Russell Group

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Russell Group
Formation 1994
Type Association of United Kingdom-based universities
Headquarters London, United Kingdom
Region served
United Kingdom
Key people
Tim Bradshaw
(Chief Executive)
Anton Muscatelli

The Russell Group is a self-selected association of twenty-four public research universities in the United Kingdom. The group is headquartered in London and was established in 1994 to represent its members' interests, principally to government and parliament; nineteen smaller British research universities formed the 1994 Group in response, which was disbanded in 2013.[1] In 2010, Russell Group members received approximately two-thirds of all university research grant and contract income in the United Kingdom.[2] The group is widely perceived as representing some of the best universities in the country.[3]

Russell Group members award 60% of all doctorates gained in the United Kingdom,[4] and over 30% of all students studying in the United Kingdom from outside the EU.[2] In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, 68% of world-leading (4*) research and 68% of research with an outstanding (4*) impact was carried out in Russell Group universities.[5]

The Russell Group is so named because the first informal meetings of the Group took place at the Hotel Russell in Russell Square, London. Meetings generally take place shortly before meetings of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (now Universities UK) in nearby Tavistock Square, close to the University of London buildings and, particularly, Senate House.[6]


The Russell Group was formed in 1994 by 17 British research universities – Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Imperial College London, Leeds, Liverpool, London School of Economics, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield, Southampton, University College London and Warwick. In 1998 Cardiff University and King's College London joined the group.[7] In March 2001 the Russell Group decided against selecting a preferred option for the future funding of higher education, stating that endowments, a graduate contribution, increased public funding and top-up fees should all remain options.[8] In December 2005 it was announced that the Russell Group would be appointing its first full-time director-general as a result of a planned expansion of its operations, including commissioning and conducting its own policy research.[9] In November 2006 Queen's University Belfast was admitted as the twentieth member of the group.[10] In the same month Wendy Piatt, the then deputy director in the Prime Minister's strategy unit, was announced as the group's new Director General and chief executive.[10]

In March 2012 it was announced that four universities – Durham, Exeter, Queen Mary University of London; and York – would become members of the Russell Group in August of the same year.[6] All of the new members had previously been members of the 1994 Group of British universities.[6]

In January 2013 it was announced that the Russell Group would establish an academic board to advise the English exams watchdog Ofqual on the content of A-Levels.[11]



The Russell Group states that its objectives are to:

  • lead the research efforts of the United Kingdom;
  • maximise the income of its member institutions;
  • attract the best staff and students to its member institutions;
  • create a regulatory environment in which it can achieve these objectives by reducing government interference; and
  • identify ways to co-operate to exploit the universities' collaborative advantage.[2]

It works towards these objectives by lobbying the UK government and parliament; commissioning reports and research; creating a forum in which its member institutions can discuss issues of common concern; and identify opportunities for them to work together.


The Russell Group is led by Chief Executive Dr Tim Bradshaw and chaired by Prof Sir Anton Muscatelli, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow.


The Russell Group currently has twenty four members,[12] of which twenty are from England, two from Scotland, and one from each of Wales and Northern Ireland. Of the English members, five are from Greater London; three from the Yorkshire and the Humber region; two from each of the North East, North West, West Midlands, South West and South East regions; and one from each of the East Midlands and East regions. Four Russell Group members are constituent colleges of the University of London and a fifth London institution, Imperial College London, was part of the University of London until 2007.

The table below gives the members of the group, along with when they joined, their total number of students, and their income (total and research).

University[13] Year of joining Total students (2013/14)[14] Total academic staff (2013/14)[15] Total income
(2014/15, £ millions)[16]
Research income
(2014/15, £ millions)[16]
University of Birmingham 1994 32,335 2,935 577 126
University of Bristol 1994 20,170 2,780 531 148
University of Cambridge 1994 19,580 5,430 1,638 397
Cardiff University 1998 30,180 3,295 483 108
Durham University 2012 17,190 1,590 328 62
University of Edinburgh 1994 27,625 4,010 841 247
University of Exeter 2012 19,520 1,785 359 70
University of Glasgow 1994 27,390 3,000 569 173
Imperial College London 1994 16,225 4,055 979 428
King's College London 1998 27,645 4,370 684 211
University of Leeds 1994 30,975 3,200 640 152
University of Liverpool 1994 21,345 2,665 511 102
London School of Economics 1994 10,145 1,610 300 27
University of Manchester 1994 37,925 4,720 1,010 262
Newcastle University 1994 22,410 2,649 488 123
University of Nottingham 1994 33,270 3,350 593 119
University of Oxford 1994 25,905 6,470 1,429 523
Queen Mary University of London 2012 15,420 2,189 377 93
Queen's University Belfast 2006 23,320 1,665 316 72
University of Sheffield 1994 26,600 2,905 578 158
University of Southampton 1994 24,040 2,900 527 124
University College London 1994 28,430 6,195 1,180 428
University of Warwick 1994 25,245 2,130 513 101
University of York 2012 16,680 1,005 340 62

