Let’s make sure the OFS doesn’t see another New Year’s Day

toby young

By Rory Hughes 

On New Year’s Day the new ‘Office for Students’ (OFS) came into existence. This new body will be in charge of both funding and regulating the HE sector and is a composition of multiple other QUANGOs such as HEFCE and OFFA with some additional powers and responsibilities. The OFS is Jo Johnson MP’s pet project and is designed to impose ‘market forces’ and competition on the HE sector and make sure universities are ‘delivering value for money’ to students. The governing board of the OFS tells you everything you need to know and more about the accelerating dangers this government poses to Higher Education.

The most high-profile appointment to the governing board is that of Toby Young. Let’s be clear, Toby Young is a Tory bigot and was appointed to sit on the board of the OFS to be a Tory bigot. In his other work however, Young established the first ever (and repeatedly failing) ‘Free School’ in the UK and heads up the national network of these pet projects ‘delivering parent choice’ and sucking state funding away from comprehensives. He has called working class students “universally unattractive”, “small, vaguely deformed undergraduates” and ‘stains’. He has called students with disabilities “functionally illiterate troglodyte’s” and moaned about calls for ‘inclusion’ and wheelchair access in schools. He also believes that Oxbridge bears no responsibility for its racist admissions policy. Whilst Young’s selection is particularly vile it has unfortunately diverted scrutiny from the other members of the board which more fully illustrate the purpose of the OFS.

The chair of the OFS is Michael Barber an ‘educationist’ who headed up New Labour’s education reforms before jumping ship to lead a variety of global private education companies and trusts. Barber was also a key architect of the Browne Review in 2010 that formulated the basis for the introduction of 9k fees and further marketisation. He has a long track record of imposing neoliberal reforms onto education systems and his approach to HE will be no different. In his own words, “The world is going to change dramatically in the next five to 10 years. School systems will have to innovate, and innovation will come from the private sector or public-private partnerships, rather than government.”

Joining Barber on the board are a range of corporates including:

Gurpreet Dehal – who “has over 25 years of leadership, strategic planning and financial experience gained mainly at major investment banks”

Katja Hall – a partner at Chairman Mentors International, previously she was Group Head of External Affairs and Sustainability at HSBC

Simon Levine – Managing Partner and Co-Global Chief Executive Officer of the global law firm, DLA Piper.

Elizabeth Fagan – Senior Vice President, Managing Director of Boots.

What this ragtag bunch of bankers, consultants and the director of a tax-avoiding conglomerate know about the experience of students and staff on the ground is beyond any of us. They will be accompanied by some high-flying right-wing education ideologues including Carl Lygo who was the founding vice-chancellor of BPP University – a private, for-profit institution now owned by an American Private Equity Fund.

The OFS is just another in a long line of arm’s length government bodies designed to impose marketisation and privatisation on our public services. When the government wanted to accelerate privatisation of the NHS they created ‘NHS England’ and stuffed its governing board full of the same types of corporates and ideologues as the OFS.

Most worryingly however is the fact that our NUS leadership have spent months sucking up to government ministers and HE leaders, ‘being respectable’, ‘gaining access to the corridors of power’, ‘getting a seat at the decision-making table’ only to be snubbed by the government and failing to gain a powerless seat at an unpleasant table. The NUS has been side-lined in favour of a single random student from Surrey University who now represents all students on the board of the OFS. This is what happens when the student movement lobbies for scraps instead of fighting for what is right. We as student activists, the NUS and the Labour Party must re-start the national movement for a truly Free, Liberated and Accessible education system governed democratically by staff, students and the public. It is up to us to make sure that the OFS won’t see another New Year’s Day.

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