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The Office for Students has come under fire over the composition of its executive board, with journalist Toby Young resigning from his position after a weeklong backlash against his appointment. Now unions and students are seeking to fill the vacancy, in an executive board that will soon have the power to deregister non-compliant universities.
Young was forced out of his job at the office for students after past comments surfaced, which included the description of working class students at Oxford as “stains” and frequent tweets about the size of women’s breasts. The final blow was the revelation that he had allegedly attended a “secret eugenics conference”, which was revealed by two student journalists at the London Student newspaper.
The conference included speakers who had previously advocated child rape, white supremacists and self-taught eugenicists. Eugenics is a system of belief that seeks to improve the genetic quality of humans, and has been largely ostracised since the second world war.
The minister responsible for Young’s appointment, Jo Johnson, a staunch advocate for enforcing campus free speech, was quietly reshuffled into the transport department the day after Young announced his resignation from the board.
Johnson intended to use the new regulatory body to force universities to guarantee university free speech, so it is unclear what purpose the office for Students will now serve. The watchdog has the powers to fine or even deregister universities that fail to comply, so the composition of the board may prove decisive in years to come.
Meanwhile the National Union of Students has attacked the government over it’s refusal to allow the NUS President a seat on the executive board of the regulatory body. President Shakira Martin tweeted “As President of 7 million students I believe (the) NUS should have been given a place on the board as the voice of students. However looking at the names of the students on the student panel I have no doubt we will be a strong force!”
Martin is present on a panel that includes twelve other students (none of which are from Lancaster University, and only one of which studies in the North West). However this panel is only advisory, with the real power lying with the executive board of the regulator.
Only one member of the executive board is a student, present on an “interim basis”, and there is no representative from the University and Colleges Union, which represents academic staff. The board does include the managing director of pharmaceutical giant Boots, and two former bankers.
University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: “This whole sorry episode poses serious questions about the appointments to the board of the Office for Students. The furore surrounding Young has glossed over the fact that there is no real representation of staff or students on the board.”
“If the new education secretary is serious about working with the sector rather than against it, then looking at the make-up of this board should be one of his immediate priorities. We need to see proper representation from staff and students on the board”
The National Office for students will assume its responsibilities on the first of April, 2018.