a voluntary exit of the employment of Chris Millward”.

The disclosures come amid continuing concern about the extent of ministerial influence over the sector regulator.

The director of fair access and participation is a ministerial appointment and Professor Millward’s departure was announced weeks after Lord Wharton of Yarm, a Conservative peer and former MP who chaired Boris Johnson’s party leadership campaign, took over as OfS chair.

The announcement of schools policy expert John Blake as Professor Millward’s successor coincided with Ms Donelan announcing a significant shift in universities’ access activities, requiring them to work much more closely with local schools and colleges, seen as part of the government’s “levelling up” agenda.

Since his departure Professor Millward, who was director of policy at the OfS’ predecessor organisation, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, prior to taking on the access role, has made critical comments about this proposal and other Westminster government policies.

Ms Dandridge has subsequently left the OfS herself, and the organisation is currently led by interim chief executive Susan Lapworth.

Professor Millward’s departure was announced six months prior to it occurring and the accounts state that the notice period for most OfS directors is six months. The accounts say that Mr Blake was also appointed on a four-year term, with the option to extend this to a maximum of 10 years. He also has a six-month notice period.

An OfS spokesman said that Professor Millward would have been “entitled to redundancy” at the end of his term, taking account of his continuous service at Hefce since 2006.

“He accepted a payment of £80,000 which was considerably less than he would have been entitled to if he took his full redundancy. The special payment was approved by [the Department for Education] and HM Treasury,” the spokesman said.

The accounts also reveal that the OfS paid £915,000 to a for-profit college that won an appeal against the regulator’s refusal to allow its students to access public loans.

In August 2020 the Court of Appeal quashed an earlier ruling that backed the OfS’ decision to refuse to register the Bloomsbury Institute over quality and management concerns. The OfS was ordered to pay £144,500 in costs as well as legal costs to the institution, which was eventually registered in October 2020.


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