That's Les (VC & Prof) Ebdon, who might yet not be the new director of OFFA, and Vince (the once and future sage of Twickenham) Cable who might yet appoint him as such – or will he?
OFFA is the office for fair access: "promoting and safeguarding fair access to higher education", or so it says. It is looking for a new director.
I've been following this twisting tale since Les appeared before the House of Commons Business Select Committee as Vince's (and hence, HMG's) preferred candidate for the job. He did not impress. Whether you read Simon Carr's Independent blog last week, Nadhim Zahawi in Friday's Times, or Charles Moore in today's Telegraph, the message is much the same: Les has made an offer that might yet be refused. It seems he stands for the wrong sort of standards in too many people's eyes.
Nadhim Zahawi asks: Do we want to level down in the pursuit of access – or to maintain excellence? Les, it seems, "gave the wrong answers". I suspected ("feared" would be going too far) as much when I read the Carr blog last week. It began in classic style:
The plan to keep the working class in their place is going along very nicely. The education system is producing 20 per cent illiteracy – but only among the lower socio groups. Very helpful for us who need to keep the competition away. So the appointment of a new head of access might have been a problem. Someone who might get more children well-schooled. That would be quite a threat to our way of life.
But Carr was reassured ...
... I think we're going to be all right. The candidate spoke at length about his qualifications and as he spoke, we became aware how dusty the windows of the committee room were in the early afternoon sun. In the background, we heard the drowsy hum of an education bureaucrat in later middle-age as he murmured the words that are expected at hearings like this. ...
Moore is less sanguine about Les and his qualifications for the job, and goes on about Jude the obscure at some length to make the point. He does, however, think that coalition politics may well mean that Les will get the job, even though the business select committee said he shouldn't (he might frighten the Russell group, it seems, and excuse schools all their failings). Moore comments:
The most Machiavellian way to handle it would be to let Professor Ebdon take on the post and fail, as he surely will.
Quite so. The way things are going, not even Les will be happy about his appointment.
Update Tuesday 14th February
The Guardian weighed in today with a report that it was probably too late for any show-stopper from Dave (and Michael Gove), even though the Conservative Fair Access to University group is also critical of Les's ability to do the job. We'll know soon.
Update Thursday 23rd February
This story won't die, now that Vince has got his way, Les has been appointed, and Dave (Willetts, that is) is shaking his brains, and wringing his hands. Both Simon Carr and Alison Pearson remain on the case.