Monday, 20 February 2012

Les Ebdon appointed by Vince Cable

Today, the (Lib Dem) Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary, Vince Cable, appointed Les Ebdon as the head of the new Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the body charged with safeguarding and promoting  fair access to Universities and helping ensure that admission policies do not unfairly discriminate against those in state schools or from less privileged backgrounds.

Tory backbenchers (as well as Michael Gove and, it is said, David Cameron) were against the move, and the right-wing media are crying foul. These pieces, from The Telegraph and The Spectator, are especially sneering (written, coincidentally, by former pupils at, respectively, Eton and Winchester who both studied at Cambridge). Much is made of the rejection of his candidature by the BIS select committee.

These protests smack of faux-indignation at a Government minister rejecting the wishes of parliamentarians and completely overlooking the fact - despite the fact the committee is finally balanced with 5 Tories, 5 Labour and 1 Lib Dem - the sections in the report which specifically questioned Mr Ebdon's suitability were voted down by Conservative members.

The truth is that the idea of a Lib Dem Secretary (with the support of his Tory minister, David Willetts) exercising their right to appoint the person they see most fit for the job. At least two of those committee members - Margot James and Nadhim Zahawi - come from precisely the privately educated, Russell Group University background* that breeds the sort of advantage that Mr Ebdon role seeks to help redress. A group that seem to want to keep the insular cloistered world of the Elite Institutions both insular and cloistered.

I can't pretend to know anything about the merits or otherwise of Mr Ebdon as a candidate, per se, but it does seem from a relatively casual reading of the situation, that Mr Cable has been right in asserting his ministerial power. Judging by the howls of protest from the right, I'm almost certain he is. If so, he has done so at the expense of a conservative/Conservative establishment who seem not to recognise a problem in the system, let alone desire any kind of remedial action.


P.S. Lord Bonkers over at Liberal England has written an interesting piece on current University admission policies and contrasts it with his own experiences in the 1970's.

*In fairness, Simon Kirby, who also voted against Mr Ebdon, did not have a private or "elite" education. I couldn't find any information on Rebecca Harris' background.

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