Fresh blood an option after year of heavy losses

Remaining 1994 Group members meet for first time after mass departures. John Morgan reports

December 13, 2012

The admission of new members is likely to be on the table for the 1994 Group as its dozen remaining universities hold their first board meeting since a damaging spate of departures.

Vice-chancellors from the group of small research-intensive universities meet on 13 December.

The 1994 Group has lost seven members in 2012: four to the Russell Group in August (the universities of Durham, Exeter and York, along with Queen Mary, University of London) and three in the autumn that decided to become non-aligned institutions (the universities of Bath, St Andrews and Surrey).

Following the departures, there were suggestions that the mission group could be wound up in its current form.

The departures were preceded by divisions within the group as to whether it should adopt an identity closer to that of the Russell Group (a position taken by many of the departees) or forge a more distinct brand focused on articulating that its universities offer a superior student experience to many large research-intensives (a popular position among remaining members).

It now appears that the group has become more settled and will issue its first public statement about its future since the second set of departures. That statement is expected to be an affirmation of the mission group's worth by its remaining members, focusing on the value it adds to the sector.

There will be no immediate name change for the group, although the option has not been ruled out.

The admission of new members is thought to be under discussion, although no deals have been done.

Institutions currently not aligned with any mission group include the universities of Aberdeen and Kent.

Heriot-Watt University has expressed an interest in joining the 1994 Group in the past.

Entry criteria

A spokesman for the mission group said: "Members assess each possibility on a case-by-case basis and look for a demonstrable record and commitment to research and student experience excellence."

Institutional size and subject mix are also taken into account, he added.

Aberystwyth University left the University Alliance this year but said it is "not currently seeking membership of any group".

April McMahon, the university's vice-chancellor, noted in a December 2011 board paper (the month before Aberystwyth left the group): "If we were to consider leaving the Alliance, we would, in the first instance at least, become a non-aligned university."

She noted that it is "certainly true that membership of a mission group provides access to relevant updates on policy issues, and an avenue for accessing and potentially influencing government".

But she added that this could also be gained via Universities UK, Higher Education Wales "or by direct lobbying (and it is fair to say that, despite having several Welsh members, the focus of the Alliance tends to be very English)".

Meanwhile, Lancaster University has been pinpointed by some as the most likely remaining 1994 Group member to consider leaving. A Lancaster spokeswoman said its position remained that it had no "immediate plans to leave the 1994 Group".

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