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Ivory Tower: exclusive access to the Universities Covid-19 taskforce WhatsApp group


This is the WhatsApp group for the joint committee of the Department for Education, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and UK Research and Innovation, to discuss the needs of higher education and research during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Please post responsibly.

Solloway4Derby: Why is this group called Covid2019?

DonelanStayAtHome: That’s the hashtag people are using.

Solloway4Derby: Why? It’s called Covid-19 and it’s 2020.

PermanentSecBEIS: I think you’ve answered your own question there minister.

Solloway4Derby: Shouldn’t it be Covid1920?

PermanentSecBEIS: That was another one.

Sollway4Derby: I’m confused.

OdyssianDom: You are doing great Amanda, keep up the good work, I’ve got your back.

DonelanStayAtHome: Now, I’m confused.

PermSecDfE: I hope we are all going to be kind to each other on this group.

OdyssianDom: Snowflake.

GavinEduSec: I think we should all remember that we are on a war footing. I have experience of this from my time as defence secretary.

OdyssianDom: Have you told the coronavirus to “just shut up and go away” yet?

JarvisUUK: Hi, hope everyone is safe and well.

Solloway4Derby: It’s Friday and I’m working from home.

OdyssianDom: Like Jeremy Corbyn?

Solloway4Derby: I think he is being shielded now.

PermSecDfE: From Covid-19?

OdyssianDom: No, from the Human Rights Commission.

Where’sWallport: We should be talking about the needs of research.

OdyssianDom: Are you still here?

Where’sWallport: I’m willing to stay on as long as it takes to find a new chief executive.

OdyssianDom: I thought I told you to go on gardening leave.

Where’sWallport: Well, I’m in my garden if that helps.

PermanentSecBEIS: OK, what are people in universities thinking about most right now?

JarvisUUK: The Universities Superannuation Scheme.

DonelanStayAtHome: Surely that’s not a priority right now?

JarvisUUK: Lots of people seem to think that the stock market crash was a plot by UUK to increase pension contribution rates.

PermSecDfE: Those academics with their gold-plated pensions.

Where’sWallport: Unlike us poor civil servants.

Solloway4Derby: And MPs.

OdyssianDom: We need to protect research and make sure that at the end of this we are still on track to meet the target of 2.4 per cent of GDP as research expenditure by 2027.

Solloway4Derby: 2027? That’s optimistic.

OdyssianDom: Do you think it will need to be put back?

Solloway4Derby: No, it’s just optimistic that you think there is going to be a 2027.

Where’sWallport: The good news is that UK GDP is shrinking so fast that we are going to hit the target by the end of the month.

OdyssianDom: Really, are you still here?

PermanentSecBEIS: I’ve got good news and bad news.

Solloway4Derby: What’s the bad news?

PermanentSecBEIS: We’ve had to cancel the Research Excellence Framework.

Solloway4Derby: What’s the good news.

PermanentSecBEIS: We’ve had to cancel the Research Excellence Framework.

OdyssianDom: Whatever happens we are not cancelling the Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Where’sWallport: We haven’t started the Advanced Research Projects Agency.

TreasuryLiaison1: We’ve been meaning to talk to you about that Dom.

OdyssianDom: Tell Sunak that if he touches a penny of the ARPA money, I’ll show him what social distancing really means.

TreasuryLiaison1: Given the cost of bailing out the economy we might not be able to afford inessential spending going forward.

OdyssianDom: Inessential? What’s your name and number?

TreasuryLiaison1: This is a generic Treasury liaison account set up for cross-departmental discussions. Your call is important to us please leave a message.

OdyssianDom: Don’t make me…

TreasuryLiaison1: What you gonna’ do baldy, come over here and shout at me from two metres away?

PermSecDfE: This channel is not for anonymous abuse.

GavinEduSec: Yes, I get quite enough of that on Twitter.

JarvisUUK: You too?

DonelanStayAtHome: I’ve written a letter to vice-chancellors.

PermSecDfE: That’s helpful, what does it say.

DonelanStayAtHome: Posting it here:

Document: Ocado order #234715: 2xWholegrain Bloomer, 10xBarilla Penne Pasta, 6xVilla Maria Sauvignon Blanc, 12xSpitfire British Beer, 24xAndrex Super Quilt…

PermanentSecBEIS: I think you’ve sent the wrong thing.

OdyssianDom: Are you stockpiling pasta?

Where’sWallport: Do you have any spare loo roll?

DonelanStayAtHome: Wonder what I sent to Ocado then?

JarvisUUK: We did have questions about that letter, explains everything.

DonelanStayAtHome: The letter was supposed to say that everyone was doing a great job and that they should keep calm and carry on.

Solloway4Derby: I sent a similar letter to vice-chancellors.

PermanentSecBEIS: About pasta?

Solloway4Derby: Praising their efforts at this difficult time.

JarvisUUK: Yeah, we’ve got questions about that one as well.

Solloway4Derby: Like what?

JarvisUUK: Some VCs were asking if they could use it as evidence for their remuneration committee?

TreasuryLiaison1: When this is all over, we may have to introduce a windfall tax on excessive salaries.

