News story

Government announces new Director of Fair Access

Professor Les Ebdon will take over from Sir Martin Harris later this year. His role will be to safeguard fair access to higher education and…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Professor Les Ebdon will take over from Sir Martin Harris later this year. His role will be to safeguard fair access to higher education and widen participation amongst students from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is a vital part of the Government’s wider social mobility agenda.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

“I am very pleased to welcome Professor Les Ebdon as the new Director of Fair Access. His considerable experience, gained through a working lifetime in higher education, will bring great benefits to the role and equip him to deal even-handedly with all parts of the sector.

“We undertook two long, thorough searches to ensure we found the right candidate for the post, and I have no doubt that Professor Ebdon has the qualities and determination to help those students from low-income or other under-represented groups to secure the places in higher education that their attainments and potential show they deserve.”

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts added:

“The appointment of Professor Les Ebdon, and the additional resources that we will make available to the Office for Fair Access, will help develop its role working with universities. This reflects the importance we place on improving access to higher education for students with potential from all backgrounds.

“Our new student finance system is fair, with no up-front fees, more generous maintenance packages and lower monthly graduate repayments. Alongside this financial support, by 2015/16 there will be a 50 per cent increase in the investment universities make under their access agreements. This includes investment in school and college outreach programmes, bursaries and scholarships, fee waivers, summer schools and other activities to widen participation.”

Professor Les Ebdon said:

“I feel privileged to be appointed to this post at such a key time. I am passionate about access to higher education and strongly believe that no one should be put off from going to university because of their family background or income.

“As Director, I will respect the diversity of the sector and institutional autonomy while also working with all universities to ensure that their considerable efforts and very real commitment bear fruit. My role will be to provide greater challenge around outcomes but also to provide greater support through good practice and other guidance.”

Notes to editors:

  1. The position of Director is a statutory appointee (under section 31 of and Schedule 5 to the Higher Education Act 2004).

  2. The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) is an independent, non departmental public body. Their role is to promote and safeguard fair access to higher education for lower income and other under-represented groups following the introduction of higher tuition fees in 2006-07. The principal mechanism for achieving this is by approving and monitoring ‘access agreements’. All English universities and colleges that want to charge above the basic level must have an ‘access agreement’ approved by the Director of Fair Access.

  3. The Government announced in the White Paper Students at the Heart of the System that it will strengthen OFFA, so that it can provide more active and energetic challenge and support to universities and colleges. We will work with the new Director on the size and structure of OFFA but will make significantly more resources available, increasing capacity up to around four times its original level. This will equip OFFA to use fully its powers to monitor and review Access Agreements and identify and promote best, evidence based, practice. Also, we will ask the new Director to advise on whether OFFA’s current powers are the right ones to achieve its statutory goals, or whether some clarification or extension is required.

  4. The Director of Fair Access is a post which falls within the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The selection process has been conducted according to the principles and provisions set out in the Code of Practice issued by the Commissioner. The Code can be found at More information about the work of the Commissioner is available at

  5. As part of the selection process, the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills and the Minister for Universities and Science together interviewed a number of candidates for the position.

  6. Professor Leslie Ebdon CBE DL has been Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Bedfordshire (formerly Luton) for eight years. In addition, he has led the University think tank million+ for over four years as Chair.

  7. A letter from the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills Vince Cable to the BIS Select Committee is attached to this press notice.

  8. BIS’s online newsroom contains the latest press notices, speeches, as well as video and images for download. It also features an up to date list of BIS press office contacts. See for more information.

Notes to Editors

Contact Information

Name BIS Press Office Job Title

Division COI Phone




Name Jenny Varnham Job Title

Division Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Phone 020 7215 5080 Fax



Published 20 February 2012