Starting this week, higher education institutions in the UK have a new sheriff to answer to the ambiguously named Office for Students (or OfS for short).
The remit of the OfS is to act as a regulatory body for UK universities; ensuring students receive “a good deal for their investment in higher education”.
The intention is for the OfS to be to the higher education sector what Ofgem, Ofwat and the Office for Rail and Road (No? Me neither) are to the energy, water ands rail industries. Given the rousing success energy, water and rail have had in delivering value for the consumer, I’m sure we can all jump for joy at the arrival of this latest regulatory body.
It is not the creation of the OfS that has grabbed headlines this week, however. Nor is it the concerns of Alistair Jarvis, head of Universities UK, over how the body will carry out its remit fairly. Nor, indeed, is it the concerns of the head of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, over how the OfS will practically manage its responsibilities.
No, the big headline-grabbing news is the fact that Toby Young, journalist and head of the New Schools Network, is to sit on the board of the OfS. His appointment comes alongside a list of distinguished names from the world of private enterprise, most notably a former head of external affairs at HSBC, a managing director of Boots and a partner at global law firm DLA Piper. This is good because, as every good Tory knows, universities should work just like businesses and anyone who suggests that, well, maybe that’s not the best idea is, quite frankly, insane.
But Young’s appointment is particularly egregious because, aside from having no experience of the higher education sector, Young has voiced views that suggest he has very little interest in placing the needs of students at the forefront of his agenda.
For those not in the know, Toby Young is essentially the Katie Hopkins of the education world. Blessed with a magical combination of ignorance and privilege that allows him to say outrageous things for money, he seems to be primarily motivated by hatred:
Things Toby hates
- Working-class students
- His friends
Crucially, when it comes to success, Young is a proponent of the nature over nurture argument. He believes intelligence is innate and should determine success. It appears he has arrived at this position through a good deal of reading what he likes the sound of and throwing in a large dollop of confirmation bias for good measure. He has even posited the idea of selecting embryos for intelligence in what he rather clumsily terms “Progressive Eugenics” (who needs to worry about social mobility if you don’t allow the little buggers to be born in the first place, eh?). The hypocrisy of this position is staggering. Here is a man who got into Oxford on the back of two Bs and a C at A-level, because his very famous and influential dad rang them up.
He’s even suggested that allowing children in wheel-chairs to access schools is somehow bad.
So why has this eminently unqualified man been granted this position of influence? Why, despite this inauspicious track record, is he being tasked with ensuring university students in the UK get a good deal?
One cannot help but suspect it’s got something to do with his one genuinely discernable talent: the ability to defend to the hilt any Conservative policy, no matter how wasteful, ineffective or ideologically-driven it may be. This is a talent that we have seen employed wonderfully in defence of the supremely wasteful and ineffective free schools initiative.
As UK universities suffer under a tuition fees system that is receiving increasing criticism, a dose of hard-headed bluster may be very useful for the Conservative government.
And Toby Young is just the man for that job.