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UCU response to damning report on Toby Young appointment to Office for Students board

27 February 2018

The appointment of Toby Young to the board of the universities regulator was flawed and rife with political interference according to a damning report from the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

UCU said the report exposed nepotism at the heart of government and was another serious blow to higher education's credibility. The union said that the regulator was supposed to look out for students' interests, yet the report suggested it was doing the exact opposite.

UCU said that with transparency at universities under scrutiny following a series of high-profile scandals over senior pay and perks, the new regulator needed to set the very best examples of good practice.

Young was appointed at the start of the year to the new Office for Students (OfS) but resigned a week later after a history of offensive tweets and articles quickly came to light. The Commissioner found that simple background checks on Young, who was encouraged to apply by former universities minister Jo Johnson, had not been done.

However, the report found that extensive checks were carried out on a candidate from the National Union of Students and political pressure led to that person not being selected for a place on the board.

The report said that the OfS board showed a "clear disparity" in the treatment of different candidates, and that parts of the process had serious shortcomings in terms of fairness and transparency.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'The appointment of Toby Young looked like nepotism at the time and this damning report confirms that the minister encouraged him to apply. Although not checking Young's chequered past, efforts were made to find evidence to bar a student representative from a position on the board.

'The new body was launched with much fanfare about representing students' interests. The report suggests that so far it has gone out of its way to do the exact opposite. Transparency in universities is rightly under the spotlight and the new regulator has to demonstrate the very highest standards.'