Includes Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press; excludes colleges.[17]
Constituent college of the University of London, awarding its own degrees



In 2015/16, following the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, the 19 English universities with HEFCE research funding allocations (excluding transitional funding) in excess of £20 million were all members of the Russell Group. The only English Russell Group institution to receive an allocation below £20M was the LSE (£18.6M), which ranked 22nd behind the Universities of Leicester and Lancaster (both on £19M).[18]

In 2010/11, 19 of the 20 UK universities with the highest income from research grants and contracts were members of the Russell Group.[16] In terms of total research funding allocations from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in 2007/8, the top 15 universities were all Russell Group institutions.[19] LSE was 21st, due to its focus on less costly social sciences research. Queen's University Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh, were not included in this table, as they are not English institutions. The Russell Group institutions received 82% of the total HEFCE research funding allocation.[19]

The research funding figures depend on factors other than the quality of research, in particular there are variations due to institutional size and subject spread (e.g. science, technology and medicine tend to attract more money).

In 2008, 18 of the then 20 members were positioned in the top 20 of Research Fortnight's Research Assessment Exercise 'Power' Table. The other two places were occupied by Durham University and Queen Mary University of London, which were not then Russell Group members but have since joined. The two Russell Group institutions outside the top 20 were QUB (21st) and the LSE (27th), while the other two universities to have since joined were York (22nd) and Exeter (25th).[20] In the equivalent table for the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, the 24 Russell Group members occupied the top 24 positions, with the University of Lancaster in 25th being the highest-ranked non-Russell Group university.[21]


For 2015-16, all 8 UK universities in the ARWU top 100,[22] 17 of the 18 in the QS top 100,[23] and 15 of the 16 in the THE top 100[24] are members of the Russell Group (the other place in both the QS and THE rankings being occupied by the University of St Andrews). On the 2016 national tables, the Russell Group provides 7 of the top 10 in the Complete University Guide, 6 in the Guardian University Guide and 8 in the Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide.

University ARWU (Global)a[22] QS (Global)a[23] THE (Global)a[24] Complete (National)b[25] Guardian (National)b[26] The Times (National)b[27]
University of Birmingham 101–150 84= 141= 16 15= 15
University of Bristol 61 44 76 17 27 16=
University of Cambridge 3 4 2 1 1 1
Cardiff University 99 137 162= 36= 42 35
Durham University 201–300 78 97 6 4 5
University of Edinburgh 32 23= 27= 23= 30= 24
University of Exeter 151–200 158= 130= 14= 13 14
University of Glasgow 101–150 65 80= 36= 23 20
Imperial College London 27 8 8 5 6= 4
King's College London 46 23= 36 21 39 28=
University of Leeds 101–150 101 139 14= 14 10
University of Liverpool 101–150 173= 177= 41 67 42
London School of Economics 151–200 35 25= 4 15= 11
University of Manchester 38 34 54= 22 28 25
Newcastle University 201–300 161= 175= 23= 30= 26
University of Nottingham 101–150 84= 147= 18 19 18
University of Oxford 7 6 1 2 2 2
Queen Mary University of London 151–200 127 121 33 44 43
Queen's University Belfast 301–400 202 201–250 35 38 38
University of Sheffield 101–150 82 104 31 40 21
University of Southampton 101–150 102 126= 26 35 30
University College London 16 7 16 7 10= 7=
University of Warwick 101–150 57 91 8 8 9
University of York 201–300 335= 137= 20 17 16=

a Global ranking; latest available year (2017/2018)
b National ranking; latest available year (2018)


All but two of the universities in the Russell Group are part of the Sutton Trust's group of 30 highly selective universities, the Sutton Trust 30 (the absent members being Queen Mary University of London and Queen's University Belfast).[28] The Sutton 13 group of the 13 most highly selective universities only includes one non-Russell Group member, the University of St Andrews.[29] St Andrews was also the only non-Russell Group University in the top 10 by average UCAS tariff score of new undergraduate students in 2015–16, placing fifth with an average score of 525 (and an offer rate of 52.2%).[30] Half of the Russell Group made offers to more than three quarter of their undergraduate applicants in 2015.[31]

University Average Entry Tariffa[32] Offer Rate (%)b[31]
University of Birmingham 421 79.2
University of Bristol 485 67.3
University of Cambridge 592 33.5
Cardiff University 399 75.2
Durham University 519 69.0
University of Edinburgh 483 49.2
University of Exeter 471 90.8
University of Glasgow 420 74.3
Imperial College London 552 50.7
King's College London 432 66.7
University of Leeds 427 75.4
University of Liverpool 387 83.1
London School of Economics 537 37.0
University of Manchester 431 73.4
Newcastle University 423 92.1
University of Nottingham 425 78.5
University of Oxford 570 24.8
Queen Mary University of London 393 75.0
Queen's University Belfast 389 86.1
University of Sheffield 407 85.6
University of Southampton 390 84.0
University College London 501 61.7
University of Warwick 478 84.3
University of York 422 78.5

a The average UCAS Points achieved by new students entering the university in 2015 - used to determine selectivity. Example: A-level, A* = 140, A = 120, B = 100 UCAS points; AS level, A = 60, B = 50, C = 40.
b The average offer rate for 18-year old applicants according to UCAS' June deadline for applications in 2015.


