Ivory Tower: the return of our Whitehall based sitcom. This week, financial rescue
Somewhere on Zoom…
Helen: There you are, I’ve been waiting ages for you…I can’t hear you…Can you hear me?…You need to put your sound on…
John: But whatever you do, don’t tell the minister.
Helen: Sorry, I missed that, your sound wasn’t on.
John: I said, whatever you do don’t tell the minister.
Helen: I got that bit, what did you say before?
John: I’ve been waiting ages for you to let me into your Zoom room.
Helen: Oh sorry, I thought you’d gone somewhere exciting like the kitchen or your veranda.
John: No, I’ve only got half an hour before my next Zoom. It’s mad at the moment, some people are furloughed and I’m tied to the desk like Christian Grey.
Helen: What is it, I’ve not to tell the minister?
John: That we are on Zoom.
Helen: Oh, I thought it was something exciting. Why have I not to tell the minister we spoke on Zoom?
John: Because we are also supposed to use Teams now.
Helen: But Teams is rubbish, it’s like Teletext for Millenials.
John: It’s more secure, apparently.
Helen: Because Bill Gates would never think of misusing your data?
John: Hope not, Microsoft runs a cloud service for the NHS.
Helen: We could always write to one another like in an 18th-century novel. I could publish them as the Dear John letters.
John: I think that means something else. Anyway, universities are about to get their own Dear John letter soon.
Helen: What have you got? I’ve got my half of the bailout plan here from the DfE.
John: At BEIS we’re calling it “the terms of surrender”.
Helen: Yes, other than making Alistair Jarvis sign it in a ceremony on the deck of the USS Missouri, it couldn’t be worse for universities.
John: Do you want to go first?
Helen: Well, first up, the government hasn’t spent the past 10 years creating a market of private providers just to bailout every Media Studies department in an ex-Poly.
John: Yeah, there are plenty of Media Studies departments in private providers that need bailed out too.
Helen: So, the terms have to reflect the diversity of the sector, while addressing the government’s priorities.
John: I’ve got a note on that from my minister, hold on let me find it…here we are, I wrote it down, “the priorities for a government bailout out are, in order: businesses, the self-employed, the unemployed, charities, bankers, hedge fund managers, estate agents, the oil industry, the Duke of York, Mike Ashley, Katie Hopkins, Richard Branson, and then right at the bottom of the list universities”.
Helen: Whatever happened to “the government is backing all that universities are doing at this moment”?
John: The government is backing everything Priti Patel is doing at the moment, doesn’t mean she has much of a future.
Helen: OK, I get it. My minister thinks we could use this as a good way of banning unconditional offers.
John: Autonomy of admissions is protected by law.
Helen: So is the right to walk in the Peak District, doesn’t mean it can’t be stopped right now. If universities want a bailout, they can do what they are told. The phrase being used is, showing “admissions restraint”.
John: How about “admissions privation”?
Helen: Admissions discipline?
John: Admissions self-flagellation?
Helen: No, let’s stick with restraint, we’ll never get that past the nudge unit.
John: I like the messaging though: a hair-shirt for universities.
Helen: We are calling it “a haircut”, makes universities sound like banks. The vice-chancellors should be able to self-identify with that.
John: Have we thought about making the vice-chancellors take pay cuts?
Helen: I thought they wanted to be paid as much as footballers?
John: Even the footballers are taking pay cuts. However, for them the season is probably over, for universities not so much.
Helen: It’s a good shout. What about an “austerity begins at home” campaign by VCs. They could give up their chauffeur driven cars to deliver coronavirus test results to key workers?
John: We’d have to have some test results first.
Helen: Ok, next on my list, investment in on-line learning.
John: How is your own, online learning going? Weren’t you doing something part-time with the Open University?
Helen: Not so great.
John: I thought the OU were the experts when it comes to online stuff.
Helen: It’s a practical orienteering for beginners module.
John: What about international students?
Helen: No, there are no international students doing the module.
