Go back

Farewell 1994 Group

Champion of smaller, research-intensive universities bows out as remaining mission groups consider taking on its members

The dissolution of the 1994 Group has led to speculation about who will stand up for smaller, research-intensive universities in the UK, with the University Alliance of business-focused institutions showing some interest.

The 1994 Group’s board announced in a statement on 8 November that its time had reached a natural end. “As institutions we have expanded and changed over time to the point where the need for the group as originally constituted no longer exists,” the statement said.

The group lost eight members last year, of which four went to the Russell Group of larger, research-intensive universities. The remaining 11 members pledged to stay until a policy objective had been established, with much debate about moving from a research focus to a ‘student experience’ focus. A relaunch was expected this autumn.

Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University, is concerned that the dissolution of the group leaves smaller, research-intensive universities without a group to lobby for them. “They definitely do still need a voice,” he argues, adding that such universities are disproportionately disadvantaged by the concentration of research funding. “The smaller institutions and newer institutions have always lost out.”

Libby Hackett, chief executive of the University Alliance, hints that the group may seek to scoop up former 1994 Group members. The alliance, which comprises universities described as research active rather than research intensive, could develop a “wider spectrum of research intensity”, she says.

However, Ron Barnett, emeritus professor of higher education at the Institute of Education, which was a member of the 1994 Group, says he would be “staggered” if members migrated to the University Alliance. “Clearly the powerful networks lie with the Russell Group,” he says. A Russell Group spokesman says that membership is by invitation only and that there are no plans in place to invite further members.

Paul Wellings, vice-chancellor at the University of Wollongong in Australia and chairman of the 1994 Group from 2009 to 2011, says that university mission groups are less relevant today than they were 19 years ago, when the 1994 Group was set up. The body’s decision to close “could be a sign of things to come”, he speculates, adding that such a scenario would leave vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK as the obvious player in university lobbying. But UUK will “need to be more assertive on issues such as research policy and the student experience”, he says.

Barnett says it’s hard to predict what role UUK could have in the future, and that the ongoing turmoil in the higher education market is likely to force changes in the group. He offers the forthcoming review of tuition fees as an example of something that may create tension between vice-chancellors. “Under those circumstances UUK will become a different kind of animal,” he says, “or face some internal questions about its continuation.”

Brown, however, says he does not believe that UUK will be able to address the issues specific to the former 1994 Group members. “They missed that opportunity 20 years ago,” he says. The end of the 1994 Group means that UUK now has more non-aligned than aligned members, by 67 to 65, whereas it previously had some two-thirds of members aligned to a mission group.

Hackett agrees that UUK is an unlikely candidate for lobbying on behalf of former 1994 Group members, but says it is valuable as a body to speak for all of higher education, “particularly on immigration”.

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of post-1992 universities, says a range of mission groups is needed. The Russell Group has a “dominant brand” that risks creating “further inequity for students and undermining the case for the wider distribution of resources for translational research”, she says.

UUK’s chief executive did not wish to comment on changes among mission groups. In addition, neither the 1994 Group nor its chief executive Alex Bols wished to comment beyond the group’s final statement.