Professor Les Ebdon has been formally announced as head of the uni­versity fair access body, despite op­position from MPs on the selection committee.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has rejected attempts to block Professor Ebdon as the head of OFFA (the Of­fice for Fair Access), which aims to “safeguard and promote fair access to higher education.”

Professor Ebdon caused contro­versy after referring to national uni­versity rankings as “a snobs’ table” which guarantees that “institutions like Cambridge and Oxford are al­ways at the front, while newer places bring up the rear.”

He also deplored the UK’s “Ox­bridge obsession,” referred to the “well-off and well-heeled” Russell Group as “these people,” and claimed that for privately educated students, the rise in tuition fees “might not seem an awful lot of money.”

Russell Group Director General Dr Wendy Piatt told Cherwell, “We sincerely hope that the new director of OFFA will come to recognise the tough challenges we face in trying to widen access.”

However she expressed concern that, “The access agreements risk focusing too much on regulation rather than resolving the real prob­lems. The emphasis on targets and powers for OFFA could distract at­tention, effort and resources from the many successful access schemes run by Russell Group universities or even disincentivise universities from continuing with some activities in deprived areas which target the stu­dents who are the hardest to reach.”

Nadia Odunayo, a second year stu­dent at University College, agreed, commenting, “Les Ebdon clearly wants to make big changes, but it is important that he does not lose sight of where the real problems lie. A big factor in the whole access issue is to do with problems that begin at school level and the underlying weakness in many applicants is not solved by merely putting pressure on universities to accept a more diverse range of students.”

Corpus Christi student Samuel Ne­whouse noted, “Any blame attribut­ed to universities carries the absurd assertion that a significant number of tutors, who are some of the most intelligent people in the country, carry backward, ignorant prejudices. Ebdon and a worrying number of MPs spout clichés without having truly considered the problem.”

However, some have emerged in support of Professor Ebdon’s ap­pointment. Robin McGhee, Liberal Democrat candidate for Oxford City Council and St Anne’s undergradu­ate, commented, “I’m delighted Les Ebdon has been appointed OFFA director. Like me, he is a solid oppo­nent of tuition fee increases. Unfor­tunately the Lib Dems had to have some trade-offs with the Tories to get him appointed. But I like to think of Coalition trade-offs as like Pokemon cards. You have to part tearfully with the shiny Blastoise but, by God, you get an Articuno in exchange.”

A spokesperson for Oxford Univer­sity said, “The director of OFFA is an important role for the sector. We will continue to work constructively with the new director and look forward to welcome him in Oxford in due course.”