SHOULD we be worried that business leaders and politically-motivated educationalists have been given the job of running the new universities watchdog?

The appointment of controversial columnist Toby Young to the board of England’s new higher education regulator has sparked fears that the body lacks strong enough representation from teachers and students.

Mr Young, director of the New Schools Network charity which supports free schools - was one of six board members announced as the Office for Students (OfS) officially came into force yesterday to regulate universities in the same way as water or gas companies. 

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By joining the OfS board, Mr Young is now helping to run the government’s two flagship education policies. He is a friend of former education secretary Michael Gove and a passionate advocate for the establishment of free schools outside of local authority control.

The OfS is charged with improving choice for students in England and driving up competition by encouraging more private providers to enter the sector. It’s a continuation of Mr Gove's drive to turn the education sector into a free market with schools and colleges competing for pupils in the way shops compete for customers.

The government reckons the new regulator will tackle issues such as soaring levels of pay among vice-chancellors, freedom of speech on campuses, and students getting value for money for the fees they pay. 

Most of this makes sense but giving a leading role to Toby Young - an unelected, unaccountable right-wing firebrand - suggests this is as much about appointing government cronies to influential positions as it is about driving up standards.