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Putting a rocket under research


Ivory Tower: another exclusive column by Theresa Wellington, the minister for levelling, students and universities

It is once again a joy to find myself speaking. It is a real privilege to continue in this unique ministerial role shared across the Department for Education and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Officials at both the DfE and at LU, as we call it, have told me I should really be shared across the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as well. They tell me I should definitely spend more time there.

So, I’ve been learning all about the Research Excellence Framework, the results of which we celebrated last week. I have not seen so many world-class cases since I worked as a junior minister on PPE procurement.

The REF presents a great opportunity to level universities and students. We can justly say that as a way of assessing research it is truly world-leading, there is nothing like it anywhere else on the planet, and that ought to give us pause for thought.

Now that we are a science superpower, we should be shouting loudly about the REF. I am told quite a few academics already feel this way.

We should be exporting the REF to the world like all the other brilliant things the UK has sent around the globe, like the steam engine, the world wide web, and time. Since taking up a science brief, I have discovered that it was British boffins at the Greenwich Observatory who invented time.

Imagine a world without time? As a minister I find time very useful in my work. Imagine being a minister who did not know what day of the week it was?

Global Britain should be justly proud of the REF. That’s why I have recommended to the secretary of state that the science minister George Freeman should be sent overseas.

George is the sort of guy who can sell the benefits of the audit culture pioneered by the REF to countries around the world such as China, Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Research assessment could be another British gift to the world, like free trade and partition.

However, it is not all good news as this government attempts to level research. Michelle Donelan has been telling me about the threat to our universities from woke bullies.

Apparently, young people are growing up at risk of seeing their universities slide down the global rankings because research funding will be going to less woke places—or something like that. This is a disgrace!

I do not want to see our attempts to level research in British universities outdone by the woke mob. I do not want to see Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin or Clive Sinclair cancelled.

There are plenty of others who could be cancelled like Brian Cox—things can only get better, indeed—or David Attenborough with all that green stuff that Prince Charles goes on about. That’s why I’ve asked the minister for culture wars Nadine Dorries to look into accelerating the sale of Channel 4 and the BBC so that we can cancel these woke scientists once and for all.

Britain didn’t get where she is today by cancelling our great scientists like Alan Turing and Rosalind Franklin. Let’s get back to good old British science like Marie Curie, who has combined her scientific career with running a business empire on the British high street.

That’s the sort of innovation we want to see, more Marie Curie and Cancer Research shops filling up the lots left vacant on our high streets by less scientific businesses like John Lewis and Debenhams. That’s how science can help level Britain by turning every high street in every town into charity shops and places selling scratch cards, because apparently the National Lottery also supports the Science Museum in London—that’s levelling up in action!

Trigger happy

I would also like to take this opportunity to talk about trigger warnings, which is the worst thing to happen to universities since I was appointed minister. There have been all sorts of stories about Harry Potter and Big Brother being cancelled.

I wanted to fact check this myself and I can categorically tell you that Big Brother has not been cancelled but is set to come back to ITV 2, which means it will still have more viewers than Piers Morgan. I can also tell you that there is a new Harry Potter movie in development as well as all those Fantastic Beasts films—so that’s another win for Michelle Donelan.

It is disgraceful that some of our finest works of literature are being cancelled by woke academics and snowflake students. Just to see what all the fuss is about I watched one of the Harry Potter films the other night.

It was full of rich characters and enjoyable scenes. At the end, I couldn’t believe it when Professor Dumbledore died, it was really upsetting. I wish someone had warned me.

I am committed to levelling students as well as universities, that’s why I have written to vice-chancellors asking them to remove all warnings about offensive content. One VC told me that he would now have to rewrite his letter to staff about rationalising departments.

That’s the sort of thing our levelling agenda is making happen. I want to see more VCs act in this way and make sure they are causing offence everywhere they go.

Staff and students should not be sheltered from offensive things. That’s why Michael Gove and I are planning a tour of campuses in the autumn.

We want to see for ourselves the life-changing effects experienced by staff and students because of our policies. We will be starting in the north and working our way down.

Our first visit will be to Middlesex, and we will conclude in Kent. We really want to capture a broad spectrum of higher education so will be visiting everywhere from the Royal College of Art to the Courtauld Institute—because we want to send the signal that we are as committed to the arts as all the other past Conservative governments.

Finally, let me say, now that the Metropolitan police have concluded their enquiries into so-called parties in Downing Street, that we should all move on from this fluff and concentrate on what is important to the people of this country—did Keir Starmer drink a beer on a school night? We owe it to students and universities to get to the bottom of this.

I know that some students were fined tens of thousands of pounds for lockdown parties during the pandemic. I want to see that their money is well spent by funding a proper investigation into the hypocrisy of the Labour leader.

Not that he should resign over it—no one should have to resign over breaching lockdown rules—but perhaps he could just be cancelled. At least until after the general election.

After my last column many of you wrote to me telling me to get a life. That is exactly what I intend to do now that all this party fluff is out the way. I’ll be living my best life levelling universities and students, because that is what the prime minister has asked me to do.

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should be shared among colleagues like the code to the executive bathroom when the Dean is away. Want to host a campus visit from Michael Gove and Theresa Wellington? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com