Woxbridge tops the tables

So the Guardian produced their 2010 who’s who of universities last week, and guess what – Warwick moved up a rank to come third after Oxford and Cambridge. This not bad for a university built in the middle of a field in the 1960s, whose nearest urban sprawl is Coventry (let that be no disparagement to Coventry by the way – we have heard they have great Kebab shops).

In the 60s, to say you were a Warwick student was to receive the question, “Er, what was that?” Now, having risen to the upper bracket of the league tables… well, the question from most people is still the same. The inferiority complex that comes from not being an ‘old’ university is still alive and beating in every Warwick student’s chest as they sit down to write their CV.

But no matter, we are well on our way to international prestige. Take our own Nigel Thrift, who went on a good-will mission to Miami a few months ago. Hopefully, he did it in order to raise Warwick’s importance on the international stage, rather than to take the opportunity for a free holiday.

Although we are a comfortable 58th in the QS world rankings, we still have a long way to go before we reach the dizzying heights of the Ivory Towers.

And so it came to be that Thrift released a statement in 2009, which is rather akin to Kim Jong Il in its ambitious tone: “National pre-eminence is no longer enough. We have set our sights on making Warwick a universally acknowledged world centre of higher education by 2015, firmly in the top 50 of world universities.”

Clearly, this is no declaration of a nuclear weapons program. He did, however, bring out the big guns of a corporate, hard economics-orientated approach to running universities, which he believes we need in order to rise up the international league tables.

When he claims the “need to reinvigorate that unique mixture of entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to absolute academic excellence,” it has implications for departments in the university. Our coverage of the Life Sciences merger included critics who believed that the slashing of the departments was not motivated by a fear of debt, but by a motivation to make money. Similarly, people criticised the cutting of the Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies department as less to do with the students and more about the corporate approach of the university administration.

Clearly, with the graduate job market being as depressing as it is, it does us good to be rising up in the national and international rankings. Warwick, at the number three in the country, has already received many accolades on the internet, with Facebook groups opining that there is no Oxbridge anymore, the proper term is ‘Woxbridge’. Quite.

Hyperbole aside, the serious question is, do we sacrifice learning and student fulfilment in order to climb up the greasy pole of university rankings? Or has that decision already been made for us?

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