The purpose of this paper is to examine the possibility of measuring efficiency in the context of higher education. The paper begins by exploring the advantages and drawbacks of the various methods for measuring efficiency in the higher education context. The ease with which data envelopment analysis (DEA) can handle multiple inputs and multiple outputs makes it an attractive choice of technique for measuring the efficiency of higher education institutions (HEIs), yet its drawbacks cannot be ignored. Thus, a number of extensions to the methodology, designed to overcome some of the disadvantages, are presented. The paper ends with an application of DEA to a data set of more than 100 HEIs in England using data for the year 2000/01. Technical and scale efficiency in the English higher education sector appear to be high on average. The Pastor, Ruiz, and Sirvent [2002. Operations Research, 50(4), 728-735] test for comparing nested DEA models is useful in reducing the full model to a smaller 'significant' set of inputs and outputs. Thus, the quantity and quality of undergraduates, the quantity of postgraduates, expenditure on administration, and the value of interest payments and depreciation are significant inputs to, and the quantity and quality of undergraduate degrees, the quantity of postgraduate degrees and research are significant outputs in the English higher education production process. The possibility of differences in the production frontier (and hence the distribution of efficiencies) of three distinct groups of HEIs is explored using a test proposed by Charnes, Cooper, and Rhodes [1981. Management Science, 27(6), 668-697] but no significant differences are found. Bootstrapping procedures, however, suggest that differences between the most and least efficient English HEIs are significant.