Sir Michael Barber to step down as Office for Students chair

The educationist and former head of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit will now lead a review into digital learning

Sir Michael Barber will not seek a second term as chair of the Office for Students (OfS), it was confirmed today.

The independent regulator made Sir Michael its first chair in 2017.

The news of his departure emerged as an exchange of letters with education secretary Gavin Williamson were published highlighting some of Sir Michael’s achievements during his tenure.

These include:

  • the registration of nearly 400 universities, colleges and other higher education providers through a robust registration system which has also seen 25 applications refused
  • agreed targets to improve access to and success in higher education among students from disadvantaged backgrounds which would halve the access gap at our most selective universities within five years
  • improved the quality of, and access to, information about higher education for students and prospective students.

The country should be proud of its higher education system Sir Michael Barber

At Williamson’s request, Sir Michael will now lead a review into digital learning ahead of his departure from the OfS in March 2021. This will explore the future of online teaching and learning in the higher education sector.

“It has been a privilege and honour to serve in this role,” Sir Michael wrote to Gavin Williamson.

“The role has given me the opportunity to visit nearly 40 different universities, colleges and innovative new providers to see for myself the activity students, academic staff, researchers and university administrators are engaged in. Each visit has been inspiring; the quality of teaching, learning, research and community engagement is truly remarkable and the sheer diversity of our institutions is a major strength.

“The country should be proud of its higher education system. Through to the end of my tenure I look forward to working with you and colleagues to ensure the higher education sector emerges from the pandemic in the best shape possible.”

I look forward to the findings of the review into ways of enhancing the quality of online learning and driving innovation, which will be critical for the future of the sector – Gavin Williamson

Gavin Williamson said: “I have hugely valued Sir Michael’s leadership, insight and advice during his time as Chair and I have enjoyed our working relationship.

“I am very thankful to him for his work leading the set up and transformation of the OfS, and particularly for his work tackling unconditional offers, senior executive pay and grade inflation.

“As the higher education sector emerges from the pandemic, I look forward to the findings of the review into ways of enhancing the quality of online learning and driving innovation, which will be critical for the future of the sector.”


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