The Russell Group accounted for 49.1% of the income of the higher education sector in the UK in 2013-14, having risen from 44.7% of the total in 2001-02. Over the same period the total income of Russell Group universities rose by 69.9% in real terms, compared to a sector average of 54.4%.[33] Russell Group universities are also seen as "particularly creditworthy" due to their membership of the group, allowing them to borrow money at low interest rates.[34]

Aldwych Group

In response to the Russell Group's support for tuition fees (and other issues), in 1994 the students' unions of the member universities formed the Aldwych Group[35] as a parallel organisation to represent what they perceive to be the common interests of their students. It was established by Martin Lewis (who was general secretary of LSE Students' Union in 1994/5) as a watchdog in response to the creation of the Russell Group.[36][37][38] It now appears to be moribund, with the website not having been updated to reflect the 2012 changes in membership of the Russell Group and containing no news items or press releases.[39][40]

The Aldwych Group was so called because it was established at a meeting at the London School of Economics and Political Science, which is located on Aldwych.

Aside from the unions of the Russell Group universities (above), the Aldwych Group was also observed by two other bodies:


'Elite' status questioned

In a statement to the Higher Education Policy Institute, David Watson of the University of Oxford suggested that the Russell Group’s claim to represent 24 'leading universities' was "a real stretch". In the context of the Russell Group's reputation in the sector, he continued: "particularly dangerous, I think, is the bottom half of the Russell Group…The problem with the Russell Group is that it represents neither the sector as a whole [nor], in many cases, the best of the sector.” Performance in research intensity showed that there were dozens of other UK universities “above the bottom Russellers”.[41]

A Durham University academic, Vikki Boliver, published a report in 2015 claiming that the prestigious position of the Russell Group was not based on evidence, but rather successful marketing. Only the universities of Oxford and Cambridge were significantly more elite than the majority of "old" universities when a grouping analysis was performed using data on academic selectivity, research activity, teaching quality, socio-economic exclusivity and economic resources. The other 22 members of the Russell Group sit in a second tier of universities along with 18 other "old" universities (University of Aberdeen, University of Bath*, University of Keele, University of Dundee, University of East Anglia*, Goldsmiths*, Heriot-Watt University, University of Kent, Lancaster University*, University of Leicester*, Loughborough University*, University of Reading*, Royal Holloway*, University of St Andrews*, SOAS*, University of Strathclyde, University of Surrey* and University of Sussex*), mostly comprising former members of the defunct 1994 Group (shown by asterisks). Another 13 "old" universities and 52 "new" universities made up a third tier, with a fourth tier of 19 "new" universities. Within each tier, the differences between the institutions were less significant than the differences between the tiers.[42] This reflected an earlier result from 2010 that, when the "Golden Triangle" universities (defined in the study as Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE, and UCL) were omitted, the remaining (then) members of the Russell Group were outperformed by the (then) members of the 1994 Group.[43]

Ant Bagshaw from the Wonkhe think-tank has criticised the use of Russell Group membership as a proxy for selectivity in official Department for Education reports and statistics, as better measures of selectivity are available from UCAS data. He states that the idea that "Russell Group membership is synonymous with 'best'" is "persistent, but unverified". He also notes that this may lead to less scrutiny of the performance of non-Russell Group selective universities with respect to widening participation and improving access.[44]


The Institute of Economic Affairs has argued that the Russell Group acts out of protectionist interests. It is claimed that this will "restrict competition, discourage innovation and encourage inefficiency, thereby depriving students of lower prices and/or greater choice".[45]

