Les Ebdon deserves praise for fighting for a level playing field in higher education

Writing in the Guardian, Neil Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank, says the director of the Office for Fair Access Les Ebdon has disproved those who doubted him (but still has work to do)…

…Ebdon’s appointment split the coalition. It was not so much Lib Dems versus Conservatives as blue-on-blue combat. Tory MPs argued Ebdon’s appointment would put the quality of the whole university sector at risk.

Others weighed in. The Daily Mail labelled Ebdon “the man who wants to dumb down Britain”. The cross-party Commons business, innovation and skills select committee, headed by a Labour MP, refused to rubberstamp the appointment.

As special adviser to the universities minister, I was in the eye of the storm and had responsibility for liaising with Number 10 on the appointment. I should have kept them better informed of the whole process so that they were not caught off guard by the warring factions. But the appointment was scrupulously fair and not all political furores are predictable. In many ways, the row was a synthetic one. People were playing the man not the ball because they knew Offa was there to stay.

Those opposed to Offa say it gives schools an excuse to underperform by encouraging universities to admit people with lower qualifications. Those who support Offa say a student’s potential should be recognised even when it is not reflected in their A-level results. Both sides have a point. But, until every school and college in the country gives each child the same opportunity to excel, an argument exists for Offa monitoring the overall landscape.

Ebdon has disproved the doubters. He has spent time talking to the whole sector, worked positively with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and provided wise counsel. The main statistics on under-represented groups in higher education are moving in the right direction…

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Nick Hillman goes on to say that removing the limit on university places should make the objective of achieving equal access easier and advises that Les Ebdon is given a second term to continue his work. Your thoughts? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…

 

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