Written evidence from Professor Geoffrey Alderman, DLitt, MA, DPhil (Oxon), FRHistS, FRSA, FHEA, FICPD, CMgr FCMI, CQP MCQI (WOS0005)



  1. I am by background a teacher and researcher in the broad fields of modern British history and politics, and have over 50 years’ experience of higher education worldwide. I am currently Principal of Nelson College London, a for-profit college of higher education which operates from two campuses in the London Borough of Redbridge and which has a special mission to widen participation in higher education in this area of very significant social and economic deprivation.[1]


  1. Prior to joining Nelson College I held an endowed chair at the University of Buckingham, having previously held senior positions in the University of London (where I was Pro Vice-Chancellor for Academic Standards) and Middlesex University (where I was Pro Vice-Chancellor for Quality & Standards). Between 2000 and 2006 I was a senior university administrator with American universities.  I have also researched and published extensively – both in the UK and the USA - in fields allied to the regulation and maintenance of quality and standards in higher-education. I am a Visiting Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies and a member of the Race Independent Advisory Group of the Metropolitan Police Service. 


  1. Nelson College is registered with the Office for Students [OfS] at the highest possible level [Approved (Fee Cap)]. Our Access & Participation Plan has been approved by the OfS and is publicly available at our website.


  1. My senior colleagues and I interact with the OfS on a regular continuous basis. But in my view the OfS has moved from broad regulation of the sector to unbridled micro-management.


  1. As an example of this I draw attention to the manner in which the OfS has discharged it statutory responsibilities in respect of “Prevent,” a component of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.


  1. In the winter of 2019-20 the College was compelled to engage in a dialogue with the OfS focussed on the College’s identification of quasi-fascist groups operating in east London, and which were naturally referenced in the College’s Prevent Risk Register. The OfS was clearly unhappy, on political grounds, with our including elements of Extinction Rebellion in this category. But we pointed out that quasi-fascist groups include a number of far-right groups [identified and tracked by both Searchlight magazine and the Community Security Trust] that were active in East London and elements of “Extinction Rebellion” whose modi operandi fitted  the definition of “extremism” cited by the Department for Education in Prevent-related training material.[2]


  1. The attempt by elements of Extinction Rebellion to disrupt the public transport system in East London was [we argued] a case in point, to say nothing of their attempt to block access to Parliament.  We also drew the attention of the OfS to remarks authoritatively attributed to a founder of Extinction Rebellion, whom the Guardian [20 November 2019] quoted as having referred to the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews as “almost a normal event.”[3]


  1. The then Head of Prevent at the OfS visited the College on 13 February 2020, and pronounced himself unable to approve our Prevent Risk Register unless a half-sentence referring to the activities of quasi-fascist environmental groups was excised in its entirety. At this meeting (at which I was accompanied by three senior colleagues) there was what I believe is termed a full and frank exchange of views. In order to ‘close off’ this dialogue we felt compelled to delete the relevant half-sentence from the Register.


  1. But surely it was and is for us, who live and work in east London, to identify local Prevent-related risks?


  1.                     I must also draw the attention of the Industry & Regulators Committee to the currently ongoing OfS consultation on a proposed new registration condition relating to the prevention of the harassment & sexual misconduct that might be experienced by students at the instigation of staff of higher-education institutions.


  1.                     I acknowledge at once that there is here a serious issue that must of course be seriously addressed. But the OfS’s proposal – that institutions might be required   establish and maintain (and presumably police) “a register of relationships” between staff and students – strikes me as ill thought-out and a gross invasion of privacy. The proposal – another example of micromanagement by the OfS – might almost be regarded as comic were it not so essentially tragic.

26 March 2023







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[1] www.nelsoncollege.ac.uk

[2]  See the DfE’s “Training/ WRAP” content at page 11, where extremism is defined as “Vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law …”

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/20/extinction-rebellion-founders-holocaust-remarks-spark-fury?CMP=share_btn_tw