The plans to downgrade AS levels are unnecessary and may put off poorer students from applying to more selective courses, said the group, which represents 24 research-intensive universities, including Oxford and Cambridge.
The reforms, led by education secretary Michael Gove, would also limit a university’s ability to select the best candidates because AS-levels were a very reliable guide to future academic performance, the group said.
In a statement published on 14 February, the group’s director general Wendy Piatt said: “We are not convinced therefore that a new stand-alone AS qualification is necessary and are concerned that with no links to the A-level, it may not deliver the same benefits as the existing AS-levels.
“Whilst we have welcomed the government’s review of the modular structure of the A-level, we do not believe this need be extended to the complete removal of the AS examination from the A-level.”
The group’s opposition is likely to be a blow to Mr Gove, who has enlisted the support of the Russell Group for his wider plans, which were announced in parliament on 24 January.
Nigel Thrift, vice-chancellor of the University of Warwick, will lead a Russell Group working party on how the group might sign off the content of future A-levels, it was announced last month.
Mr Gove has also claimed the reforms have been driven by “leading university academics” – a nod to the Russell Group – who were dissatisfied about the preparation of A-level pupils for advanced study.
The belated criticisms of Mr Gove’s plans – three weeks after they were heavily criticised by all other university mission groups, including Universities UK – may also indicate internal divisions within the Russell Group over exam reform.
While it has argued in favour of AS-levels publicly, the group remained silent on the issue when the plans were revealed last month.
However, admissions officers at University of Cambridge spoke out immediately against the proposals – a stance now confirmed by the Russell Group.
The group joins teachers and university lecturers unions, the National Union of Students, business groups and groups representing private schools in voicing concerns over the plans, which would take effect in 2015.