JarvisUUK: Not on vice-chancellors surely? In light of recent developments many of them really want to change how they are paid.

PermSecDfE: That’s great news.

JarvisUUK: Yes, they want to declare themselves self-employed so they qualify for a grant.

DonelanStayAtHome: Well, if they keep cutting jobs at this rate, they might soon meet the criteria for sole-trader.

JarvisUUK: Can universities apply for a business interruption grant?

TreasuryLiaison1: But Covid-19 hasn’t stopped universities.

JarvisUUK: I was thinking about the pension strike.

OcadoDeliveryService: Hi there Michelle, we are contacting you on this number as per your order request. We will leave your shopping at your gate or the nearest safe area, any time between 12pm and 6pm today.

PermanentSecBEIS: Look, I think we need to focus on deliverables.

Solloway4Derby: I thought that was what she was doing.

OcadoDeliveryService: Some of the items you requested were unavailable, so we’ve swapped them for something similar.

GavinEduSec: This rogue message on an encrypted government channel is precisely why I opposed Hauwei being granted access to the 4G network.

Where’sWallport: A virus originating from China and causing chaos in the UK would never happen. Oh wait…

OcadoDeliveryService: Items swap: Pasta limited to 4 boxes per customer, swapped for 2kg Quinoa…

Solloway4Derby: Bad luck Michelle.

OcadoDeliveryService: Toilet roll limited to pack of 6 per customer, swapped for subscription to Daily Telegraph.

GavinEduSec: It’s not all bad news then, I’ve got an op-ed on page 10 today in which I tell teachers what I think about them.

OdyssianDom: Is it soft?

GavinEduSec: Well, I don’t pull any punches.

OdyssianDom: I wasn’t thinking about your opinion.

OcadoDeliveryService: Item replacement: Spitfire British beer out of stock, swap for Corona Lager (we seem to have a lot of that left for some reason).

DonelanStayAtHome: I’m really sorry about this.

GavinEduSec: Posting your shopping on an encrypted channel?

DonelanStayAtHome: No, foreign lager, not patriotic enough.

PermanentSecBEIS: Oh my goodness, I’ve just heard that the prime minister is positive.

JarvisUUK: Not about immigration.

OdyssianDom: Far too positive about HS2.

PermanentSecBEIS: No, he’s tested positive.

OdyssianDom: Yes, his ratings are very good at the moment, but we expect that to change when Kier Starmer comes long.

PermanentSecBEIS: He has Corona!

DonelanStayAtHome: Does he have my Ocado delivery?

PermanentSecBEIS: No, he has mild symptoms associated with Covid-19 and on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer is self-isolating.

Where’sWallport: In a fridge?

PermSecDfE: In Downing St by the looks of it.

GavinEduSec: Does that mean we need a new war-time leader? I have some experience of that from my time as defence secretary.

OdyssianDom: Shut up and go away.

Where’sWallport: Was that meant for me?

PermanentSecBEIS: The important thing is not to panic. There is a clear chain of command and there is a designated survivor to take over if necessary.

JarvisUUK: Who is it?

PermanentSecBEIS: Let me just look at the list…err…Dominic Raab.

DonelanStayAtHome: Are we allowed to panic now?

OdyssianDom: Dom would make an excellent leader.

Solloway4Derby: That’s touching, I didn’t know you put such store by the Foreign Secretary.

OdyssianDom: I wasn’t talking about the Foreign Secretary.

PermSecDfE: You couldn’t make it up, it looks like the Health Secretary has got it as well.

JarvisUUK: Hancock?

PermSecDfE: I don’t know how he got it.

GavinEduSec: Does that mean we need a new Health Secretary? I have some experience of that from my time as defence secretary.

PermanentSecBEIS: If necessary, his crucial leadership role would be taken by the next closest minister who has immunity from the disease.

Solloway4Derby: Nadine Dorries?

DonelanStayAtHome: Is it OK to panic now?

ChrisWhittyCMO: Sorry to interrupt your chat. You will have heard the news about the PM and the Health Secretary. The important thing is that we now identify everyone who came into contact with either of them in the last 14 days.

Solloway4Derby: I shook Boris’s hand in the Commons.

DonelanStayAtHome: I sat next to Matt at a press conference.

OdyssianDom: I knew I should have replaced him with a robot when I had the chance.

GavinEduSec: If I say I haven’t seen him for 14 days does that make me in charge?

ChrisWhittyCMO: I want you all to stay at home and self-isolate.

Where’sWallport: I’ve been excluded from government circles for weeks.

ChrisWhittyCMO: Do you have symptoms?

Where’sWallport: No, I’m the chief executive of UK Research and Innovation.

ChrisWhittyCMO: You are all confined to barracks for the foreseeable future.

GavinEduSec: I have some experience of that from my time as defence secretary.

JarvisUUK: But what is going to happen to universities now?

OcadoDeliveryService: Item unavailable, replace with 1x Home Brew kit.

Terms of reference: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should be shared widely like your brother’s Netflix password. Want to swap one of your children for a six pack of toilet roll? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com