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Ivory Tower: Higher Education and Research’s big day at the races

Peter Frontman: A warm welcome from this famous old course, where the Higher Education and Research Grand National runs for the first time since the pandemic. Once again, we will see the brightest and the best, handicapped by the system, compete against one another, jumping over fences, overcoming huge barriers, running around in circles, pushing each other out the way and ploughing through mud, in a perfect metaphor for life in British universities today.

This year’s favourites are Free Speech Champion, who looks threatening but has yet to show; the ever-popular Industrial Action, back once again, with some declaring that all bets are off; and Mickey Mouse Degree, which has been making all the running this year but is yet to pay out for anyone who has backed it. They’re under starter’s orders, so over to Peter Secondstring for the off.

Peter: Thank you, Peter. It’s once around the track today for the race also known as the Higher Education and Research Stakeholders’ Stakes, and it’s an early lead for Levelling Up, followed by Rhodes Must Fall and Sir Gavin tucked in behind. At the rear it’s Minimum Entry Requirement and Defund Btec, followed by Annual Pay Offer, as they approach the first fence.

Oh, and there’s a shock, Levelling Up has gone, a lot of talk about this one but it turned out to be the first to go when the going got hard.

Now Response to Augar hits the front. We’ve been looking forward to seeing this one for so long, no one can quite remember what the prospects are. We approach the second, they jump, and there goes Repayment Threshold, knocked off-course by Response to Augar, followed by Another Consultation, and Minimum Entry Requirement still in last place.

They race up to the third, with the much-fancied Oligarch’s Gift sitting comfortably in the pack, and Free Speech Champion yet to make a move. Industrial Action looks to pick up the pace but seems to be going backwards. Mickey Mouse Degree is struggling in the wake of Response to Augar.

They jump once more, and it looks like White Paper is a faller. Lots of excitable backers for this one, but in the end they have little to show for it. We approach the fourth fence and it’s a refusal from Annual Pay Offer, which got tangled up with Industrial Action and once more proves a disappointment.

Thundering towards the fifth it’s Rhodes Must Fall, followed by Woke Warrior and Telegraph Columnist, jostling for position as they jump the fence. Surprisingly, Rhodes Must Fall has not fallen, but Telegraph Columnist was caught out there by the line taken by Oligarch’s Gift, which seems to have caused confusion. Telegraph Columnist now has their eyes on Defund Btec and Free Speech Champion.

So, as we come down to Becher’s Brook we have a new leader, McAlpine’s Folly, followed by Annual KEF and Regulatory Burden. They’re over Becher’s but it looks as if Sir Gavin has headed off in the wrong direction; he’s totally lost and can be seen running towards the stands. With that it’s over to Peter Poshfellow for the second half of the Higher Education and Research Grand National.

Peter: Thank you, Peter. As we reach the Canal Turn, it’s Ministerial Letter causing a stir in the pack, with Another Consultation following, and Response to Augar giving way to B3 Condition. They jump and B3 Condition couldn’t make such a high hurdle, it looks like we’ve also lost Specialist Provider and Minimum Entry Requirement, for whom that barrier was just too much. Mickey Mouse Degree, always a favourite with the punters, is proving hard to shift but will be wary of the thresholds as they progress towards the next fence.

REF Results now squeezing out McAlpine’s Folly and Annual KEF as they compete for position, nearing the home straight. At Valentine’s Brook it’s still a strong showing from Online Learning and Oligarch’s Gift, both of whom we thought might have faded away by now. Pension Pot slips further down the field and Aid Budget is another that can’t keep up with the pace.

In fact, Aid Budget has gone as Operation Red Meat got in the way. They’ve also knocked Tier Four Visa and Lateral Flow out of the picture. There may be a steward’s enquiry, with Opposition Policy yet to make a show in this year’s race, once again.

As we cross the Melling Road, Free Speech Champion is still threatening, but out in front is Industrial Action and Rhodes Must Fall, followed by Oligarch’s Gift, Response to Augar and REF Results, in that order. It’s been a disappointing showing from The Point of Aria, who has in fact unseated their rider just as they seemed to be getting somewhere. R&D Target is another that’s fallen away, along with People and Culture Strategy, and Innovation Nation, which is somewhere in the distance.

We come up to the Chair, and what a leap from Wharton’s Friend—she’s come from nowhere to be out in front in a race where few had even heard of her before. That’s taken Oligarch’s Gift by surprise; they must have thought they were odds-on to secure that position.

Industrial Action is flagging as we near the finish, while Response to Augar and Another Consultation seem to be getting in each other’s way. Rhodes Must Fall looks like they are spent, along with Decolonise the Curriculum, as Telegraph Columnist and Ministerial Letter take a new line around Collaborates with Schools. Independent Adjudicator has been working hard to make up ground, but the spread may be just too much to cover.

At the last, Wharton’s Friend lands in the lead as they head down the home straight, with Response to Augar setting the pace and REF Results coming into view. Oligarch’s Gift doesn’t look as good as it did before, and a push from Free Speech Champion is still to materialise.

Mickey Mouse Degree is persistent, despite the best efforts of Ministerial Letter and Regulatory Burden, and Industrial Action has not gone away. We’ve waited a long time to see them but now Fixed Penalty Notice is making a late appearance, along with Non-Dom Spouse.

But can Wharton’s Friend be caught? She’s out in front by several lengths as we near the end in this year’s higher education and research stakeholder’s stakes.

Response to Augar is trying to get out in front but is blocked by Another Consultation. Free Speech Champion and Oligarch’s Gift are fading from view. REF Results, Mickey Mouse Degree and Industrial Action all boxed together, showing their usual staying power.

But this year’s race is going to be won by Wharton’s Friend, crossing the line in first place, much to the surprise of absolutely everyone. The 250/1 shot Wharton’s Friend wins the Higher Education and Research Stakeholder Stakes, with Response to Augar second, Another Consultation third, Oligarch’s Gift is pushed out of the places into fourth, and REF Results further down the order, the favourite Free Speech Champion nowhere to be seen.

Bringing up the rear it’s Defund Btec and Association to Europe, which is dragging its feet but it’s all a little too late. Full results and prices can be found on our website. Join us after the break when this year’s winner, Wharton’s Friend, will be presented with a cheque as a reward for this completely fair and competitive process. While over on Sky HE2 you can watch pigs flying from Canterbury.

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