Toby Young’s resignation does not change the fundamental problems with the Office for Students, writes Robbie Young 

If there is one thing that reaffirms any speculation about how weak Theresa May is, you only have to look at the fact the Toby Young resigned instead of being fired.

It is hard to imagine what it would take to be considered unsuitable for public office by the prime minister, given revelations that Young has given backing to so-called ‘progressive eugenics’. But with public declarations of support from senior cabinet minister such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, it is clear the rot goes deep in this government.

We should not be surprised, then, that Young’s appointment was just the tip of the iceberg. When we only focus on Young we fail to look at the wider picture and the bigger problems with the new Office for Students and its appointments.

The board as it stands is not representative of the higher education sector, with only one vice-chancellor, one student, and not a single place for academics or other staff. This does little to win the confidence of the sector, or the students in whose interests the body purports to operate.

Only this week, a parliamentary answer from the new minister for universities, Sam Gyimah, revealed that despite interviewing three candidates for the student representative place on the Office for Students board, the government overturned any due process and rejected all the candidates they interviewed. Instead, they appointed a student for one year directly from the student panel, dismissing a national recruitment campaign and a rigorous interview process that ended with three student board members.

Given the long parliamentary debate that even led to parliament mandating the government to recruit an independent student representative for the board, much to the former universities’ minister’s protests, there is much to be angry about.

This whole debacle suggests that the Office for Students will be ill-equipped to tackle the problems facing students and our sector, with the chaos of these appointments only throwing a spotlight on the state of this government’s approach to higher education. There has been little recognition of the real challenges facing students, such as student poverty and barriers to access, and it is unclear how the new regulatory body is placed to tackle them. Instead, its composition reflects a government obsession with introducing greater competition and further marketisation of our world-leading university sector.

Hopefully, the Office for Students will use this opportunity to reflect on its purpose and what it should mean for the millions of students across the country.


Robbie Young is vice president (society and citizenship) of the National Union of Students. He tweets at @Robbiie__


Photo: Creative Commons