Appointment of the Chair of the Office for Students Contents

Appendix 2: Correspondence with the Secretary of State

Letter to the Chair of the Committee: Recruitment Chair of the Office for Students – Pre-appointment process, 22 July 2020

Dear Robert

Recruitment of the Chair of the Office for Students – Pre-appointment process

You may be aware that Sir Michael Barber, current Chair of the Office for Students, has recently announced that when his term of office finishes on 31 March 2021 he does not wish to serve another term.

As this is such an important role, I would like to move swiftly to appoint a replacement for Sir Michael, ready to work with me and other ministers to set the strategy and vision the Office for Students and the Higher Education sector for the future.

I am writing to you to set out my plans for making that appointment and outline the type of person we are looking for to fill this role. I have therefore enclosed with this letter our draft advertisement for the role, as well as the role specification, advertisingstrategy and timeline. The membership of the advisory assessment panel for the appointment is still being confirmed.

I would like the post to be advertised over the summer period, starting on 18 August 2020 and would therefore be very grateful for any comments the Committee may have on the attached documents by 7 August 2020.

Due to the tight timeline for the appointment, we might, therefore, need to continue our correspondence on the role into the first week of recess, if you are content to do that. This is essential to ensure that an appointment is made in advance of Sir Michael’s departure in March next year.

This is the first step in the appointment process and I understand that you may also choose to scrutinise the shortlist and undertake a pre-appointment hearing once I have chosen my preferred candidate. I will ask my officials to contact your clerk about the next steps and attached timeline, but I would hope any hearing could take place in early January 2021.

I look forward to the Committee’s involvement in appointing the second Chair to this highly important role for the Higher Education sector.

Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP

Secretary of State for Education

Letter to the Secretary of State from the Committee: Recruitment of the Chair of the Office for Students: Pre-appointment process 7 August 2020

Recruitment of the Chair of the Office for Students: Pre-appointment process

Dear Gavin,

We are grateful to be involved at the start of the recruitment process for the new Chair of the Office for Students and welcome your suggestion that we are also consulted at the shortlist stage.

Given a key objective for the Office for Students is to ensure successful outcomes for all students, we believe the post-holder must be able to demonstrate a commitment and understanding of the culture shift needed in our universities where there has to be a greater joining up of higher and further education, to deliver the high-skilled, high-paid jobs that the country needs. The post-holder must have proven experience of delivering such a step change and a passion around the provision and take up of degree apprenticeships in all our universities, so that students are equipped to succeed at work and go on to have successful careers. In line with your plans for a further education white paper later this autumn, we recommend these are additional essential criteria for the post.

We believe a wider advertising of this position in the national press at the start of the campaign will guarantee a greater assurance of reaching a diverse field of high-calibre applicants for this role and ask that this happens in this case in addition to the dissemination through the networks suggested and via the Cabinet Office’s public appointment’s website. We also wish to see what measures are being taken in this recruitment to encourage applications from applicants of BAME backgrounds.

Separately, we understand that we are to be involved in the pre-appointment process for the new chair of the Social Mobility Commission. We would like to consider the draft job specification and criteria being set for this role too. We would be grateful if you could share both once they are ready in advance of that job being advertised.

Yours,

Robert Halfon MP

Chair of the Education Committee

Letter to the Chair of the Committee from the Secretary of State: Appointment of the Chair of the Office for Students, 25 August 2020

Dear Robert

Appointment of the Chair of the Office for Students

Thank you for your letter of 7 August 2020 and your recommendations in relation to the appointment of the next Chair of the Office for Students.

As you know, I am fully committed to a greater joining up of higher and further education to deliver the high-skilled, high-paid jobs that the country needs, as well as to degree apprenticeships and ensuring students are equipped to succeed at work. These will be important priorities for the next Chair to drive forward.

However, our approach to the person specification for the Chair role has been to focus it on the ability and skills that someone would bring to the role, rather than requiring specific higher education experience which would significantly limit the number of suitable candidates.

To recognise the importance of these priorities, however, I will ask my advisory panel to incorporate, where possible, questions about how candidates would approach these issues if they were to be offered the role (together with the ones your clerk raised separately in an email on Prevent and racism). Since time at interview is limited, it may not be possible to examine all of these areas in detail, although of course there will be a further opportunity for the Committee to do so at any pre appointment scrutiny hearing.

In relation to your recommendation on advertising, we are content to advertise in the national press as you suggest. I will also write separately once recruitment has started about how we are encouraging applicants from BAME backgrounds.

I understand from a separate email sent by the Committee’s clerk that, at the shortlist stage, the Committee would like to see information on any companies or organisations that short-listed candidates have shares or interests in or any other interests declared. I have asked that this information is collected for each applicant, to be shared confidentially with the Committee at shortlist stage.

I will write separately to you on the appointment of the new Chair of the Social Mobility Commission as you have requested and confirm that we will share the job specification and criteria in advance of that job being advertised.

Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP

Secretary of State for Education

Letter to the Chair of the Committee from the Secretary of State: Recruitment of the Chair of the Office for Students, 17 December 2020

Dear Rob

Recruitment of the Chair of the Office for Students

I wrote to you on 30 November 2020 to let you know that I had asked the Assessment Advisory Panel for the appointment of the next Chair of the Office for Students to interview six applicants. Those interviews have now concluded, and I have selected my preferred candidate from the list of appointable candidates provided to me by the Panel.

I am therefore writing to let you know that the Government’s preferred candidate for this role will be Lord Wharton of Yarm and I will be announcing this later today.

I understand that officials are liaising with the Committee’s clerk to arrange a suitable time for the pre-appointment scrutiny hearing at the end of January or beginning of February and that they will provide you with the required paperwork in good time before the hearing.

Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP

Secretary of State for Education

Letter from the Secretary of State to the Committee: Appointment of the Chair of the Office for Students, 21 January 2020

Dear Robert

Appointment of the Chair of the Office for Students

I wrote to you on 17 December 2020 to advise you that I would shortly be announcing Lord Wharton of Yarm as my preferred candidate for the role of Chair of the Office for Students. I understand that the Committee has set 2 February 2021 as the date for the pre-appointment scrutiny hearing.

In accordance with the guidance on pre-appointment hearings, I attach a copy of information about the role, a description of the recruitment process and information on the preferred candidate. Separately under cover of the same email, I am also attaching Lord Wharton’s CV. Following the sift and interview process by the Independent Advisory Assessment Panel, the Advisory Assessment Panel agreed their scores and found four candidates met the minimum standard for the role. Having carefully considered the panel’s views and the strengths of the candidates, I chose Lord Wharton as my preferred candidate.

In my view Lord Wharton emerged as the strongest candidate for the role from a competitive field. Lord Wharton was the Chairman of Hume Brophy UK Communications until November 2020. He served as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development from July 2016 to June 2017 and served as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, with responsibility for Local Growth and the Northern Powerhouse from May 2015 until July 2016. Prior to that he worked as a solicitor. He was awarded a life peerage to the House of Lords in September 2020.

I look forward to receiving the Committee’s conclusions and advice on the appointment in due course.

Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP

Secretary of State for Education




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