Writer Toby Young has been appointed to the board of a new higher education watchdog – sparking a major backlash across the sector.
The Office for Students (OfS) has now legally come into force, and can regulate university vice chancellors’ pay and enforce ‘free speech’ on campus.
Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, said the OfS will maintain the ‘world class reputation’ of British universities, while Young told Metro.co.uk that he would carry out his duties in an ‘impartial, objective and fair’ way.
But the appointment of Young has attracted fierce criticism – with many bringing up his previous comments about students, school children and teachers.
Writing in a 1988 book The Oxford Myth, Young said the arrival of ‘stains’ – a term used for working-class students – changed Oxford, and that they were ‘universally unattractive’ and ‘small, vaguely deformed undergraduates’
‘It was as if all the meritocratic fantasies of every 1960s educationalist had come true and all Harold Wilson’s children had been let in at the gate,’ he wrote.
The fact that Toby Young has been appointed University Regulator by the government is a disgrace. All this Tory party delivers young people is insult after insult. They'll pay the price at the polls. pic.twitter.com/GflZaJRmhr
— Liam Young (@liamyoung) January 1, 2018
Others pointed to a column he wrote for the Spectator in 2012, in which he complained about the ‘ghastly inclusivity’ of wheelchair ramps at schools.
‘Inclusive,’ he wrote. ‘It’s one of those ghastly, politically correct words that has survived the demise of New Labour. Schools have got to be “inclusive” these days.
‘That means wheelchair ramps, the complete works of Alice Walker in the school library (though no Mark Twain) and a Special Educational Needs Department that can cope with everything from dyslexia to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.’
He later told the Mirror that he was ‘using “inclusiveness” and “inclusion” in that article to describe the dumbing down of the national curriculum under the last Labour government’, and that he was ‘strongly in favour of inclusion’ when it came to supporting disabled children in mainstream schools.
Footage of Young giving an interview about teachers is now also doing the rounds online, after being tweeted out by the account Teacher Toolkit.
‘Teachers complain a lot about how tough their job is,’ Young said in the interview. ‘But, you know, the day begins in most schools at nine o’clock, ends at 3.30pm. They have six weeks’ holiday during the summer, two weeks’ holiday at Easter and at Christmas. Yes, they don’t just work when they’re at school, but even so, compared to a lot of other jobs, it’s not that tough.’
And Nazir Afzal OBE tweeted to say he had applied for the role, but despite his extensive qualifications hadn’t even been shortlisted for an interview.
‘I applied for this role,’ Afzal said. ‘Thought as pro-chancellor of one university, governor of another, two honorary doctorates from others, honorary fellowship and visiting lecturer at three more, I might get an interview. I didn’t. Clearly I wasn’t what they were looking for! He was.’
I applied for this role
Thought as pro- chancellor of 1 univ, governor of another, 2 honorary doctorates from others, honorary fellowship & visiting lecturer at 3 more, I might get interview
Clearly I wasn’t what they were looking for!
He was https://t.co/tF0ONtHBy0
— nazir afzal (@nazirafzal) January 1, 2018
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), also said that Young’s appointment raised serious questions about the OfS’s role in the sector.
‘If this organisation was to have any credibility it needed a robust board looking out for students’ interests,’ she said in a statement released by the union.
‘Instead, we have this announcement sneaked out at New Year with Tory cheerleader Toby Young dressed up as the voice of teachers and no proper representation from staff or students.’
Responding to the criticism, Young told Metro.co.uk: ‘All regulatory bodies include a wide range of people, some of whom have worked in the sector being regulated and some of whom haven’t. They generally include people with a range of different political views as well.
‘So the fact that I’m a Tory who hasn’t worked at a university — at least, not since I taught at Cambridge in 1990 — doesn’t disqualify me from serving on the board of the OfS.
‘I do have some educational expertise, having helped set up four schools and having served as a Fulbright Commissioner since 2013. I’m also the director of New Schools Network, a charity that works with groups that want to set up free schools.
‘In my capacity as a board member of the OfS I hope to be impartial, objective and fair.’
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