John: I mean how is the DfE thinking about filling the gap if the international market collapses?
Helen: We need to wait until September to see on that one, so no rush. If they turn up, then some vice-chancellors will realise they don’t need a bailout and will ditch all the sector unity stuff. So, best to set conditions while they are all still worrying.
John: What have you got?
Helen: More recruitment in key worker disciplines.
John: Genius, I saw that. Does it just cover nurses and teachers?
Helen: As far as I know, a degree does not qualify you to pack shelves in Tesco.
John: Even a philosophy degree?
Helen: What have you got at the BEIS end?
John: The science minister thinks we should look at QR funding.
Helen: Does Amanda want to spend more?
John: Amanda? I meant Dom.
Helen: Sorry, of course, carry on.
John: No, he wonders that instead of doubling QR for universities, would it be better to fund an army of citizen scientists who could do research in the community.
Helen: Dear God!
John: That’s how I start my emails to him, yes.
Helen: Citizen scientists? Is that a bit like a phone-in on Talk Radio?
John: He thinks the public have unique insights on this.
Helen: On epidemiology?
John: That reminds me, I need to write the question from a member of the public for the Downing Street press conference later.
Helen: What? You are Katie from Liverpool?
John: When will I get to see my great aunt Nora again? That was one of my better ones. I think today, I’m going to be Adam from Stoke.
Helen: Stoke Newington? When will the Rio cinema and the Le Creuset shop be able to re-open prime minister?
John: Stoke-on-Trent: when will I be able to sup a pint of Marston’s with my dad in the Spitfire Arms, prime minister?
Helen: I suppose it’s no worse than a bloke from the Telegraph asking the prime minister whether he agrees that Boris is doing the best job of any global leader against this treacherous disease that has arrived from Europe.
John: That also reminds me, I need to write a “best of Britain is behind coronavirus vaccine trails” press release later.
Helen: You mean, the part Swedish company AstraZeneca and the research at Oxford cross-subsidised by international students?
John: The people in the trial are British, I think, better check that.
Helen: I’m hearing that some universities are letting researchers go, is BEIS happy with that?
John: Amanda’s not, but Dom is rather pleased.
Helen: Eh? Why?
John: It means there will be lots of them available to recruit to his secret missile launch in his hollowed-out volcano. Oh no, I’ve said too much.
Helen: If you are not going to be serious…
John: It looks like we only have two minutes left on this call. What else have you got? Where are you on masks?
Helen: I’ve got a little thing I picked up in Venice last year.
John: No, the public wearing of masks against corona.
Helen: That would be really cool, but it’s only small so I don’t think it would do much against coronavirus.
John: The thing is there might not be enough PPE.
Helen: There’s plenty of PPE, most of the cabinet did PPE at Oxford, not to mention the permanent secretaries.
John: Now, you are being silly.
Helen: No, they did, it’s absolutely true.
John: Alright, I need to go and get some lunch before I see the minister later.
Helen: What you having?
John: Something half-baked.
Helen: Yeah, but what about lunch? I need to do the same before we Zoom with the Universities UK this afternoon.
John: What you having?
Helen: Something re-heated.
John: Sounds about right.
Helen: When are we going to pull all this together so it can sit on the ministers’ desks for two months?
John: I’m all confused about bank holidays this month. Is there one next Friday?
Helen: Will anyone notice? Why did they shift it?
John: So that the pubs could stay open late for the anniversary of VE day.
Helen: That’s dated well. VE day? Is that the one when everyone was liberated and came out of the house to have street parties?
John: I think it was dreamed up by the Cabinet Office.
Helen: Like the Ventilator Challenge?
John: Let’s aim to dump the report in people’s in-boxes at 5.30pm on Thursday evening as a 1GB PDF—classic civil service trick.
Helen: Why? Because people will miss it, heading out the door, on their way home?
John: I see the problem.
Helen: Have you ever thought about a job in the Cabinet Office?
John: I think we are about to get cut…
[End meeting for all]