Toby Young, who has resigned this morning from the government's new higher education regulatory body, the Office for Students.YouTube/Channel 4 News

The journalist and free school pioneer Toby Young has resigned from the government’s new higher education regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), just eight days after his appointment was announced.

His resignation follows widespread opposition in the higher education sector to Young, who was labelled by nearly 100 Cambridge academics in an open letter as “a serial purveyor of misogynist, homophobic, racist and able-ist commentary” due to a series of tweets, which have now been deleted.

Welcoming Young’s resignation, the author of the open letter Dr Jason Scott Warren, a senior lecturer in the English faculty and fellow of Gonville & Caius College, told Varsity: “The resignation of Toby Young from the so-called Office for Students is something to celebrate. But we need to ask serious questions about how he came to be appointed in the first place.

“In my view, the absence of substantial student representation from the Board of the OfS tells you everything you need to know about it.”

Young’s tweets included graphic comments about women, including calling Helen Mirren a “#GrandmaI’dLikeToShag”, another saying “Danny Boyle’s wife’s got huge knockers”, and “Actually, mate, I had my dick up her arse”.

In a 2012 column for The Spectator, Young belittled accessibility campaigns in schools, and mocked that “any exam that isn’t ‘accessible’ to a functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six will be judged to be ‘elitist’ and therefore forbidden by Harman’s Law”.

Guyatt is a reader in history at Trinity Hall, and was one of the signatories of the open letter calling for Young's resignation.

Young’s appointment was opposed by Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, and Dawn Butler, the shadow women and equalities minister, who wrote to the prime minister saying “the virulence of Mr Young’s misogyny is disturbing”.

Theresa May admitted on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that she was “not at all impressed by those comments”, but did not wish to hold Young accountable for comments made several years ago.

Jo Johnson, the universities minister, faced a series of difficult questions from MPs in parliament yesterday, and was forced to claim that neither he nor the Department for Education had been aware of Young’s previous comments.

The controversy surrounding Young has detracted from the inception of the OfS, which is one of the most significant reforms to higher education reform in decades. The government has said it will “champion the interests of students, promote choice and help to ensure that students are receiving a good deal for their investment in higher education”. The body has already been tasked with ensuring free speech is upheld at British universities, and includes a sub-panel comprised of students.

On 3rd January, Young wrote in defence of his appointment, saying he had become “a political football”. Resigning this morning, he slammed the “caricature” drawn of him, calling it “unrecognisable to anyone who knows me”.

He stated his support for social mobility and educational opportunity, saying, “I am a passionate supporter of inclusion and helping the most disadvantaged, as I hope my track record of setting up and supporting new schools demonstrates.”


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Daisy Eyre, CUSU president, also spoke out against the appointment: “Mr Young has shown himself to be ableist, classist and sexist and therefore cannot represent the diverse range of university students.

“He is utterly divorced from students and the student voice and his appointment reveals the lack of regard for student interests at the heart of the OFS.”

Reacting to Young’s resignation, Eyre told Varsity she was “relieved to see that Toby Young no longer sits on the board of the OFS.”

“He has no place in a regulator that is supposed to advocate for student interests,” she said, “But he really was the tip of the iceberg in terms of the problems of the OFS. His appointment showed that the board didn't have students' best interests at heart, as clearly demonstrated by the fact that there is no NUS representation on the board.”

She also criticised the OfS in context of wider reforms: “At its core, the OfS is trying to increase the marketisation of Higher Education, increasing the commodification of a sector that should be working for the public good, rather than manipulated by market forces. Also part of this trend are the Teaching Excellence Framework and the NSS [National Student Survey], which try to reduce students’ experiences into sterile metrics that pit universities against one another. So, we're calling on students to boycott the NSS.”

Eyre’s initial criticism of Young triggered a backlash from Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA), who labelled Eyre’s comments as a “partisan critique”.

Young’s 2001 memoir, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, was adapted into a 2008 film with the same name, starring Simon Pegg as Young. Since then, Young has been a pioneer of the free schools movement and has written several books on education, as well as editing The Spectator’s lifestyle magazine

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