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Think Hole: higher education election hustings


Ivory Tower: In this week's comedy column, a special episode of TV’s most over heated debate show

Presenter: Good evening and welcome to Think Hole, I’m Nick Plugsocket, on day release from talk radio. This week we’ve been looking at the important issues in this general election. Tonight it’s the turn of universities. What are they for? Why are we funding them? And who cares?

With me tonight to get lost in thought is minister for universities and science Chris Skidmore, former minister for universities and science Sam Gyimah, wannabe minister for universities and science Gordon Marsden, a vice-chancellor, and a young woman we invited on to represent students when the producers realised at 7pm that we were “lacking diversity”, again.

Let me turn to you first minister, the polls say you are, but are you having a good election so far?

Skidmore: To be honest Nick, I’ve missed quite a lot of the campaign due to the birth of my baby daughter.

Plugsocket: Lucky you, I’ve had to sit through this for weeks. Corbyn not knowing when the Queen’s speech is on was a real low point, I can tell you. Anyway, congratulations minister, it’s good to have young, virile politicians in the modern Conservative Party. Mr Marsden, have you been enjoying the election up north?

Marsden: Actually Nick, I’ve been campaigning all over the country with my Labour colleagues, speaking about our plans for a National Education Service.

Plugsocket: Whatever. Sam Gyimah, have you been all over the country too?

Gyimah: As the shadow minister for business, energy and industrial strategy… why are you sniggering?

Plugsocket: Shadow minister?

Gyimah: As the Lib Dems shadow minister…

Plugsocket: Oh you are the “Lib Dem shadow minister”, is that like being the third-choice goalkeeper or an alternative transferrable vote?

Gyimah: Technically, that would be your second choice.

Plugsocket: Whatever. Vice-chancellor, are you enjoying the election?

Vice-chancellor: My university, which is world-leading and research-intensive…

Plugsocket: Save it ’til later mate. Woman student, have you been enjoying the election campaign?

Student: No.

Plugsocket: Right, on to our first question. It comes from Lancaster Bomber on Twitter who asks, “why are my taxes funding this snowflake generation to study sitcoms and to throw a hissy fit every time a proper MP who wants to get Brexit done visits their campus?” Minister?

Skidmore: That’s a great question, err… Lancaster Bomber, let me take each part of it in turn.

Plugsocket: Hurry up, we’ve got an ad break in 10 minutes.

Skidmore: First of all, this government has made sure that more disadvantaged students than ever before are going to university. Secondly, we are investing historic sums in universities research, the biggest increase in 40 years…

Plugsocket: That’s not the question though, what about the snowflakes? Mr Marsden do you have an answer?

Marsden: Are you sure that’s a real Twitter account? It looks a bit generic, as if it could be a bot.

Plugsocket: “@LancasterBomber, patriot and proud father of two, West Ham till I die”. Sounds legit to me. Perhaps, the Labour Party thinks that people like Lancaster Bomber shouldn’t be allowed to speak? Are you willing to apologise to your constituents in Blackpool South?

Marsden: For what? I only asked if we were sure this anonymous account was reliable.

Plugsocket: Yes, I’m sure you’d like to silence the 17.4 million voters who want an answer to that question. Will you apologise Mr Marsden?

Marsden: 17.4 million voters didn’t ask that question. What question are we talking about anyway?

Plugsocket: Last chance to apologise.

Marsden: For what?

Plugsocket: Just apologise, it will be easier on you in the long run.

Marsden: Ok, I’m sorry if there was a misunderstanding.

Plugsocket: Weasel words Mr Marsden, too little too late. Mr Gyimah, what about the snowflakes?

Gyimah: I think universities are fantastic places, which are so important to the life of this country. That’s why as universities minister I would want to conduct a review of how we fund higher education.

Plugsocket: Isn’t that what you did last time you were university minister?

Gyimah: Yes, but…

Plugsocket: And it still hasn’t been acted on.

Gyimah: The government’s review of post-18 education and funding…

Plugsocket: Which you ran.

Gyimah: Which Philip Augar ran for the government…

Plugsocket: Of which you were the universities minister.

Gyimah: Yes, but I left the government before it was finished.

Plugsocket: Did you resign over it?

Gyimah: No, I resigned over Brexit.

Plugsocket: Right, so it’s your review.

Gyimah: No, it’s Damian Hinds’ review.

Plugsocket: Who was your boss and who asked you to conduct the review as universities minister?

Skidmore: The Augar report shows why both Labour and the Lib Dems’ plans for universities are unworkable and expensive.

Plugsocket: Butt out Skidmore, I’ve got this.

Marsden: The Augar report is a searing indictment of the failures of this government.

Plugsocket: Oh, so you don’t like the Augar report Mr Marsden?

Marsden: The Labour Party rejects Philip Augar’s government-led recommendations in favour of a commitment to abolish university tuition fees.

Plugsocket: Is that why you are using the Augar review’s findings as a justification for capping the unit of resource per student for the first three years of a Labour government?

Marsden: Obviously, that bit we agree with.