Tuition fees

The Russell Group has been prominent in recent years in the debate over the introduction of tuition fees, a measure which it has strongly supported – much to the dismay of the universities' students' unions. Indeed, members of the Group argued that even the fees proposed by the controversial Higher Education Bill would not be sufficient to cover the rising cost of undergraduate teaching, and successfully argued for the right to charge variable fees at much higher rates, so-called top-up fees.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ "1994 Group disbands". THE. 8 November 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "The Russell Group Homepage". Retrieved 26 June 2010. 
  3. ^ Paul Blackmore (29 March 2016). "Universities vie for the metric that cannot be measured: prestige". The Guardian. “The Russell Group has successfully stage-managed the position that it is seen as comprising the best universities. Some are and some aren’t, but by and large this is nonsense.
    “However, parents increasingly say they want their child to go to one.”
    Pre-92 head
  4. ^ Russell Group Profile. Russell Group. 10 October 2015. p. 5. 
  5. ^ "Research Excellence Framework". Russell Group. 18 December 2014. Retrieved 17 February 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c "Four universities join elite Russell Group". BBC News. 12 March 2012. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  7. ^ "Do you want to be in my gang?". Times Higher Education. 19 November 2009. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  8. ^ "Russell Group keeps funding options open". Times Higher Education. 23 March 2001. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  9. ^ "Russell Group seeks leader to oversee its expanded role". Times Higher Education. 9 December 2005. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  10. ^ a b "Queen's gets key to Russell club door". Times Higher Education. 9 November 2006. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  11. ^ "Russell Group to advise on A-level content in post-16 shake-up". Times Higher Education. 23 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  12. ^ "Russell Group extends membership to four more universities". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2015. 
  13. ^ "Russell Group: Our Universities". Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  14. ^ "2013/14 Students by HE provider, level, mode and domicile" (XLSX). Higher Education Statistics Agency. Retrieved 28 October 2015. 
  15. ^ "2013/14 Staff by HE provider" (XLSX). Higher Education Statistics Agency. Retrieved 29 March 2016. 
  16. ^ a b c "University financial health check 2014-5" (PDF). Times Higher Education. 2 June 2016. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  17. ^ "Reports and financial statements for the year ended 31 July 2013". Cambridge University Reporter. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  18. ^ Paul Jump (26 March 2015). "Winners and losers in Hefce funding allocations". Times Higher Education. 
  19. ^ a b "Hefce funding allocations 2007–08: All institutions". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  20. ^ [1][dead link]
  21. ^ "University Research Excellence Framework 2014 – the full rankings". The Guardian. 17 December 2014. 
  22. ^ a b "Academic Ranking of World Universities 2017 – United Kingdom". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Retrieved 15 August 2017. 
  23. ^ a b "QS World University Rankings 2018". Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd. Retrieved 8 June 2017. 
  24. ^ a b "THE World University Rankings 2018". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 5 September 2017. 
  25. ^ "Top UK University League Tables and Rankings 2018". Complete University Guide. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  26. ^ "University league table 2018 - the complete list". The Guardian. London. 16 May 2017. Retrieved 16 May 2017. 
  27. ^ "The Times Good University Guide 2018". The Good University Guide. London. Retrieved 24 September 2017. (subscription required)
  28. ^ "Degrees of Success: University Chances by Individual School" (PDF). The Sutton Trust. 
  29. ^ Earnings by Degrees (PDF) (Report). Sutton Trust. 18 December 2014. pp. 16–17. Retrieved 2 April 2016. 
  30. ^ "University League Table 2018". Complete University Guide. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  31. ^ a b "Which elite universities have the highest offer rates". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 October 2016. 
  32. ^ "Complete University Guide 2018 - Entry Standards". Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  33. ^ Chris Havergal (9 December 2015). "Russell Group 'pulls further away' in funding race". Times Higher Education. 
  34. ^ John Morgan (11 February 2016). "Russell Group membership a 'badge of quality' for bond investors". Times Higher Education. 
  35. ^ "Aldwych Group homepage". Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  36. ^ Student group threatens to boycott national survey, Guardian, 20 January 2006
  37. ^ Universities slam Willetts' 'cut-price' degrees scheme, Independent, 13 May 2011
  38. ^ "What about tax incentives for parents paying university fees?". The Guardian. London. 8 May 2001. 
  39. ^ "The Aldwych Group". Retrieved 19 February 2016. 
  40. ^ Aemun Reza (20 June 2014). "What's happened to the Aldwych Group?". Felix. 
  41. ^ Morgan, John (3 April 2014). "Sir David Watson: Russell Group is not all it's cracked up to be". Times Higher Education. Times Higher Education. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  42. ^ Chris Havergal (19 November 2015). "Most Russell Group universities 'little different to other pre-92s'". Times Higher Education. 
  43. ^ Zoë Corbyn (25 March 2010). "Data disprove case for distributing research funds on historical basis". Times Higher Education. The analysis, due to be published on 25 March, uses citation data to show that when the five "golden-triangle" institutions - the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London and the London School of Economics - are removed from the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities, the 1994 Group of smaller research-led universities outperforms it. 
  44. ^ Ant Bagshaw (14 July 2017). "It's time to stop conflating the Russell Group with the 'best'". Wonkhe. Retrieved 30 July 2017. 
  45. ^ Institute of Economic Affairs: James Stanfield

External links

  • Russell Group website
  • Aldwych Group website
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