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Beyond The Repair Shop

Image: Grace Gay for Research Professional News

Ivory Tower: A higher education special of everyone’s favourite restoration show.

Bill Voiceover: Welcome to The Repair Shop, where precious but faded treasures are restored to their former glory. A dream team of expert craftspeople, using traditional techniques passed down the generations, restore the irreplaceable and unlock the stories behind them. This week The Repair Shop has visitors from the world of higher education and research.

First up is vice-chancellor of New Metropolitan University Janet Pringle and her chief finance officer Brendan Huckerbee.

Jay Frontman: So, what have you brought for us?

Janet: It’s a university.

Jay: Post 1992, I’m guessing. There’s quite a few of these knocking about.

Janet: We’ve got the letters of incorporation to prove it’s authentic.

Jay: The whole thing looks a bit battered.

Janet: It’s been in the wars recently, yes.

Jay: Dear oh dear, what cowboys have had a go on this?

[Janet and Brendan look at each other sheepishly]

Jay: There’s a bit missing that just seems to have fallen off.

Janet: That’s the Humanities faculty. It used to teach everything from English and history to drama and gender studies. But once the courses went down to 10 or so students a year, we decided just to get rid of it.

[Jay gives them a look]

Brendan: We didn’t think it was cost-effective to keep it going.

Jay: If I had a pound for every finance officer that told me something did not constitute value for money, I could get out of this ridiculous Repair Shop and open a trendy non-alcoholic wine bar. What’s this bit here that’s been badly mauled?

Janet: That’s the Initial Teacher Training offer. It was fine until the government started tinkering with it.

Jay: And this bit that’s seen better days?

Brendan: That’s the nursing degree. It was alright a few years ago but now it’s just fallen away. The cost is off-putting, I think.

Jay: And what would you like us to do with it?

Janet: Restore it to its former glory, really.

Jay: As a polytechnic?

Brendan: That would do for a start.

Janet: No, I’d like a university please. I want to see the local MP’s face light up as they join us for an honorary graduates’ dinner.

Jay: Leave it with us, we’ll see what we can do.

Bill Voiceover: Also visiting the Repair Shop is Sir Colin Mongoose, vice-chancellor of St Russell’s University, and his deputy and provost Margaret Blanch.

Jay: What’s all this then?

Margaret: It’s a university.

Colin: When spoken to, Margaret.

Margaret: But I usually do most of the talking in meetings. In fact, I mostly do your job while you swan…

Colin: We’re on television now, so this is my bit. It’s a university, Jay.

Jay: Blimey, you wait months then two come along at once. What’s wrong with it?

Colin: We just can’t seem to make it go anymore.

Jay: Have you tried hoovering up all the undergraduates from the other local universities?

Colin: That’s the first thing we did. Still won’t work.

Jay: Have you tried cramming it full of international students?

Colin: We lowered the entry tariff and poured them in, but it’s still no good.

Jay: What’s this bit here that’s looking a bit sorry for itself?

Colin: That’s the research outcomes. They are expensive to maintain.

Jay: OK, what would you like us to do with it?

Colin: Margaret, you may speak now.

Margaret: We’d like it back to the way it was, when the only thing we had to worry about was who would get to sit on the executive pay remuneration committee.

Jay: OK, we’ll see what we can do.

Bill Voiceover: Master craftswoman Helen Cross-Stitch has been taking a look at the badly damaged modern university.

Helen: There’s not much that can be saved here, really. I would recommend getting some apprentices but since I can’t get one myself, it’s pretty hopeless. Have you seen the forms you have to fill in? And the money’s no good—kids are better off packing shelves in Tesco or being Xbox influencers than learning a complex and skilled craft like university repair. All I can suggest is, the management team use their UK degree awarding powers to franchise degrees overseas, might make a few bob.

Bill Voiceover: Next into the Repair Shop is Bridget and her shadow minister for universities Matt.

Jay: What have you got for us then?

Bridget: It’s a Labour Party manifesto.

Jay: Wow! I haven’t seen one of these since 2019. What’s wrong with it?

Bridget: It’s a bit washed out and lacking in self-confidence. We used to have big and popular policies on higher education, now we just go around shaking our heads and saying how sad it all is.