Plugsocket: You have managed to betray universities before the ink on your manifesto is even dry. Would you like to apologise to all those academics and students who blindly follow the Labour Party and are now reeling from crushing disappointment at this outrageous deception?

Marsden: Our spending commitments for higher education…

Plugsocket: Will you apologise?

Marsden: If I might explain.

Plugsocket: Look, they are sitting right next to you. Will you apologise to the vice-chancellor and this girl, who won’t be able to graduate now because of your lies.

Marsden: I think you’ll find that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are committed to the same levels of funding for universities.

Plugsocket: Yes, but they are not communards from Caracas, Lancashire. Let me turn to Chris. Minister, this is arrant hypocrisy from the Labour Party, isn’t it?

Skidmore: Absolutely, but in fact the government has yet to make its response to the Augar report and so we have not said whether we will adopt its recommendations on future fee levels.

Plugsocket: It’s not in your manifesto?

Skidmore: God no, we definitely wouldn’t put something like that a manifesto.

Plugsocket: But you are not going to give any more money to universities?

Skidmore: Of course not.

Plugsocket: And you Mr Gyimah, will you now be splashing the cash for higher education?

Gyimah: Our plans are fully costed and fiscally responsible.

Plugsocket: That’s a no then. What are the Lib Dem plans for tuition fees?

Gyimah: Didn’t you say we were due an ad break?

Plugsocket: Answer the question, Mr “shadow minister”.

Gyimah: The Lib Dems will be investing in skills wallets… why are you sniggering?

Vice-chancellor: To be honest, it’s really funny.

Plugsocket: I’ll do the interrogation vice-chancellor. He’s right though, it is really funny. But we haven’t answered the question from Lancaster Bomber, Mr Gyimah, what about the snowflakes watching sitcoms?

Gyimah: Skills wallets are designed to encourage saving for retraining…

Plugsocket: As universities minister, didn’t you say that universities were too concerned with bums on seats on Mickey Mouse courses.

Gyimah: I never said “Mickey Mouse course”… why are you sniggering?

Plugsocket: Come on Mr Gyimah, you never stopped going on about them. Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy…

Gyimah: It is right that where courses deliver low financial returns then students ought to be informed…

Plugsocket: And the snowflakes, as minister you were always complaining about the political monoculture in universities and censorship by molly-coddled Bolshevicks.

Gyimah: When students go to university, they should receive an appropriate level of challenge by being exposed to different points of view.

Plugsocket: Like old Karl Marx here? Should he be allowed to speak to students?

Marsden: Are you talking about me?

Skidmore: It is important all political opinions be treated as equally valid…

Plugsocket: You just have a rest Chris. You’ll need it if you’ve been up all night with the baby. I’ve got these two moonbats in a headlock of thought and I’m not letting go.

Marsden: That is deeply offensive.

Plugsocket: There you go proving my point that people like you can’t take robust argument.

Marsden: We haven’t had an argument. You’ve just been rude to everyone.

Plugsocket: Perhaps you’d like to apologise to my 17.4 million viewers.

Marsden: In your dreams. You don’t have 17.4 million viewers.

Plugsocket: Same old Labour Party, treating the media with contempt. Vice-chancellor, you’re awfully quiet.

Vice-chancellor: No-one can get a word in edge ways.

Plugsocket: Did you come here by bus or did you get your chauffeur to drive you?

Vice-chancellor: I had late-running meetings at the university and given that it was raining and it’s dark early at this time of year, I thought it better if I came by car.

Plugsocket: Did you drive it?

Vice-chancellor: My university, which is both world-class and research-intensive, contributes a great deal…

Plugsocket: Answer the question vice-chancellor.

Vice-chancellor: Researchers at my university are working on autonomous vehicles, so one day, we’ll all be able to “drive” to the Think Hole studio for a late-night debate.

Plugsocket: But not tonight, obviously. Lady student, do you have anything to say?

Student: I think this is the sort of mediatised framing of politics which reduces the democratic process to polarised positions expressed through pre-prepared soundbites that avoid any real prospect of scrutiny. It is an anathema to the deep and longitudinal thought required by academic life in a university and upon which any real advancement in the human condition depends. It is troubling that the future of human thought and so by extension the survival of the species can in anyway depend upon the outcome of such a partisan, unsatisfactory and artificial event as this tonight. I sincerely hope that all the students and academics engaged in work in our universities are able to continue their vital studies and research regardless of the outcome of this election and reductive media practices such as this.

Plugsocket: There you have it Lancaster Bomber, that’s what your hard-earned taxes are being spent on, producing lippy Guardianista clones.

Student: If you call us snowflakes, you should expect an avalanche.*

Plugsocket: And on that bombshell we bid you good night. Tomorrow, Think Hole digs its way through the arts as we ask, why should my lottery scratch card fund your opera?

Terms of reference: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should circulate freely like a pre-campaign promise to be interviewed by all the BBC’s political correspondents. Want to be part of the Think Hole live studio audience? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com

*Copyright Shakira Martin