Wharton resigns as Office for Students chair after Labour victory

Conservative peer steps down following long-running criticism of his political affiliation

July 9, 2024
Chair of Office for Students James Wharton, Lord Wharton of Yarm

The Conservative chair of the English higher education regulator, the Office for Students, has resigned from his post after the Labour Party’s win in the UK’s general election.

Lord Wharton of Yarm has been in post since early 2021 after being appointed by former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson.

A former MP who also served as Boris Johnson’s campaign manager, he was a controversial choice to succeed the watchdog’s first chair, Sir Michael Barber.

Questions were raised after it emerged that the interview panel for the role included three Conservatives and a former Tory parliamentary candidate.

While in post Lord Wharton oversaw the regulator as lockdown restrictions eased following the pandemic and during a period of extensive industrial action.

The OfS has also significantly expanded its work in this time, focussing more on free speech issues and grade inflation, as well as taking over as the sector’s designated quality body from the Quality Assurance Agency.

Last year the peer defended plans to put registration fees up, which he said was necessary due to the organisation’s expanded remit.

But Lord Wharton continued to face calls to resign the Conservative whip in the House of Lords or step down, something which he refused to do.

A Department for Education spokesperson thanked Lord Wharton for his service “through a period of change and challenge at the OfS”.

They said his resignation had been accepted and a process to appoint an interim chair was under way, with a permanent replacement being announced “in due course”.

“Lord Wharton joined the OfS in early 2021, as the country and the higher education sector began to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic,” said Susan Lapworth, chief executive of the regulator. 

“During his time as chair, the OfS has continued to develop as a regulator. We reset our approach to regulating quality, launched our equality of opportunity risk register and reported on the financial pressures affecting students and institutions.

“I’m grateful for his support for colleagues across the OfS during this period, and for all his work with our important sector.”

tom.williams@timeshighereducation.com

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Register
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

The ‘teenage’ regulator has a toxic relationship with universities owing to its uncompromising approach and its alleged unwillingness to listen – except to Conservative ministers. But should vice-chancellors agitating against the OfS be careful what they wish for? John Morgan reports 

Sponsored