Ivory Tower: Now on BBC 2HE, a visit to the nation’s favourite venture capitalists
Evan Frontman: Welcome to a special edition of Dragons’ Den, the series in which budding entrepreneurs get three minutes to pitch their business ideas to multimillionaires willing to invest their own cash. We’ve all heard about university spin out companies, which commercialise academic research. But what about road testing ideas from higher education policy? During this election period we thought it would be a good idea for the political parties to pitch their plans for universities to our panel of dragons to see if anyone would bite their hand off.
First up, it’s Chris and Dom. They want to build a base on the moon after Brexit and are looking for private investment to take them to the stars.
[Chris and Dom enter from the Dragons’ Den lift, in front of them is a model of Camp Boris, the UK moon base].
Chris: Hello dragons, I’m Chris and this is my partner Dom.
Dom: Like, whatever, you’re not even real dragons.
Chris: Classic Dom. We have a vision…
Dom: I have a vision.
Chris: We have a vision for an Advanced Research Projects Agency for blue skies research, which will come up with great new ideas like hoverboards and time travel.
Dom: And robots, like on Westworld.
Chris: Really? And of course, our pride and joy, Camp Boris: the UK’s own base on the moon, a gateway to interstellar exploration. We are looking to spend 2.4 per cent of the UK’s GDP on research and innovation by 2027 and are willing to put up £18 billion of taxpayer’s money to make it look like we’ve got there.
Evan: It’s a compelling pitch but do the numbers add up?
Duncan McInvestor: And what is you are going to do on the moon?
Chris: Err… grow crops and have little robots running around watering the plants and have a picture of the queen in the control room. Is that right Dom?
Dom: This is dumb, you are all dumb, what am I even doing here? I’m the biggest dragon in UK science.
Duncan: Why do you want to grow crops on the moon when you could grow them here?
Chris: When the whole of Yorkshire is under water, we’ll need somewhere to grow genetically modified roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings.
Duncan: Baloney, I’m out.
Dom: Don’t you “I’m out” me, I’ll come over there and cut you up with my Downing Street lanyard.
Deborah Sensible: I’m interested but let’s look at the numbers. What is 2.4 per cent of UK GDP?
Chris: Before or after Brexit?
Chris: £96 billion
Deborah: And after?
Chris: Estimates vary between £150bn and £4.50
Deborah: And where is your £18bn coming from?
Dom: You are the worst sort of pinko, Remainiac gloomster talking this country down. You don’t need to know where the money is coming from, just believe that we’ll be doubling and then quadrupling the science budget.
Deborah: Sorry, I’m out.
Dom: Good, we can do without your sort.
Chris: Any other questions from the dragons?
Peter Suave: Westworld robots, you say?
Dom: But British. West Country World.
Peter: I’m out.
Evan: Sadly, Chris and Dom walk away empty handed, which shows that even if you shoot for the moon, if you don’t have the detail you can fall back to earth just as quick. Next up are Jeremy and Angela who want to sell the dragons their idea for a National Education Service.
[Jeremy and Angela enter from the Dragons’ Den lift, in front of them is a moving escalator prototype.]
Jeremy: Good evening dragons, I’m Jeremy and this is Angela and together we would like to provide lifelong learning, free to all citizens of the United Kingdom.
Angela: We would like an unspecified amount of money over an indefinite period of time to offer free university places and maintenance grants to all.
Jeremy: You see, education is like an escalator that you use during your life, which you can jump off and on at any time you please. Allow me to demonstrate. I start here at the bottom and once I’ve done my GCSEs, I might choose to jump off the escalator. Err… hold on I’m not sure if I can get off…
Angela: Jump Jeremy.
Jeremy: I don’t think that’s a very good idea, Angela.
Angela: Just, hang one of your legs over the side.
Jeremy: Hold on, maybe if I put one foot there and the other here…
[Jeremy tumbles and falls…]
Angela: You see, a perfect metaphor for Labour’s election strategy.
Duncan McInvestor: How much do you want for the moving staircase?
Angela: 50 quid?
Duncan: I’ll take it.
Evan: Two more hopefuls leave the den disappointed. Next up are Jo and Sam who have an innovative line in training policy.
[Jo and Sam enter from the lift, in front of them is a table with a display of wallets and purses].
Jo: I’m Jo and this is Sam.
Sam: I used to be a real minister.
Jo: And we’d like to tell you about Skills Wallets.
Sam: Have you ever wondered where to keep your degree certificate or other qualifications?
Jo: Some people put them in a frame on their office wall.
Sam: My mother has my certificate from Oxford on her mantelpiece.
Jo: That’s so old-fashioned. That’s why we came up with the idea of the Skills Wallet, the perfect way to store your qualifications as you go through life.
Sam: We want to give everyone a fixed amount of money at different points in their career to encourage them to save for retraining when they lose their job to robots in the future.
Jo: That’s why with each Skills Wallet we are giving away £10,000 to every adult in the UK to put towards the course of say, an MBA or a City and Guilds in cupcake store management.
Sam: Thank you for your attention, we will now bring round a tray of wallets for you to try for yourself.
Evan: It’s the perfect pitch, but will the dragons be singing from the same hymn sheet?
Deborah: I’m sure I used to have one of these, it was called a National Record of Achievement, how is this different?
Jo: I had one of those too, they were big red folders and were too big to fit easily into your laptop case or handbag. Our Skills Wallets are much smaller, and yellow.
Sam: Mine’s orange.
Duncan: Looks like an Oyster Card to me. What can I actually buy on the skills market with £10,000?
Sam: Thirteen months of a three-year undergraduate degree or 11 months of a two-year degree.
Duncan: That’s crazy.
Sam: I agree, the cost of courses is locking people out of higher education.
Duncan: And who was responsible for that?
Jo: A succession of Tory university ministers.
Duncan: I could never invest in people like that.
Sam: I’ll get my coat.
Evan: Two more intrepid entrepreneurs leave the den with only their bus fare home. Viewers in Scotland and Wales have their own programmes where they can watch a whole different set of implausible pitches on higher education policy. Viewers in Northern Ireland can now catch an episode of Antiques Roadshow, where they can learn more about the policies of the Democratic Unionist Party.
Terms of reference: This is a free email for fun on a Friday. It should circulate widely like Russian state influence in a UK election. Want to pitch your spin-out idea to the dragons? Want to say hello? Email email@example.com