Toby Young was driven to resign from the OfS after controversial tweets emergedYOUTUBE/CHANNEL 4 NEWS

The Commissioner for Public Appointments has concluded that the recruitment campaign for the Office of Students (OfS) took “too partisan an approach to candidates’ views” for student representatives to the board.

The Office of Students (OfS) is a new government-created regulatory body for higher education, tasked with implementing aspects of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which will come into effect on 1st April 2018. It will replace the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). It has 15 board members, including the required student representative.

The Commissioner’s report reached a damning conclusion over the appointment process for student representatives; it wrote that, “political factors completely unrelated to the remit of the OfS were cited by the special advisor in objecting to the preferred candidate”. The report cites candidates’ views over free speech on university campuses and over the Prevent agenda as a “central reason” for Downing Street’s rejection of recommended student representatives.

Submissions and email records also reportedly prove a desire among ministers and special advisors “not to appoint someone with close links to student unions, like the NUS”, which it noted was a desire “not made clear in the advertised candidate information”. Both Shakira Martin, current president of the National Union of Students (NUS), and Amatey Doku, the incumbent candidate for NUS Vice-President for Higher Education and former CUSU president, applied and were rejected for the role.

The recruitment process for student representatives to the OfS board involved two separate rounds by two panels, both chaired by OfS Chair Sir Michael Barber; the Commissioner also noted that the panel for generic non-executive roles were all-male. The panels proposed appointable candidates to special advisors, who “made objections” to one candidate for the student experience representation role, “on the basis of [their] public statements and student union activity”.


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The OfS board currently includes one student representative, Ruth Carlson, an engineering student at the University of Surrey who has past experience as a student course representative for civil engineering and president of the Surrey women’s football team.

The review was commissioned in the wake of controversy over the appointment of Conservative and free-schools advocate Toby Young to the board as generic Non-Executive Director.

The public outcry saw the publication of an open letter by nearly 100 Cambridge academics who condemned Young as “a serial purveyor of misogynist, homophobic, racist and able-ist commentary”. Young then resigned from the board on 9th January 2018.

According to the Commissioner, furthermore, the process “lacked a consistency in the approach to due diligence”, as it overlooked controversial past tweets by Young while “the social media activity of the initially preferred candidate for the student experience role was extensively examined”.