Toby Young is ideal man for university watchdog, says Boris Johnson

Jamie Grierson and Kevin Rawlinson
Toby Young has also come under fire for remarks on Twitter about women’s bodies. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Boris Johnson has thrown his support behind the controversial appointment of Toby Young to the board of the new universities regulator, claiming the journalist is the “ideal man for the job”.

Young’s appointment to the Office for Students (OfS) has been met with an outcry over his lack of experience and suitability. On Tuesday night, further doubt was cast on his recruitment to the role after it emerged the government exaggerated his qualifications.

But Johnson, a fellow Oxford graduate and former editor of the Spectator magazine, for which Young is an associate editor, dismissed criticism of the appointment as “ridiculous”.

The foreign secretary said on Twitter: “Ridiculous outcry over Toby Young. He will bring independence, rigour and caustic wit. Ideal man for job.”

Young acknowledged on Tuesday that the the claim by the Department for Education (DfE) that he had held teaching posts at Harvard and Cambridge was not accurate.

“I taught undergrads at Harvard and Cambridge and was paid to do so but these weren’t academic ‘posts’ and I’ve never made that claim,” he told the Guardian.

Defending Young’s appointment on Monday, the DfE told the Guardian that his “diverse experience includes posts” at the institutions.

The Cambridge classicist Prof Mary Beard said that for the DfE to portray Young’s role as an academic post “does not help the debate”, though she stressed that she was criticising neither the composition of the OfS board nor graduates who carry out supervision duties.

Her former colleague Prof Tim Crane said Young had “no significant experience in universities since those few years in the 1980s, and the DfE should not pretend that he has”.

Crane, a professor of philosophy at the Central European University in Budapest, also sought only to criticise the DfE’s characterisation of Young’s background. He told the Guardian: “I don’t think Young is necessarily unqualified for this position. Bodies like this typically contain people from many professional backgrounds.”

It was also claimed that Young had been appointed ahead of people who appeared better qualified for the role, including Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for north-west England.

Afzal said he was the pro-chancellor of one university and the governor of another, as well as holding a series of other relevant qualifications, but he did not get an interview. “Clearly, I wasn’t what they were looking for! He was,” Afzal said on Twitter.

Others highlighted comments Young has made on Twitter about women’s bodies, suggesting they render him unsuitable for public office.

On Tuesday, he said he regretted the “sophomoric, politically incorrect remarks” he made on Twitter, adding: “I hope people will judge me on my actions.”

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