I was apprehensive when considering whether to write this post because I am aware that it would be incredibly easy for someone to see this as a bitter response from a Russell Group reject, instead of someone accepting this as a legitimate commentary. To be fair, it is both. If I had not missed the grades for my two Russell Group choices and ended up at an old polytechnic, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post. But even in that parallel universe this post would still need to be written, so I’m glad I get to be the one writing it.
In 1992 former poly’s and “Central Institutions” were granted university status. These institutions became known as “New Universities” and helped to deliver the mass higher education that we know and love today. In a 2012 Guardian article Peter Scott wrote that twenty years of New Universities was supposed to be “an occasion for celebration” but instead it is “clouded by condescension verging on hostility.”
This 20 year old divide between old and new universities still exists today. When picking my choices I myself ignored any universities that weren’t Russell Group universities, all pre-1992. This is because I, like many others, deemed non-Russell Group uni’s and New Universities as less respectable and not worthwhile.
So basically I was part of the problem. My first choice was 42nd in the country for my course, but that didn’t matter to me because I knew – and, more importantly, everyone else knew – that it was a “good” uni. This was obviously a dumb af decision. So I ask you this: when did the name of the university become more important than the ranking of your individual subject/field? When did the league tables decide to take into account “reputation”? The league tables themselves should decide the reputation, that is the point of them, is it not?
Stick with me now, I’m getting to the point…
These universities having the esteem that they do would not be an issue if they were consistently the best universities in the country and top of the league tables – but that’s all starting to change. For example, you might have seen in the 2018 Guardian University League Tables that Liverpool Hope University has actually overtaken it’s neighbour, The University Of Liverpool. Naturally this embarrassing for any “Uni Of”, even my boyfriend said that if Coventry overtake Warwick in the league tables he will kill himself (gotta love him haha what a charmer).
But this isn’t a fluke. Heriott Watt, one of the many universities in Edinburgh and previously a technical college, has overtaken the Uni Of Edinburgh. Other New Universities are rising through the ranks too: Falmouth University placed 21st in 2017 rankings and the University for Creative Arts placed 21st in 2018. Both are previous Central Institutions.
Furthermore, Russell Group universities have taken a hit recently with the controversial Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) awards. London School of Economics, Liverpool and Southampton only managed to bag a bronze award (the lowest award available) while New Universities like Nottingham Trent and Coventry (humble brag) achieved gold awards.
So why do these previously great universities seem like they’re doing… well, not so great? Perhaps it is not because these respectable universities have declined in quality at all, but that the New Universities are just trying so hard to be noticed that they are growing and advancing at twice the speed. While Russell Group universities have their prestigious names to fall back on the names of New Universities are actually their curse, and they are working hard to overcome that.
I have written this post because I want people to take a chance on New Universities. In that 2012 Guardian article Peter Scott said that the current attitude in higher education is towards “so-easy-to-decode ‘differentiation’.” Don’t follow this attitude. Don’t look down on former poly’s and new uni’s, not only because you reinforce an unfair divide, but because before you know it they might be overtaking your uni in the league tables.
Disclaimer: the league table placements referenced are solely The Guardian University Guide league tables, 2017 and 2018, and I understand that other university league tables may differ slightly but this is my article and right now I don’t care.