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The Russell Group - Who are they?
You may have heard about Russell Group universities. But what and who are they and why are they different from other HE institutions?
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The Russell Group

The following article details information about the Russell Group, what it is, how and when it started and its on impact higher education in the UK.

What is the Russell Group?

The Russell Group is the name given to the top 24 research universities in the UK. It derives its name from the original group of institutions that met in the Russell Hotel in Russell Square in London. The group comprises of the institutions of Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Imperial College London, Kings College London, Leeds, Liverpool, London School of Economics, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen Mary University of London, Queen's University Belfast, Sheffield, Southampton, University College London, Warwick and York.

The original group was created in 1994 with Cardiff and King's College joining in 1998, Queen's University in 2006 and Durham, Exeter, Queen Mary and York in 2012. Its main aim is to promote its constituent members by raising their profile thus making sure they attract the most research funding and therefore maximising income etc. It also aims to act as a central point for these institutions to lobby government and make sure their voice is heard.

At present some two thirds of all university research funding ends up with Russell Group institutions. Much of this comes from Government. In relation to their total income, many of them, Oxford and Cambridge in particular, are very adept at raising funding from other sources as well e.g. industry and income from endowments. In fact the total income (including research income) for all universities in the group is in the billions each year. That's not to say that they are happy with their lot. Some (again including Oxford and Cambridge in particular) are calling to be allowed to set their own tuition fees in order to raise income even further, rather than have to settle for the maximum £9000 which is allowed in England at this time (2014).

Many of the group (which are highly regarded around the world) believe that they are being disadvantaged when trying to compete against the American Ivy League universities such as Havard, Princeton and Yale, because of the limits on what they are able to charge UK students each year. Competition to get into a Russell Group institution can be very high. Because of their cache they can command a premium in relation to UCAS points over other universities in the UK.

Critics of the Russell Group

Although the Russell Group of universities are highly regarded and have no doubt been a very effective aide to the economy of the UK, there are some who question their dominance of research income. Also there is an ongoing debate about the make up of the student body that is admitted to these institutions. For many the numbers of students that have attended either private or selective schools going to Russell Group universities is too high. They claim this is not helping social mobility in the country and needs to be addressed. The reason for this is that because of the competition to gain entry to the group's institutions, the results required in relation to UCAS points tends to be achieved mostly by students who go to the types of schools mentioned above. Many Russell Group institutions do have targets to admit those from less advantageous background, but often these targets are missed.

What are the benefits of the Russell Group for students?

There is no question that going to a Russell Group institution has its advantages.
For many students who wish to really become immersed into their study, going to an institution that is renowned for research will have its benefits. Access to some of the best minds in what ever field it happens to be as well as the latest equipment and in many cases a much better ratio of tutors to student, will allow an undergraduate to get the most from their three or four years of study.

Following on from this, those looking at going onto postgraduate study may very well be in a advantageous position because of their undergraduate experience at one of these institutions or even if they decide to move elsewhere when it becomes known where they have studied their degree. However probably the main benefit for many students is that many of the top companies that visit universities as part of the 'milk round' process (attending graduate recruitment fairs) will automatically choose Russell Group institutions first before going anywhere else. For those undergraduates looking to secure a place on a coveted graduate training scheme, studying at one of these universities is a real advantage.

The only game in town?
So, is Russell Group the be all and end all of Higher Education study? Certainly not. There are many other institutions that provide a great student experience as well as support them into a great career. Because despite large companies and organisations seemingly preferring Russel Group, many are far more open to other institutions. For example the 1994 group of institutions (now defunct as a formal group) such as Essex, Sussex, Loughborough and Leicester, although attracting much smaller research funds, are still extremely well respected in their various fields amongst academics and companies alike. Furthermore many of these universities will require lower (but only slightly in many cases) UCAS points to gain a place.

Also it needs to be remembered that for many professions, a particular degree is required that may be provided by non Russell Group institutions. Therefore choice is automatically expanded beyond the 24 universities that make up the group. There are also specialised academic areas such as Art and Design, Music etc where smaller institutions are a much better bet than some of the enormous Russel Group places of learning such as Manchester and Nottingham.

Lastly there are many reasons to go to university - getting a good job at the end of your study is obviously one. But also there is the experience to enjoy and appreciate. There are over 200 institutions of higher education in the UK, and definitely one to suite everyone.

Article - The Russell Group