Rammell: I'll criticise but won't be partisan

New Bedfordshire v-c voices concerns but says role won't be platform for politics. John Morgan reports

April 19, 2012

Credit: Getty
Welcome: Bill Rammell has a passion for widening participation, and Bedfordshire is 'at the forefront of that'

Former Labour higher education minister Bill Rammell said he would not seek a political platform in his role as vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire even as he criticised the "uncertainty" created by government policy.

Mr Rammell, currently deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Plymouth, will take over at Bedfordshire on 1 August, it was announced last week. He will replace Les Ebdon, who leaves to become director of fair access.

The former MP for Harlow said: "I'll always be a political animal; I'll always be a member of the Labour Party. But I'm not looking for a platform to make a critique of the government.

"As any vice-chancellor, I do have questions about policy direction. It is the uncertainty of where this is going that so many universities and vice-chancellors are concerned about."

He said his questions applied particularly to the AAB and core-and-margin systems. The latter deducts a portion of places from each institution to allocate to universities and further education colleges charging annual tuition fees of less than £7,500. It is projected to cost Bedfordshire 12.4 per cent of its places in 2012-13, the second-largest loss of any university.

"I looked at a model of core-and-margin when I was a minister, not based upon price," said Mr Rammell, who served as higher education minister between 2005 and 2008. "One of my concerns is that [the current system] is based on price."

Having overseen the student experience and internationalisation at Plymouth, Mr Rammell singled out the latter as one of his priorities at Bedfordshire.

On the government's toughening of the student visa system, he said: "I would hope that the government understands - and I know David Willetts [the universities minister] and Vince Cable [the business secretary] understand - the real benefits of the globalisation of higher education."

But Mr Rammell added: "It is really important that universities don't overstate the impact of the visa changes. I think sometimes if the sector gets into the position where, to make a point, it exaggerates the impact - we shouldn't be surprised if overseas students hear that message and it puts them off."

Professor Ebdon's appointment as director of the Office for Fair Access attracted a storm of criticism from sections of the Conservative Party and the national press. The Daily Mail said Professor Ebdon ran "one of the country's WORST universities", with one columnist criticising "the Mickey Mouse courses offered by his college".

Although Mr Rammell would not discuss "particular newspapers", he said: "Some of the coverage was completely ill-informed and inaccurate. If you look at a whole range of indicators at Bedfordshire - particularly employability rates and application rates - it completely rebuts that."

He described himself as having a "passion for widening access to higher education" and Bedfordshire as "being at the forefront of that".

"All universities that are at the forefront of widening participation...need to be making the case for that and how they are changing and transforming lives."


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