Fight Club DVD
Fight Club DVD (Photo credit: filmhirek)

(Please be aware, this article was posted on April 1st)

The Research Councils UK (RCUK) policy on open access (OA) comes into effect today. One of the major questions has been exactly how the so-called block grant will be fairly and transparently allocated to, 1) each university and, 2) competing academic groups within those universities.

Today, as a result of a Freedom of Information Act 2000 request, some ‘good old fashioned sleuthing,’ and a tip-off from a fella we met in a pub car park we can reveal the truth — secret discussions between the Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the Rustle Group of ‘leading UK universities’ Sir Godber Evans, Professor Philip Swallow, Vice Chancellor of the University of Rummidge, and producers at the BBC will enable the block grant dispersal process to be televised.

We first got wind of what was afoot when we hacked intercepted stumbled across an email from Professor Swallow to Sir Godber. The contents are reproduced below . . .

FROM: p.swallow@urum.ac.uk

TO: topknight@rustle.co.uk

CC: b.baxter@manchester.bbc.co.uk

SUBJECT: I Have a Cunning Plan…

Morning Gobbers, Swallow here. Listen, I’ve got an idea about how to get us all out of this mess with the allocation of the REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED funding for the article processing charges that RCUK have handed to us to sort out. I was at a family do over the weekend and to cut a long story short, I’ve a cousin who works at the BBC. I was lamenting the whole business of how we were all going to have to pressure one of the lesser minions at each university to volunteer to head up the adjudication process for the dispersal of article processing charges. I was talking about how it would set department against department and academic against academic, senior profs, trying to get back in the game versus young bucks hustling for their big break. Anyway, she said something about making lemonade out of lemons and then pointed out that all this drama and tension would make for excellent television. I thought she was crazy, but she’s explained a few things to me and, crazy though it might seem, I think this might just work.

If the allocation of funds must be seen to be fair and transparent, then a proper competition is the only way to do it. Putting it on TV solves the transparency issue and by including the public we can really engage the taxpayer and highlight the quality of the research being done. Just think, a primetime show on a Saturday evening (just after Dr Who, that’ll be good for ratings) dedicated to showing the very best in scholarly thinking, transformed into ferocious competition! The scientists can lose their lab coat image and the humanities can forever dispel the image of them being nothing but a bunch of pipe smoking sandal and socks wearing hippies. Anyway, I’m going to leave it to my cousin to explain the details of the format. Biddy, over to you.

Best

Phil

Professor Philip Swallow

Vice Chancellor

University of Rumsbridge

Si credidisti mihi te vendere pontem

Via our Freedom of Information Act request, we’ve been able to obtain the rest of this intriguing conversation.

FROM: b.baxter@manchester.bbc.co.uk

TO: topknight@rustle.co.uk

CC: p.swallow@urum.ac.uk

SUBJECT: Re: Cunning Plan Proposed TV show format…

Dear Sir Godber,

(Thanks Phil) As my cousin has stated, I think that there are real possibilities here to really showcase the best of UK academia. As you may be aware, we at the BBC have a good track record in converting fusty old content into award-winning, audience-share-dominating, money-spinning franchises. Just look at what we did with Strictly Come Dancing We see an opportunity to relaunch another old favorite show from the 70’s and 80’s, bringing it right up-to-date by pitting university departments against each other in a weekly competition.

No, I’m not talking about University Challenge. That’s far too cerebral for a Saturday evening. We need something that’s much more physical, where the contestants academics face a number of challenges that test other aspects of their abilities.

The Format:

Each week, teams from each of the university departments seeking to access the funds, would be trained by a team of various celebrities from the world of sport. One celebrity per department team. The aim would be to give them the skills needed to compete effectively in the main show on Saturday evening, and we’ll be doing short shows online and on BBC 3 and 4 during the week. This will build up buzz and also allow each department to talk about the impact their work brings to UK PLC and so on. The teams will need to come up with easily identifiable names. A well chosen team name, perhaps playing on the nature of the department, can work wonders with the public. They do like a good pun.

On Saturday evening, each team will have to complete a series of physical games, typically comprising a bit of problem-solving, whilst fighting off the attempts of the other departments to interfere. Each team will have to wear a variety of costumes, typically these will be themed to match the nature of the game in question. Points will be awarded for speed of completion, as well as technical ability and ‘style’. The team that scores the most points over the course of the show will get their department the largest proportion of the funds available for article processing charges. Then funds can be allocated according to how the departments rank. We think there’s a great opportunity for the general public to allocate “joker” points to a team by phoning a hotline (We can split the revenue here between the university and ourselves) with the team that gets the most phone votes doubling their points score.

