New OfS chair is Conservative peer James Wharton

The Department for Education (DfE) has announced that Lord Wharton of Yarm is the preferred candidate to succeed current OfS chair Sir Michael Barber

The new chair of the Office for Students (OfS) is set to be James Wharton, also known as Lord Wharton of Yarm.

The Department for Education (DfE) announced today that the Conservative peer is the preferred candidate to succeed current OfS chair Sir Michael Barber, whose term will finish on 31 March 2021.

“I congratulate Lord Wharton on being named the preferred candidate for Chair of the Office for Students. I look forward to helping my successor prepare to take on the role and to build on the achievements that we have made in the first three years of the Office for Students,” said Sir Michael Barber.

James Wharton is an alumnus of Durham University and a former solicitor, who served as MP for Stockton South from 2010-2017. He was parliamentary under secretary of state for international development from July 2016 to June 2017 and 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.

In 2019, he served as Boris Johnson’s campaign manager in the prime minister’s successful bid to replace Theresa May as Conservative Party leader.

He was given a life peerage in Boris Johnson’s 2020 Dissolution Honours List and entered the House of Lords in September 2020.

“I look forward to finalising the appointment of Lord Wharton as the next Chair of the OfS who will bring strategic direction to the role,” said education secretary Gavin Williamson.

“He will play a vital part in ensuring students from all backgrounds are at the heart of the higher education system, receiving a high quality education and value for money from our universities.

“I am very thankful to Sir Michael for his work setting up and transforming the Office for Students and particularly for his work tackling unconditional offers, senior executive pay and grade inflation.”

In November, the commissioner for public appointments Peter Riddell criticised the government for “packing” the panel to oversee the appointment of the next chair of the Office for Students (OfS) with political allies of the Conservative party.

In doing so, Riddell warned, the government “want not only to have the final say but to tilt the competition system in their favour to appoint their allies”.

The five-strong recruitment panel for the new chair of the OfS was announced in September and chaired by Susan Acland-Hood, acting permanent secretary at the Department for Education (DfE).  Joining the DfE’s most senior civil servant on the panel were Dame Patricia Hodgson, former chairman of Ofcom, former Conservative party parliamentary candidate and former chair of right-wing thinktank Bow Group; Eric Ollerenshaw, former Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood; Laura Wyld, a Conservative peer and non-executive board member at Ofsted; and Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former chief-of-staff.

As the DfE’s preferred candidate, Wharton will appear before the House of Commons Education Committee in a pre-appointment hearing early in the new year. Subject to this, the education secretary Gavin Williamson will consider the Committee’s recommendations before deciding whether to finalise the appointment.


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