Hurrah for the OfS!
Jamie Targett, our Director of Corporate Affairs, has commended the recent assertion by Claire Taylor, deputy vice-chancellor of Wrexham Glyndwr University, that the UK’s “Bruised universities must regain public confidence”.
But who might renew that public confidence? According to Targett, we need look no further than the new regulator for higher education, the Office for Students.
“Look at the bravery they’ve shown in denouncing ‘no platforming’ at universities. It takes courage to come out in favour of free speech. One can only hope that the same libertarian spirit will shortly prompt the OfS to come out fearlessly in support of motherhood and apple pie.
“And then there’s the determined manner in which OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge has committed the organisation to student welfare. In her words, ‘we need students to engage with us at this formative stage so that they can influence the framework to ensure that it truly works in their interest’.
“And these aren’t mere words. We now learn that the OfS has actually appointed one real student to its 15-strong board, although quite naturally it also turned down the applications it received from the president and the vice-president of the National Union of Students. It’s good to hear a student voice but one at a time is generally enough to be going on with.
“There’s the same admirable pragmatism at work in the OfS’ decision not to have any scientists or engineers on the board. This may upset people such as Richard Jones, professor of physics at the University of Sheffield, but it makes perfect sense in view of the OfS’ primary remit to encourage more private providers. Frankly, private providers aren’t interested in offering science degrees when they can pick up shedloads of public loan money with low-cost courses in business, law and economics.”
So only one student and no scientists. Were these omissions remedied by board members with relevant knowledge of higher education?
Targett had no doubts. “Troublemakers have pointed out that board member Elizabeth Fagan, senior vice-president at Boots, helps run a company that was only recently accused of avoiding about £1.2 billion in UK tax by moving to a low-tax Swiss canton in 2007, but just think how often students will visit Boots for the drugs they need to assuage the forthcoming loss of teaching staff as universities gear up for the next research excellence framework. And how refreshing that the board has also found room for Katja Hall, a former head of external affairs at HSBC. Maybe HSBC has, in the words of Roger Brown, the former chief executive of the Higher Education Quality Council, been ‘mired in one scandal after another’ but just consider how very much students will be involved with banks such as HSBC as they endeavour to pay off their ever-mounting debts.”
Did Targett regret that Jo Johnson’s loss of his post as universities minister cruelly deprived him of the chance to observe the success of an institution he’d done so much to create?
“I can’t speak for Mr Johnson, but when you’ve been responsible for creating such wonderful new bodies as the teaching excellence framework and the OfS, you deserve a break. I’m reliably informed that even the good Dr Frankenstein needed the occasional rest day.”