Wednesday, 14 November 2012

No more in '94

A picture, from uossnaps, from before the
1994 Group existed.
Most, but not all, UK universities belong to a so-called "mission group".  The most well-known of these is the Russell Group.  The various groups are self-selected associations of Universities that chose to club together to form lobby groups to promote and defend their interests in a unified way.

The Russell Group formed in 1994 from some rather large and generally older universities.  In response, a selection of smaller universities formed the 1994 Group.  These were essentially most of the pre-1992 universities that were not invited to be part of the Russell Group.  The large number of universities established in 1992 following the conversion of polytechnics to universities then created the lobby groups Million+ and University Alliance.

I think it's fair to say that the Russell Group have been the most successful in creating a brand identity.  Indeed, they have successfully created the impression that they are a kind of premier league of universities in the UK.  I hear parents attending UCAS days talk about the ambition of their children going to a Russell Group university, and hear similar stories from teachers.  Little do people seem to know that these groups are just self-selected lobby groups, and they are buying the hype when they aspire to attend one group over another.  To be fair, to the extent that one takes stock in league tables, then Russell Group universities by and large do well, but I would sooner go to St Andrews or Lancaster (neither in the Russell Group) to study physics than many Russell Group universities.

Perhaps it is because of this general perception that after years of stable membership, things have been changing this year.  First, Durham, York, Exter and Queen Mary left the 1994 group and joined the Russell Group, and then St Andrews, Bath and Surrey left the 1994 group and remain, to the best of my knowledge, unaffiliated.  This means that I am at an unaffiliated university.  I can't imagine that it will change things much for me, or for the Physics Department.  Being a member of the 1994 group was not something I ever heard students or parents talk about when discussion choice of university to study at.  I wonder if the 1994 Group will survive the departures, and whether the unaffiliated universities will suffer anything more than not paying the subscription fees.  Time will tell, I guess.