Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has defied senior Conservatives and has appointed Professor Les Ebdon as the director of the Office for Fair Access (Offa), charged with ensuring that working-class students are not deterred by tuition fees of up to £9,000.
The Business Secretary was summoned to the Commons to explain his decision, which came despite “fundamental” objections from the cross-party committee responsible for scrutinizing his department, reports the Telegraph.
This comes after Prime Minister David Cameron and the majority Conservative party vetoed Liberal Democrats’ plans to impose an extra fee for students who want to repay their university loans early. The government dropped the scheme amid warnings that it would be unfair on the hundreds of thousands of people expected to repay their loans early.
But the dropping of the deal comes after an agreement between Cameron and Cable after the Prime Minister allowed Cable to appoint the controversial Prof. Les Ebdon as the Government’s new university admissions tsar.
The deal between the coalition partners reportedly hasn’t been easy. Leading Tories, including Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, believe Prof. Ebdon’s appointment is dangerous, as his reputation for being a proponent of “soft” degrees like media studies and fashion design has angered traditionalists.
He has also found himself out of favor with reformers with his view towards widening the student intake at highly academic universities.
However, Mr Cable insisted Prof Ebdon was the right choice for the role as director of Offa, saying that Prof Ebdon had “considerable experience”.
Ebdon has made it clear that he would be prepared to ban universities that miss their admissions targets from charging the maximum tuition fees.
His power extends to being able to fine universities £500,000 or ban them from charging tuition fees of more than £6,000 a year.
Universities wishing to charge more than £6,000 must sign a contract with Prof Ebdon setting out how they will support students and attract more undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds, writes the Telegraph.