Responding to the announcement that Michael Barber is the Government’s preferred candidate to be the Chair at the new Office for Students, Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
‘This is an interesting appointment. He is clearly a great expert on the delivery of public services, cares about students and will be open to having a diverse higher education sector. The first Chair will help to set the tone, direction and success of the new body, so it is a critically important role.
‘But, given that he is not a former vice chancellor and the chief executive role is being advertised at a salary below the level of most vice chancellors, some people in the sector will be worried there could be no former vice chancellor at the top of the new body. That could make the future regulation of higher education very different to the past.’
Potentially this is interesting.
The Chairs of HEFCE haven’t been vice-chancellors, which has maintained a clear non-executive role at the head – any activism that Tim Melville-Ross has done, has been done at the Board, not in public. Michael Barber not only brings that ‘deliverology’ that you’d want from a board chair, he has made public statements about higher education. I think we’d all be very concerned if ‘An Avalanche is Coming’ was a manifesto for what he thought about universities.
I think the comment was more directed at indicated salary level for the Chief Executive role and what that might say about the relative positions of Chair and CE in directing the course of OfS in its formative years.
I would not be surprised to see a CE appointed from an(other) regulator with an academic background and who has (maybe) not been a VC. Given the Chair’s experience of the alternative provider sector the pressure will be on to find a CE who reassures public providers that they have someone running OfS who understands them.