Russell Group Universities

The Russell Group is a collection of 24 British public universities, including the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh, that are committed to the highest standards of academic excellence in both teaching and research.

It is a term you may have heard your school teachers or friends talk about, or mentioned on websites while narrowing down your university choices.

However you’ve come across it, you may be wondering exactly what this Russell Group is all about and why it’s special.

Established in 1994, they receive around two thirds of all university research grant and contract income in the UK.

A majority of the members are leading universities, making applications to these particular institutions more competitive.

Why is it called The Russell Group?

It’s actually named after the Russell Hotel in Russell Square, London – this is because the first informal meetings of the group took place here.

Why was it formed?

The members wanted to represent their collective interests to the government and other similar bodies. It has the following objectives:

  • power the UK’s research progress
  • increase income for its members
  • recruit the best staff and students to its members
  • reduce government intervention in order to create an environment where it can achieve these objectives
  • find avenues of co-operation to exploit their collaborative advantage

Which universities are members of The Russell Group?

20 are from England, 2 from Scotland, 1 from Wales and 1 from Northern Ireland. The current members of the Russell Group are:

Russell Group university rankings for 2020

The Guardian has an interactive guide to university rankings where you can filter by the region where you want to go to university and the subject you want to study.

The table includes all of the top universities in the UK, but please be aware that they are not all in the Russell Group.

Although many of the UK’s top-ranked universities are part of the Russell Group, there are other non-member institutions that are also highly respected and rank among the best in the world.

The following UK universities are ranked firmly among the world’s top 200 (in the THE or the QS rankings) but are not members of the Russell Group:

What are the benefits of studying at a Russell Group university?

Between them, Russell Group universities are awarded two thirds of all UK research grants and contract income.  This places them at the cutting edge of research, and many new discoveries and innovations take place at Russell Group institutions. 

This particularly benefits students undertaking research themselves as part of a final year or postgraduate degree dissertation, but some people believe that students of such universities enjoy a higher overall standard of teaching as well. 

Russell Group universities also boast higher than average student satisfaction and a lower dropout rate.  

In terms of graduate employment, recruiters tend to target Russell Group members when visiting universities, and many members run schemes such as the University of Leeds’ 'Leeds for Life’ programme, which are designed to make graduates ready for the world of work by the time they finish their studies.

Do I need to go to a Russell Group university to get a good degree?

No, and although they're great, they're certainly not the be-all and end-all. Not all of the top-ranked UK universities are in the group, including St Andrews and Bath universities, even though both are in the top 10 UK universities for 2020.

Remember that member universities set up the group itself. This is partly why they have continued to be so successful, as they have been able to join together to put pressure on the government about things that matter to them.

You might find that there are universities that better suit your needs, depending on the course and subject you want to study, and what you're looking for from teaching, student life, accommodation and other things that are important to you.

Take a look at choosing a university guide for more advice, and don't forget that there is now a degree apprenticeship option, too.

How do I get into a Russell Group university?

This group of universities usually ask for high A-level/Scottish Higher grades and International Baccalaureate scores.

Generally, you will need to get all A*s and As in your A-levels, and often straight A*s.

Check each university prospectus to find out what their typical offers are for different subjects.

You should also think about taking at least one or even two facilitating subjects at A-level. These could include English, Maths or a foreign language such as French, German or Spanish.

We recommend you follow these general guidelines to maximise your chances of getting into a Russell Group university:

  • Get good grades. That means, if you’re still at school or college, study hard!
  • If your long-term plan is to do a Master’s degree at a Russell Group university, and you still have to do your Bachelor’s degree first, try your best to get into a highly respected institution. That will make things easier for your Master application later on.
  • If possible, get work experience that is somewhat relevant to the subject you plan to study. If you already worked prior to the degree you’re going to apply to, ask your former superior if they would feel inclined to write a short reference letter - that way your experience will stand out even more.
  • Extracurricular activities are always a good way to stand out amongst student applicants. Participate in clubs and societies or do volunteer work for charities. Choose to get involved in something you are passionate about and the admissions tutors will sit up and take notice.

All that is no guarantee to get admitted to a Russell Group university, but if you follow this advice you can definitely help your chances!

For more advice on applying to a top university, take a look at our guide on how to apply to Oxbridge.

What if I don't want to study at a Russell Group university?

While Russell Group universities may be known for their high academic standards, they are by no means the only institutions which can offer you an excellent education. 

What is most important when it comes to choosing a university is that it is a good fit for you – if you are not happy, you are less likely to do well, no matter where you study. 

Depending on which subject you choose to study, you may even benefit more from attending a more modern university – Bournemouth University, for example, is not in the Russell group but its animation and digital effects courses are among the best in the country, and 55 of its graduates were hand-picked to work on James Cameron’s 3D blockbuster, Avatar. 

Similarly, Loughborough University's Creative Arts degrees are frequently ranked within the top 3 in the UK, but again, they are not a part of the Russell Group.

When it comes to finding a job after you graduate, while a degree from a Russell Group university may add something extra to your CV, but what is most important is your skills, experience, and how well you come across at interview. 

Where can I find mout more about Russell Group Universities?

The best place to find out more about these top universities is to visit their individual websites (please see links above). However, you can also find more in-depth information at the following sources:

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying to university, please see: