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Are there distinctive clusters of higher and lower status universities in the UK?

Boliver, V. (2015) 'Are there distinctive clusters of higher and lower status universities in the UK?', Oxford review of education., 41 (5). pp. 608-627.


In 1992 the binary divide between universities and polytechnics was dismantled to create a nominally unitary system of higher education for the UK. Just a year later, the first UK university league table was published, and the year after that saw the formation of the Russell Group of self-proclaimed ‘leading’ universities. This paper asks whether there are distinctive clusters of higher and lower status universities in the UK, and, in particular, whether the Russell Group institutions can be said to constitute a distinctive elite tier. Cluster analysis of publicly available data on the research activity, teaching quality, economic resources, academic selectivity, and socioeconomic student mix of UK universities demonstrates that the former binary divide persists with Old (pre-1992) universities characterised by higher levels of research activity, greater wealth, more academically successful and socioeconomically advantaged student intakes, but similar levels of teaching quality, compared to New (post-1992) institutions. Among the Old universities, Oxford and Cambridge emerge as an elite tier, whereas the remaining 22 Russell Group universities appear to be undifferentiated from the majority of other Old universities. A division among the New universities is also evident, with around a quarter of New universities forming a distinctive lower tier.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Cluster analysis, Differentiation, Higher education, Russell Group universities.
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Publisher statement:This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Oxford Review of Education on 30/09/2015, available online at:
Date accepted:22 March 2015
Date deposited:31 March 2015
Date of first online publication:30 September 2015
Date first made open access:30 March 2017

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