I was very excited to read today about the elevation of the Universities of York, Durham, Exeter and Queen Mary's to membership of the Russell Group. My excitement was tempered, however, by a concern that RG was beginning to lose its elitist edge. After all, with this move the 94 Group becomes more of a select group than the RG: 94 has a svelte membership of 15 against the morbidly obese RG 24. In fact, the Russell Group is now less selective than the University Alliance (23 members), and only slightly more selective than the Million+ group of post-92 universities (26 members).
It's ironic that, in the year it reaches the age of majority, RG should run to fat so quickly. RG is going to have to start thinking about how to slim down, to regain the trim figure it cut in its prime.
Might I suggest the Fundermental Diet? It comes highly recommended by snobbish institutions the world over, and is remarkably simple. All it needs is for a self-selecting group within its ranks - let's say, for the sake of argument, Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial - to break away and form a 'premier' body. Let's call it the 'Premiership' RG (TM).
This would make total sense. After all, we need to protect the elite from the influence of the riff raff and the hoi polloi. You know, those concretey, provincial johnny-come-latelys. These - sniff - Million Plusers.
But why stop there? There are always a few extra ounces, a few competitors, to shave off. Once the Premiership RG is up and running the case could, nay should, be made for distinguishing between the 'Ancient' Premiership (TM) of Oxford and Cambridge, and the 'Modern' Premiership (TM) of Imperial.
If this distinction isn't made, how will league tables, potential students and funders tell them apart? We need this distinction or all sorts of chaos will ensue. Institutions might be treated equally, with quality research being recognised wherever it is found - and then where would we be?
Yes, these distinctions, these groupings, are very, very important. Ultimately, however, there needs to be a Supreme Champion of Champions, a Summa Cum Laude University, by itself, for itself, standing proud, above the rabble, alone. A touchstone university, that would act as the university against which all universities should be measured. A Premiership RG of one.
But how can we select this RG Sine Pari? Of course, for this we should rely on the tried and tested methods of self-selecting groups the world over. Light up the cigars, boys, and let's fill this room with smoke.