Cameron admits defeat in battle over access tsar

David Cameron has admitted defeat in his battle to prevent Professor Les Ebdon being appointed director general of the Office for Fair Access (Offa), the universities access body seen by some Conservatives as a threat to excellence in universities, writes Patrick Wintour for the Guardian.

The prime minister's spokesperson said he had no powers to block the appointment made by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) selection panel including Business Secretary Vince Cable, Tim Melville-Ross, chair of the board of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and the social mobility tsar, Alan Milburn. The BIS select committee had voted at a pre-appointment hearing to recommend that Ebdon be rejected, but the committee only has an advisory role, in effect meaning that only the prime minister could intervene.

The select committee will be angry that its recommendation has been rejected by Cable, and there are likely to be calls for the role of parliamentary select committees to be strengthened.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, has been lobbying privately to reject Ebdon, saying he was an advocate of social engineering rather than excellence in universities. Ebdon has also been a fierce critic of government policy on tuition fees, and so was not seen as credible.
Full report on the Guardian site