As part of the Future Scholar Awards scheme launched on 10 February, high-achieving 13- and 14-year-olds from state schools will have the chance to spend a day at one of the 24 research-intensive universities in the group with one of their teachers.
Schools will be able to recover travel and subsistence expenses from the department, as well as the cost of teaching supply cover.
The scheme, which is open to applications from schools until 14 March, builds upon the Dux Award project, which paid for 1,400 Year 9 pupils to spend a day at a Russell Group university with their teachers.
That scheme, launched in 2012, was criticised as “tokenistic” by Million+, which represents many post-1992 universities, while some institutions questioned why universities outside the Russell Group were not allowed to participate.
Announcing the new scheme, schools minister David Laws said it would allow more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to “get a taste of studying at a top university” through experiencing university lectures and seminars.
“Too many bright pupils who have the potential to study at this level miss out simply because they never thought of applying, or never knew they could,” Mr Laws said.
The scheme is the latest initiative between the Department for Education and the Russell Group.
Last year, the two bodies struck a deal which will see the Russell Group play a central role in redeveloping A levels, while data is now published on how many pupils each school sends to the Russell Group.
This emphasis on the group was branded “narrow and naïve” by the education secretary Michael Gove’s former top civil servant Sir David Bell in February 2013, who is now vice-chancellor of the University of Reading.
Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said the scheme would provide information to bright teenagers and “make sure they are thinking about their options at a younger age”.
“It’s so important that students and teachers know that - whatever your background - if you’ve got the right grades, attitude and potential, you have a good chance of getting into a Russell Group university,” Dr Piatt said.