This paper reports on recent research aimed at assessing how the management of the undergraduate student experience in English higher education is changing in the light of the new tuition fee regime introduced in 2012, as well as other government policies aimed at creating market-type pressures within the higher education sector. A distinction was observed between the research-intensive universities studied – defined here as institutions where research income comprised 20 per cent or more of total turnover, with correspondingly strong positions in published research-based rankings – and universities largely dependent on income from teaching, with weaker market positions. Broadly speaking, the latter group were responding to market pressures by centralizing services, standardizing procedures, and strengthening management controls over teaching processes. The research-intensive universities tended to work within existing institutional cultures to respond to students' needs. Organizational change here usually took the form of creating more coherent functional groupings of student services, rather than comprehensive reorganizations. It appears to us that these different responses to a changed environment point to the creation of two distinct English university types, one strongly managerial with 'student as customer' orientations, and a smaller group with less centralized, more collegial cultures.