Education: The secrets of success: how Warwick zoomed into the unofficial Ivy League

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The Independent Online
This is a tale of two universities: Warwick and Sussex. They are the same generation. Both were created on greenfield sites - outside Coventry and Brighton respectively - in the Sixties.

Yet Warwick has zoomed to the top of the unofficial Ivy League while Sussex is stuck in the middle of the pack of traditional universities.

On the ratio of applications to places, Warwick is the more popular. It also does better on most other indices, notably income from industry.

Warwick's identity has been tied up with industry from its early days - and was pilloried for these links in EP Thompson's book Warwick University Ltd. Perhaps it was ahead of its time.

Sussex, by contrast, was a child of its time. It was the trendy university in the Sixties, being attended by the Jay twins, the two mini-skirted daughters of Labour minister Douglas Jay, and it had a reputation in the arts. In fact, it was always rather good at science and has a Nobel Prize winner, the scientist Harry Kroto. However, it has been unable to carve out a distinctive identity for itself.

"We have always had very strong science groups," says acting Vice Chancellor Alasdair Smith. "But our image has never given as much weight to the science side as it should. I guess that's largely to do with our image in the Sixties."

Unlike Warwick, which has concentrated on the areas in which it excels - economics, engineering and mathematics, for example - Sussex has spread itself across a wide range of activities. "Therefore, many of them operate on a smaller scale than comparable universities," says Smith. None the less, the university is planning to build on its science reputation.

One thing it can't do is to change its name. The University of Brighton has been bagged by the former Brighton Poly. But the marketing gurus think Sussex would have benefited from hanging its name on to that of the neighbouring town. As it is, it is named after a county. What do you associate with Sussex apart from the fact that it's below Surrey and the site of the Battle of Hastings?

"If you ask people about Warwick, they have an opinion," says David Roberts, chief executive of Higher Education Information Services Trust. "If you ask them about Sussex, they don't."

Warwick had the nous 35 years ago to think Warwick University would sound better than Coventry University to the market it was aiming at - aspiring middle England. It was after high-achieving, status-oriented families with an international perspective. Ever since it has been clear about its product and its customers.