I had previously made a passing reference to the “retirement” of Prof Les Ebdon from his post as Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire. If we were wondering what Les would do next it wasn’t long before we found out. Business secretary Vince cable has chosen to appoint him as the new director of the Office for Fair Access, a watchdog designed to ensure that people from all backgrounds are able to benefit from higher education.
There is no question that during his time at the University of Bedfordshire Prof Ebdon has been a highly effective and successful advocate for the expansion of university education and for making it available to people from all walks of life. He has been a fixture on the local political scene for most of the time that I’ve been significantly involved in it and in the latter years he has developed a certain national profile. He always gave me the impression of being a bit of a canny operator. So my judgment, for what it is worth, is that he was a very good choice to fill this post.
So it is disappointing that his appointment has become the subject of a very fierce and public political row.
In voting against his appointment the Tories on the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee have started off a tussle that appears to be going straight to the top of the coalition government. Our Vince is standing by his choice, but there seems to be a significant lobby that wants to prevent our Les from getting the job.
Prof Ebdon has been outspoken and he clearly has an agenda, which is controversial in some quarters, and as chair of the Million+ group of new universities I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t ruffled a few feathers amongst those leading our more established educational institutions. So it seems the man has enemies.
So I smell a slight whiff of conspiracy over this. One that I wouldn’t be surprised is heavily motivated by snobbery. OK, my perspective may be slightly too influenced by the works of Tom Sharpe or certain episodes of Yes Minister, but the Guardian has reported that;
“Private schools and the country’s 20 leading research universities are thought to have lobbied against Ebdon’s appointment.”
I’ve also just seen this article on the Daily Mail’s website which claims;
“were Professor Leslie (‘Les’) Ebdon of the University of Bedfordshire to have his way our finest universities would slide their way irreversibly down the international league tables.”
Read it, note the spurious invention of “ebdonology”, the assumption that the only thing holding back people from getting a university education is ‘poor standards in schools’, and the belief that measures to establish fairness will “create social injustice by depriving really able candidates of the places they clearly deserve at major universities” (ie. the children of middle class Mail readers), and you will see precisely why Professor Ebdon should be supported in his attempt to secure this position.
I very much hope this is a battle that Vince Cable wins.