Former Blair aide Sir Michael Barber picked to lead new higher education regulator

Education department picks former Number 10 Delivery Unit chief to lead competition-focused new universities regulator

By Civil Service World

08 Feb 2017

Sir Michael Barber has been named as the government's preferred candidate to chair the new Office for Students regulatory body.

Barber, who led former prime minister Tony Blair's Downing Street delivery unit during Blair's second term in office, is currently chief education advisor to multinational publishing company Pearson, and the author of a 2013 report called "An Avalanche Is Coming", which called for a "radical and urgent transformation" of higher education to place more emphasis on the needs of "the new student consumer".

His new role – subject to approval from MPs on the Education Select Committee – will see Barber serve a four-year term at the helm of the OfS, a new watchdog outlined in the Higher Education and Research Bill, which the government says will focus on encouraging "choice and competition" in the HE sector.

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The OfS will take on the existing regulatory functions of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFA).

Announcing the department's choice, education secretary Justine Greening described Barber as "a globally respected figure both in the sector and in government with an impressive record in leading and supporting public sector delivery".

She added: "The OfS will play a vital role in this government’s ambitions for higher education by replacing a regulatory system from a bygone era with framework that can truly respond to the challenges of the 21st century. 

"I welcome Sir Michael’s commitment to the opportunities for higher education through the creation of this new body."

Barber said England's higher education secretary was "a jewel in this country's crown", but described the mission of the OfS as seeking to help "combine the traditions that make our universities great with the innovation that the decades ahead demand".

He added "Above all the Office for Students will aim to create a framework in which universities are enabled to provide for students both high academic standards and employability for the 21st century."

MPs on the Education Committee will get their chance to grill the government's choice when Barber faces his pre-appointment on February 21.

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