Jay: And what would you like us to do with it?

Matt: We’d really like you to give it some backbone. Or at least give me something to say to the sector other than, maybe it could all be a bit fairer.

Jay: Repairs like that can be expensive. What’s your budget?

Bridget: Money? Sorry, soft lad, we don’t have any of that. Can’t you do something that doesn’t cost anything?

Jay: I guess I could rename the Office for Students and re-join Erasmus+. It’ll be ready Wednesday week.

Bridget: Pretty canny.

Bill Voiceover: Meanwhile, head of eccentricity in the Repair Shop, Matthew Beard-Oil, is taking a look at the broken research-intensive university.

Matthew: I see what’s gone wrong here. Years of government neglect and ideological attacks combined with management group think and repeated strikes by staff has led to the whole thing about to fall over. If you look closely, you’ll see a hole here in the budget. No matter how many home undergraduates and international students you pour in there, the hole just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I could put a sticking plaster on it and hope for the best, but I think the management team have already tried that. The only thing left to do is flog bits of it off to overseas investors. Where’s that box of hedge funds gone?

Bill Voiceover: Last into the Repair Shop is Rishi, who has come in with his election strategist Isaac.

Jay: What can we do for you today?

Rishi: We’d like you take a look at this.

Jay: Dear oh dear, what a mess. What exactly is it?

Rishi: It’s a cabinet. I was brought in to fix it but I’m beginning to realise that I’m a bit out of my depth.

Jay: I think we’ve all clocked that, sunshine. Your cabinet, or whatever you’re calling it, seems to have cracked into lots of individual pieces.

Isaac: Yes, they are all worried about their seats.

Jay: It doesn’t seem to do anything, looks exhausted, and some bits are off their hinges. As for these numbers…

Rishi: Don’t call me tetchy.

Jay: I didn’t. Look guvn’r, what do you expect us to do with this?

Isaac: Can you save it from annihilation?

Jay: I think you want Thought for the Day, mate. I heard there are some miracle workers over there.

Bill Voiceover: It’s time for the vice-chancellors to see how the Repair Shop’s master craftspeople have got on restoring their universities.

Jay: Unusually, we decided to bring you both in at the same time. It’s also unusual for us not to be able to fix things, but sometimes stuff has just deteriorated too far. So, what we’ve done is make you some new institutions to replace them. Janet and Brendan, if you would like to go first. Pull off the dust sheet to see what’s underneath.

Janet: Wow! It’s so small. What is it?

Jay: It’s a college of further education. There’s a business plan in there, somewhere, to teach skills and advanced apprenticeships, should enough money ever become available to make that economically viable.

Janet: I hate it.

Brendan: Can I take early retirement?

Jay: You are next, Sir Colin and Margaret. See what is under the dust sheet.

Colin: I’m on television so I need to act amazed and grateful, right?

Margaret: You could try eating this onion and see if it will make you cry for the first time in your overprivileged life.

Colin: Yum, munch, munch… OK, I’m crying and being grateful. What is it?

Jay: It’s the Petrodollar Sovereign Wealth Fund Learning and Sports Campus, with a 60,000-seater soccer dome for virtual reality AI sports events, and a luxury student village, sponsored by CryptoBet, for the children of foreign plutocrats.

Colin: Err… thanks. Do we like it, Margaret?

Margaret: I’m off to Australia.

Colin: I think I really am crying now.

Bill Voiceover: If you have a treasured possession that has seen better days, then you have probably worked in the public sector for the past 14 years. Don’t bother to get in touch with us at the BBC because we’re in the same boat. But you can take part by sharing on social media the hashtag #BritainBeyondRepair.

Terms of use: This is a free email for fun on a Friday afternoon. It should be shared widely with colleagues like the promise to vote down your own government’s migration bill at third reading before chickening out when opposition MPs laugh at you in the division lobby. Want to bring a once buoyant humanities programme into the Repair Shop to be written off and recycled as an industry-facing, skills-orientated, real-word degree with added work placement, two weeks student field trip to the Bahamas, and 10 per cent cashback? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com