One of the Russell Group universities, Birmingham. Image credit: Graham Norrie/ Geograph
Now that you are in the midsts of your UCAS applications, your teachers might well be telling you that the only way to do well in life is to attend a Russell Group university. But what the hell is a Russell Group university anyway and why on earth does it matter?
What is the Russell Group?
The Russell Group is a self-selected group of 24 universities that met in 1994 in Russell Square and are often regarded as the best universities in the country. They focus on research, gaining approximately two-thirds of all university research grants and contract income in the UK.
The Russell Group universities are:
- University of Birmingham
- The University of Bristol
- Cambridge University
- Cardiff University
- University of Durham
- University of Edinburgh
- University of Exeter
- University of Glasgow
- Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine
- King's College London
- University of Leeds
- University of Liverpool
- London School of Economics and Political Science
- University of Manchester
- Newcastle University
- University of Nottingham
- University of Oxford
- Queen Mary, University of London
- The Queen's University of Belfast
- The University of Sheffield
- University of Southampton
- University College London
- University of Warwick
- University of York
However in the UK league tables, they often don’t fare too highly; they score well on research and entry requirements, but less highly on teaching and student satisfaction. In international league tables, they fare better, as these rankings focus more on reputation (which is a self-satisfying measure) and research.
Does it matter whether I go to a Russell Group?
Employers don’t spend their time sifting through applications from specific universities and even if they have an idea of what the top universities are (especially for their field) these might not necessarily be Russell Group universities.
More importantly, employers will look at what grade you gained, and whether you spent your time at university wisely, for example by taking part in a society or sports club and what skills you've learnt from these experiences. They’ll also want to know what sort of work experience you’ve undertaken, whether it’s an internship or placements. They might also look at the subject of your degree, but this will depend on the job you are applying for and how relevant it is.
Furthermore, if you’ve studied a more vocational subject such as engineering, it’s even less likely that the Russell Group will matter, as employment is even more dictated by your business acumen, work experience and the class of degree you obtained.
However, if you want to study a less vocational subject, such as humanity, language or social science a Russell Group (or another equally top university that’s well known) can be beneficial. If you’re trying to apply for that top graduate scheme and have the same qualifications and experience as all the other candidates, attending a university with a top reputation that's known for its competitiveness might just give you the edge.
Furthermore, if you are interested in postgraduate study a Russell Group university may be beneficial. This is because Russell Group universities fare better in research, and at a postgraduate level, this is what you’ll be doing. You will find the thought of being around those at the cutting-edge of their field and your personal interest thrilling, and this could motivate you to excel further while you're an undergrad.
Additionally, if you are thinking about a postgraduate study or working abroad once you leave university attending a Russell Group can be useful. This is because Russell Group universities are more well known internationally and if an employer is looking at a candidate from a foreign country they’ll be more likely to hire you if they’ve heard about your institution. The top universities have been ranked for their international employability.
Lastly, remember that some non-Russell Group universities are very good in specific subjects. For example, Loughborough is brilliant for Sports Science (it is also brilliant in general), whilst Surrey and Bath (again, both brilliant non-Russell Group universities) are both known for their high employment rates and well-thought-through courses.
So which university should I choose?
If you are intelligent enough to attend a Russell Group university, we suggest that you look at the top third of national university league tables. You can then narrow down your search according to where you want to study, what the course is like and what the student scene is like, etc.
Some of your chosen universities might be Russell Group members, while others might not be, but this won’t matter in the end. What’s most important is that you’ve chosen somewhere you know you’ll be happy for the next three years of your life, and where you can see yourself fitting in and thriving, concentrating on building your CV with skills, experiences and extra-curricular activities ready for employment.