Lost in house of mirrors

April 10, 2014

Sir David Watson is right about the divisive effect of the “Russellers” (“‘Russellers’ are not all they claim, senior scholar warns”, 3 April). While there is something boorishly predictable about a group of wealthy and privileged institutions inaccurately claiming that they represent the best, what is particularly pernicious is the way that this has been enshrined within public performance measures.

Since 2012, the Department for Education has required schools and colleges to provide statistics of the proportion of their pupils gaining places at Russell Group universities. This has shifted the Russell Group from a broad synonym for research-led universities (of which very few people could accurately list all its members) to a specific measure of quality. This puts pressure on schools and colleges to push their students to attend these institutions, even though being located at a Russell Group university tells us little about the quality of the courses they will study. That this has happened with so little outcry speaks volumes for the way that the Russell Group has dominated public discourse about the quality of universities; a dominance that damagingly distorts perceptions of where an excellent undergraduate education can be found.

Paul Ashwin
Centre for Higher Education Research and Evaluation
Lancaster University

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