Mission Groups, Labels, and Getting Tough on HE

Now that the Russell Group has officially welcomed Durham, Exeter, Queen Mary UoL, and York to its list of member institutions, it’s worth revisiting a 2009 Times Higher Education piece about mission groups:

“…Michael Arthur, head of the Russell Group, argued that giving research money to universities other than the 25-30 top institutions amounted to funding ‘mediocrity’. He said that 90 per cent of research funding should be concentrated on this elite: giving any more to the rest would ‘come at a price’.”

There are now 24 universities in the Russell Group, ever so close to the 25-30 mentioned by Michael Arthur.

These aren’t automatically the top 24 institutions, especially as the diversity and purposes of HE increases. However, the collective influence of these institutions will no doubt dominate proceedings when it comes to research.

The timing in welcoming four new members to the Russell Group is important and will surely serve to strengthen their approach over the coming months and years.

Also worth noting from the THE piece is a remark made by Marie-Elisabeth Deroche-Miles at University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne:

“My prediction is that the fiercer the competition becomes between higher education institutions in the current market context, the more outspoken their various representatives are going to be.”

Increasingly aggressive higher ed?

Another question is whether or not we’re ‘all in this together’. Which type of university sounds most accurate:

  • ‘the’ university;
  • ‘this’ university;
  • ‘our’ university?

In considering this, it’s useful to quote Ronald Barnett from his recent book, “Being A University“:

“So the university has its own being, independently of its members. It is not that ‘the university is its members and its members are the university’. To the contrary, the corporate university is fashioned as an entity distinct from its members. That is its point. The old-style research university was ‘loosely coupled’ (Clark, 1983: 17): its members saw little in common among themselves and their relationship with their university was semi-detached. Their loyalty lay towards their discipline (Becher, 1989). The typical academic might know better and feel more connection with other researchers in his or her discipline on the other side of the world than with an academic in another discipline in the same university, even in the same building. So the corporate university is a vehicle through which to develop collective ties. Now, in the corporate university, every member of staff can –or should– feel themselves to be a part of the same enterprise.” [pages 50-51]

Do umbrella mission groups make a difference to where individuals and/or institutions place themselves? Are we to refer to ‘the corporate mission group’, or something completely different?

photo by Christi Nielsen

How are you labelled, how is a university labelled, and how is a mission group labelled? (photo by Christi Nielsen)


  1. Every University likes to point to a small area of research where they have been judged as “best in the country” or “one of the top in the country”. “Excellence” (and let’s ignore the wider ontological issues here) is far more widely spread than the Russell Group likes to make out.

    1. And who, under that remit, would like to suggest anything other than broad-brush excellence?

      Ignore the wider ontological issues…Us? Never!

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