POLITICS
23/04/2018 09:00 BST | Updated 23/04/2018 10:13 BST

Labour Bid To Block Powers Of Controversial Office For Students

Last-ditch move follows the resignation of Toby Young and as critics claim the body will be Government's 'puppet'.

Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah
Former Universities Minister Jo Johnson and his successor Sam Gyimah have been accused of breaching the ministerial code over Toby Young's appointment. 

Labour will today force a vote that could block the regulatory powers of the Office For Students, which has been mired in controversy since its creation on April 1. 

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner, who claims the body will be used as the Government’s “puppet”, will use a procedural device to force a debate and vote that could bar ministers from transferring higher education regulatory powers to the OfS. 

Should the Government lose the vote, the watchdog would be powerless to regulate UK universities. 

It had been created to take on the powers of the former Office for Fair Access (OFFA) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), introduce more market competition and to protect the interests of its “consumers” – students, government and the public. 

But the OfS’ creation has attracted a huge amount of criticism since it was announced last year.

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Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner says the Government has questions to answer

Former Universities Minister Jo Johnson appointed journalist Toby Young to the board. Later, a vast array of sexist and offensive tweets and articles by Young emerged and he stepped down, saying he had become a distraction. 

In a significant moment, the Tory chair of the Education Select Committee,  Robert Halfon, called Young’s remarks about people with disabilities, working-class students and “progressive eugenics”“incredibly dark and dangerous”. 

Rayner has also written to the Prime Minister to allege that Johnson and his successor as Universities Minister Sam Gyimah broke the ministerial code over how both MPs represented Young’s much-criticised recruitment process in the House of Commons. The Labour MP says she has had no substantive response. 

Critics of the OfS have also voiced concern that the independent regulator is too close both to the government and universities. 

Meanwhile, there is no representative from the National Union for Students (NUS) on the OfS board. 

Rayner said: “Instead of addressing students’ real concerns about the cost of living and soaring debt, ministers have sought to turn the so-called independent regulator into their puppet, pursuing their obsession with free markets and political pet projects instead of the sector’s best interests. 

“There are still serious unanswered questions about the shambolic process of appointment to the Board, with the Prime Minister turning a blind eye to clear breaches of the Ministerial Code. The choice of student representative was blatantly politicised while university staff and the entire FE sector have been left unrepresented entirely. 

“When even the Tory chair of the Education Select Committee is calling for the government to re-think, it is time for Ministers to listen, or for MPs to send them back to the drawing board.”