The 1994 Group, the somewhat overshadowed little brother of the Russell Group, has recently disbanded after a 19 year long run. The group’s dissolution is unfortunate but to be expected after dwindling membership in recent years.
After York, Durham, Exeter and Queen Mary recently departed to join the Russell Group in 2012 and then another four universities took their leave soon after – the membership went from 19 to 11 in around a year. Many may argue that the group’s long term existence has always been in question as it has been in the shadow of the prestigious Russell Group, the ‘Ivy League’ of British higher education institutions.
Its dissolution in many ways is regrettable, smaller universities need a means by which they can represent their interests. Presenting a united front gives them power, particular in an era of huge fees, massive changes and spending cuts. However, I have my doubts as to whether the idea of university groups is the best way to go about this.
The 160 universities currently existing in the UK need to stay together to present a united front against a government that does not seem to see the value in spending on higher education. In Europe they see greater value in higher education compared to the UK, and choose to spend much larger percentages of their budgets upon it.
The division of universities into ‘elite’ groups is in many ways detrimental to the system overall, as they cannot comprehensively lobby for change to improve the whole system The entire concept of a group of “elite universities” is outdated; they should be viewed as unique entities with their own strengths and weaknesses, all catering to different audiences and abilities.
The UK has moved on immensely from the time when the concepts behind the Russell Group evolved. It was a time where only half of today’s institutions and academic disciplines existed, only a small and usually very privileged percentage of the population went to university and vocational study in a university setting did not really exist as a concept. The plurality of institutions should be embraced and, in my opinion, a high profile group of ‘elite universities’ is demeaning to all involved.
Though I do think that representation in the form of groups has the potential to be extremely beneficial, institutions like the 1994 Group are not the best way to go about it. Subdividing universities into smaller groups is not good in the long term and merely fosters unnecessary rivalry where there should be friendship and collaboration. The Russell Group may function as a badge of quality for the institutions which it represents, and it may help them attract and reassure top students, but on the whole universities need to progress into the modern age and work as a combined whole for the good of everyone involved and trying to separate them into formal tiers and ‘elite groups’ helps none of us.