Now this sorts out how the block grant is allocated within each university, but we can go further. The winning team from each round can then go into a series of further knockout rounds where they will be competing against the winners from the other universities. We can use those competitions to allocate the block grant across the Universities. I think on reflection, you’ll agree that this solves a number of tricky issues with regard to allocating the block grant fairly ACROSS the universities as each year, the next year’s money allocation is up for grabs.

Although the method of allocating funds for article processing charges is unique to the UK, we still think there are many opportunities to franchise out this concept to other markets.

I welcome your thoughts.

Regards

Joan Maureen Baxter, Producer BBC

BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Pl, London W1A 1AA

There’s more…

FROM: topknight@rustle.co.uk

TO: b.baxter@manchester.bbc.co.uk; p.swallow@urum.ac.uk

SUBJECT: Re: Cunning Plan Proposed TV show format…

Are you serious?! You propose to use the hallowed halls of academe as feedstock to re-launch It’s a Knockout? It’s preposterous I mean just look at it! You do remember It’s a Knockout don’t you?

Even if I thought it was a good idea, there’s no way the Vice Chancellors would go for it, let alone the heads of department! This is crazy.

FROM: p.swallow@urum.ac.uk

TO: topknight@rustle.co.uk; b.baxter@manchester.bbc.co.uk

CC:

SUBJECT: Re: Cunning Plan Proposed TV show format…

Gobbers, Gobbers, Gobbers,

Look, let’s face it, mendacity, back stabbing, deceit and general treachery aren’t exactly strange bedfellows to our learned scholars are they? There’s not a single one of ’em who wouldn’t revel in the misfortunes of another department and work like crazy to make it happen, given half a chance. I’ve been having a quiet word with a few of the other VCs and they quite fancy the idea of getting their own back on more than one head of department. Just picture the scene . . .

“It’s an Institutional Knockout! In this episode the “Black Country Alchemists” from the Chemistry Department at the University of Rumsbridge square off against the Medieval Studies group “Hung Drawn and Quartered”, The High Energy Physics Group “The Unlicensed Nuclear Accelerators” and The Philosophy Department “Very Rarely Stable” to see who gets the cash prize of £1600 each and a chance to get their department’s papers published. Who will win? Who will get their department’s academic aspirations quenched with the careful application of a water cannon to their ambition. We’ll find out in 5 rounds of combat over the next 45 minutes!”

You and both know that right now, it’s going to be carnage sorting out how the money gets allocated. It’ll be like fight club but without the rules. There will be letters to the THE, someone will shoot off their mouth in ‘Comment is Free’ at the Guardian, or worse they’ll get Monbiot to write one of his ‘special’ articles like the one he did that set the cat amongst the publishers (I quite enjoyed that one actually, as hatchet jobs go, it was well thrown). Worst case scenario, The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee will invite a few of us over for a light grilling in front of the cameras. It’s nothing but trouble I tell you. Look, all the academics have got to demonstrate ‘impact’ anyway, it’s written into the HEFCE assessment framework. We do this right, we can put UK Academia front and centre across the nation.

When Oxbridge start whinging about how they deserve even more of the funding, we can tell ’em to go away and bring a bunch of ringers into their teams next time around, like they do in the rowing. It’ll be honest, it’ll be fair, it’ll be funny! You know I’m right.

TTFN

Phil

Professor Philip Swallow

Vice Chancellor

University of Rumsbridge

Ego diligo eam, cum consilium coaequantur

FROM: topknight@rustle.co.uk

TO: b.baxter@manchester.bbc.co.uk; p.swallow@urum.ac.uk

CC:

SUBJECT: Re: Cunning Plan Proposed TV show format…

I see your point Phil. Crazy as it seems, I can’t really fault the logic of your argument. We’d better put this to the rest of the Rustle group. Ms Baxter, I trust you can put together an appropriate presentation? Phil, you’d better let me know who you’ve already sounded out about this. 

Best

Godber

Sir Godber Evans

Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the Rustle Group

PS: what about the theme tune? The Whipped Cream Brass Band – Tijuana Taxi (as made famous by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass)

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David Smith

David Smith

David Smith is a frood who knows where his towel is, more or less. He’s also the Head of Product Solutions for The IET. Previously he has held jobs with ‘innovation’ in the title and he is a lapsed (some would say failed) scientist with a publication or two to his name.

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Discussion

4 Thoughts on "BBC Contemplating Reality TV Show to Decide How Research Councils UK Block Grants Are Dispersed"

Very funny, But really, wouldn’t a Dragons Den style format where authors ‘pitch’ their papers to the fund-holding administrators – or the general public via telephone vote be a great idea?!

Thank you! Now to your suggestion. It also has its merits, however I feel that comically large footwear and silly costumes win by the tiniest of margins 😉

Comments are closed.