Higher education systems are caught between two dynamic processes, one referring to economic value and the other to status value. Although these political rationalities are presented as part of a coherent programme of reform and 'modernization', they pull higher education systems and the actors within them in contradictory directions. Their impact can collectively be referred to as research selectivity, since these rationalities encompass both research performativity and institutional practices of recognition and reward and subjective strategies. In this paper, we first aim to map the dominant orientations of higher education studies research and how they reflect the relationship between neoliberalism and the restructuring of higher education systems and research infrastructure. Our reading shows that this is a significant context for inquiring into research selectivity as it is enacted and, at the same time, suggests that we need to pay attention to the privileging of existing centres of higher education research and the relative absence of sustained focus on research selectivity in the non-core regions of Europe. Secondly, the paper puts forward the case for a sustained research agenda that focuses specifically on the identification of the differential impact of processes of research selectivity in non-core regions of Europe, organized around three intersecting themes - linguistic, epistemological, and disciplinary impact. Arguing for the importance and relevance of this research agenda for empirical research in Europe and globally, the paper emphasizes that its main objective is to create a critical space within which we can, collectively, think higher education otherwise.