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Davos diaries


Ivory Tower: the elite of higher education and research are up a mountain

Grant Shapps (secretary of state for vibes)

I’ve always been a big fan of Doctor Who and when I heard that Russell T Davies would be bringing back the creator of the daleks, I jumped at the opportunity to spend time here. What? That’s Davros? Then who were those alien types we had dinner with last night? That was the team from Universities UK… Really? Look, I’m here to seek investment for GB PLC, no not the TV station. 

I want to make sure people know that the UK is the best place to invest in for R&D and tech. We’ve got some of the best universities in the world, and we’ve also got… hold on, I know this one… silicon roundabout. Is it really made of silicon? That’s cool. I guess if you crash into it, you just bounce back. Pity we hadn’t dropped the economy on it. Look, got to go, George Clooney is signing photographs in the atrium if you pay five euros for world hunger. Promised I’d get one for Rishi.

Rishi Sunak (prime minister and Apprentice contestant)

Obviously, I am not in Davos. That would be a terrible look. No, the family and I go to Klosters like the really, really rich people do.

Ottoline Leyser (chief executive UKRI and visiting professor Ecole du Ski Francais)

I’ve been hurtling down some seriously dangerous runs, swerving to avoid crashes and worried that an avalanche is coming. But enough about dealing with the Prospect union and the forthcoming strikes at UKRI. 

I’m here to beat the drum for UK Research and Innovation but sadly this place is so posh there is a noise curfew at 9pm so I’m reduced to whispering about UK Research and Innovation. A Swiss police officer stopped me in the street and asked me what I was doing, so I explained, and they said, “Well if I were attached to British higher education I wouldn’t shout about it either”.

Mariya Gabriel (EU commissioner for research, innovation, and polite refusals)

It’s wonderful to be back in Davos where the investors in the science and technology of tomorrow are to be found with their heads in the clouds, literally. Last night I met your Sir Richard Branson and we talked about his attempt to launch satellites from Cornwall. I was shocked when he told me they had all crashed. He later offered me a ride down the mountain in his Virgin helicopter. I told him I was alright and that I would take the chair lift with Michel Barnier.

Vivienne Stern (chief executive and head of diplomacy at UUK)

There is a lot of love in the room for UK universities here. One fund manager asked me how much I wanted for Oxford and Cambridge. I said the universities are not for sale. He said he meant the cities, before speeding off on his skidoo. 

UUK has a stand in the conference atrium, between Bob Geldof’s Do They Know It’s Brexit stand and George Clooney signing photographs for a fiver. I thought that was just so cheap. So, I got two for the office and one for my wallet.

Jeremy Hunt (invisible chancellor of the exchequer)

I’m here because I am part of a cabal of lizard people who secretly run the global economy. Sorry, wasn’t supposed to say that bit out loud. I am an ordinary human being who drinks coffee and knows how inflation works. Apparently, it can be halved by just sitting quietly and doing nothing. I took the same approach to the number of votes I received in my leadership bids for the Conservative Party. 

I’m here to reassure people that Britain is going to be okay. It’s been through a tough spell these last 13 years, but it’s now out of bed and is having physio twice a week. It won’t ever be able to go running again and often feels wheezy just walking upstairs, but despite everything it can still enjoy a decent quality of life. Not one that any other country would want to have. We are thinking of asking Ireland to be our carer. Oh, look is that Claudia Schiffer?

Jo Grady (first citizen general secretary)

No way am I here to listen to what the financial elite have to say—if I wanted that I’d go to a meeting with the Russell Group. It just so happens that I’d booked a week’s holiday with Erna Low, and this was the secret hotel pick. 

Originally, I thought it would be a good opportunity to model my famous pink beanie in a winter wonderland setting for the union hardship fund brochure. Then I found out about the fondu and the chocolate and the cuckoo clocks. So I’ve been asked to bring a few things back. I was thinking of getting a Swiss army knife, but that’s mostly for the national executive committee.

Emmanuel Macron (president of France, lover not a fighter)

I was minding my own business in the atrium when a strange English man bounded up to me demanding I sign a picture of George Clooney and offering me five euros. I didn’t say no—five euros is five euros after all. What has happened to that country? It used to lead the world on international aid and global debt relief. 

Now you can’t get a train to Birmingham and a baguette costs a week’s wages—almost as much as in the centre of Paris. But I still look at their universities’ world rankings with envy and am doing my best to emulate them. That’s why everyone in France was on strike this week about their pensions.

Bill Galvin (chief executive Universities Superannuation Scheme, not long to go)

As the biggest private pension fund in the UK, with over £80bn of assets under management, we are always looking for sound investments. That’s why I’m here and definitely not thinking about buying a ski lodge when I retire from USS. 

So, we’ve decided to invest in Toblerone. Apparently, they are bringing out a new range of edible carafes for hot beverages. I’m going to take some samples back to the USS trustee and see if they really are as useless as a chocolate teapot.

George Freeman (man of science and captain of the innovation nation)

I’m here to see who is interested in plan B. It turns out the actual plan B is here. He’s a rapper apparently, who is part of a delegation of celebrities campaigning against global poverty. I introduced myself to him at a reception last night. He asked, “Are you with that Comic Relief?” I said, “Well I’m part of the government if that’s what you mean”.

Kier Starmer (Leader of the former Labour Party)

Let me be very clear, I am neither for the global financial elite nor against the global financial elite. I’ll make up my mind about that after the election. We are staying down the hill in an Ibis near the train station. We take very seriously the economic choices that face ordinary Britons. We are not paying for breakfast in the hotel. Rather, Rachel Reeves got a packet of LU biscuits from the Spar next door, and I brought a travel kettle. 

While I’m here I want to speak to business people and global media moguls about how I would like to move closer to Europe. Angela Rayner said that I should rent in the Isle of Wight, and she would look after things in London—not sure what she meant. While here, I’ve been so inspired by Greta Thunberg’s message on climate change. I’ll be thinking of nothing else when the 12 of us catch our RyanAir flight in Geneva. Oh, look is that Morgan Freeman?

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should be over shared with colleagues like that time you told them about how you like to keep your socks on in bed. Want to pre-order a commemorative 2022 USS valuation Toblerone teapot? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com