Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

University access tsar confirmed

Professor Les Ebdon's appointment comes despite opposition from some Tories

Professor Les Ebdon is to become the Government's new university access tsar, Business Secretary Vince Cable said.

The Lib Dem minister was summoned to the Commons to explain his decision, which came despite "fundamental" objections from the cross-party committee responsible for scrutinising his department.

Tory MP for Hertsmere James Clappison asked: "What confidence can students and universities and parents have in this appointee if the select committee does not have confidence in him?

"What confidence can the public have in this appointment when the select committee says in its conclusion... 'we were not convinced of Prof Ebdon's description of the root causes of the obstacles to accessing universities'?"

This was, Mr Clappison said, a "rather more fundamental" concern than the criticism of Prof Ebdon's "presentational skills" contained in the report which Mr Cable had highlighted when explaining his decision to overrule the committee.

Mr Cable said the committee's report was advisory and insisted Prof Ebdon was the right choice for the role as director of the Office for Fair Access (Offa).

He said the appointment followed two lengthy searches and Prof Ebdon had "considerable experience".

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said the appointment followed a "turf war" within the coalition Government.

Responding to an urgent question from Mr Clappison, the Business Secretary said the recruitment search was conducted in a "fair, competitive and transparent way", and that Prof Ebdon, vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University, had "considerable experience".

"He is a prize-winning analytical chemist with a PhD from Imperial (College London) and he transformed the finances and quality of his own university for the better," Mr Cable told MPs.

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