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Ivory Tower: Exclusive access to a draft White Paper on levelling universities


On addressing regional inequality through higher education and TV programming


As a manifesto commitment during the 2019 general election campaign, the government promised to address economic differences between parts of the UK. This process came to be known as “levelling up”.

Since 2019, the economic circumstances of the UK have changed. The nation can no longer afford to do everything that may have been promised in the past, mostly because of the actions of the last government (whoever they were).

However, this government, a completely different and brand new government, intend to make good on the promise of “levelling up”. Although, after extensive market research with the public, the government no longer intends to use this exact phrase. Henceforth, the practice of discussing historic inequality in the UK will be known as “levelling with Rishi”.

This government is also committed to prudence in the public finances, in preparation for tax cuts before the next general election. Therefore, the past ambitions of the 2019 manifesto will be reduced in scale.

That manifesto also committed to ensuring “low-quality” university courses contributed to the UK economy. This White Paper outlines the government’s ambitions for enterprise zones across the country underpinned by the innovative work of those in higher education and our world-class media sector, since none of them can tour Europe anymore.

The government is keen to stress the important contribution to be made by all university disciplines. Following the huge success* of the national festival of creativity Unboxed, the government expects our levelling universities to get boxed-in.

[*source needed]

In accordance with budgetary restraint within the public finances, universities will be expecting to undertake any levelling activity within existing financial envelopes.

Equal treatment

As part of the Levelling with Rishi programme, each town, city or region [delete as financially appropriate, following Treasury review] in the UK should have:

At least one detective television series set within its geographical confines featuring scenes shot at a local higher education institution.

Previously, the regional coverage of fictional detectives has been limited to areas of significant aesthetic interest, predominantly located in the south-east of England: Grace (Brighton); Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Endeavour (Oxford); Luther, Unforgotten and Sherlock (London). 

In recent years, the provision of TV detectives has extended to cover locations previously left behind by commissioning editors, these include: Vera (north east), Happy Valley (Cleckhuddersfax—the A road that connects Halifax, Huddersfield and Cleckheaton), Ridley (wherever that is supposed to be set, could be the Lakes, could be the Dales, it’s hard to tell from the accents), Shetland (who would have thought there were so many murders in such a small place, NB. TV detectives remain a devolved matter under the Scotland Act 1998, which preserved the operational autonomy of Taggart and Hamish MacBeth), and Broadchurch (Dorset, which is probably quite posh but is at risk of voting Lib Dem next time).

The UK government notes and particularly regrets the absence of TV detective shows set in Birmingham, especially given how many seats it holds there.

University media departments will be expected to work with production companies to develop regionally based detective dramas, preferably of six two-hour episodes in length, to be pitched to commissioning editors at BBC and ITV for inclusion in the 2023-24 winter schedules. Each series should include at least one appearance by Olivia Colman and/or Adrian Dunbar. Funding for fictional detectives and university media departments is not guaranteed beyond the period of the comprehensive spending review, or the next election, whichever is soonest.

Housing supply

Regional communities should also expect: a lord of the manor in a big house providing occasional employment to locals.

Following the success of the prime minister’s own constituency Richmond (no the one in Yorkshire) in securing levelling-up funds, and the investment in local infrastructure resulting from the upgrade of the electricity grid to heat a private swimming pool, this pilot will now be upscaled.

Every town, city or region [delete as financially appropriate, following Treasury review] can expect to have its own billionaire owner of a mansion house which will employ locals on a seasonal basis to assist in areas vital to the green economy such as hedge trimming and pheasant beating, as well as upgrading local infrastructure such as potholes. Each identified mansion house should become a provider of a DfE funded skills bootcamps to train the long-term unemployed in service (upstairs and downstairs, as well as kitchen and scullery work).

University art history and heritage departments will be expected to provide expertise to the designated lord of the manor (DLM) in cataloguing the family collection (historic or acquired through newer wealth generation activity). University human resources departments should work closely with the DLM and in creating conditions of employment both indentured and precarious, to ensure the needs of a flexible workforce are met.

Where appropriate vice-chancellors with existing mansion houses and a track record in precarious employment practices can apply for DLM status in their own right.

Food security

In light of the above, each town, city or region [delete as financially appropriate, following Treasury review] can expect to be visited by the Hairy Bikers* as part of a TV series touring the UK to celebrate local recipes [quantities of fresh food and vegetables permitting].

*Other acceptable touring TV chefs include Prue Leith, Mary Berry and Rick Stein. Campaigning woke TV cooks such as Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith will be ineligible for public funding. The jury is still out on Nigella Lawson.

The relevant episode should be filmed in the kitchen of the DLM and feature a guest cast member from the appropriate TV detective series.

University geography departments should submit proposals via the new post of tsar for levelling universities (who will become a board member at the Office for Students) to identify suitable dishes and routes to be included in the television series. The government expects to fund more than one series and universities are encouraged to put themselves forward as locations for filming the Hairy Bikers [or equivalent approved TV chef] undertake mass catering events such as staff barbeques or student refectory lunch time rushes.

A national register of such locations and opportunities will be held by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for use by producers of other appropriate TV cooking shows such as Celebrity MasterChef and any future UK tour to be undertaken by Gordon, Gino and Fred. Each university should also commit to hosting an episode of the Antiques Roadshow, the Repair Shop, Songs of Praise or Bargain Hunt, depending on the facilities recorded on the national register and/or relevant mission group membership.

Next steps

In due course, the government will bring forward detailed legislation for a Levelling Universities bill which will enshrine in law what UK residents can expect from tax-payer funded higher education providers*.

[*Alternative providers registered with the Office of Students after 1 January 2018 are excluded from these statutory requirements]

This binding covenant between communities, universities and TV chiefs shall constitute a “legal tart”. Those dissatisfied with any dish made from a randomly selected five supermarket items or less, will have the right to legal redress if they have kept their receipt or can evidence purchase through a Tesco Clubcard.

The government will also monitor progress in this area of university activity through a Levelling Excellence Framework. Sitting alongside the REF, TEF and KEF, the LEF will become an additional beacon for our world-class universities**.

[**Future funding will be dependent on viewing figures. Ratings can go up as well as down].

A 30-day public consultation on the contents of this White Paper will begin on 12 May 2023*

[*His Majesty’s Government retains the right to ignore any views presented to it. This White Paper and any subsequent legislative instrument do not commit the government to funding universities in any way and definitely does not imply a higher education provider should be located in every UK town as an engine of social mobility and economic growth. Terms and Conditions apply].

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should be shared among colleagues like the keys for a campaign camper van accidentally bought during the pandemic. Want to suggest a recipe for the Hairy Bikers on Campus Tour? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com