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What is the Russell Group?

You may have heard the phrase Russell Group, but perhaps you aren’t sure what it means. Here we explain what the Russell Group is and what its application process looks like.

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    Grace McCabe

    Content Writer, THE Student
    August 18 2023
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    Standfirst: You may have heard the phrase Russell Group, but perhaps you aren’t sure what it means. Here we explain what the Russell Group is and what its application process looks like.

    What is the Russell Group? 

    The Russell Group is an association that represents 24 public research universities in the UK. The group believes that “people and ideas are the key to meeting global challenges. Through world-class research and education, we are helping to create a dynamic economy, stronger communities, and a better future for the UK”.

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    Established in 1994, the 17 original universities used to meet in the Hotel Russell in London, which inspired the group's eventual name. More universities joined over the years and the group became an established organisation of higher education in 2007.

    It is sometimes thought that these universities are the most prestigious in the UK, however it really depends on which course you choose to study, as it’s unlikely your day-to-day learning will be different from studying at a non-Russell Group university.  

    The aims of the Russell Group include working together to lobby the UK government, creating and writing reports, having a forum to discuss concerns and issues, and working together across research projects. 

    Which universities are in the Russell Group? 

    There are 24 members of the Russell Group:

    Together the members in this list of Russell Group universities generate approximately £87 billion every year for the economy in the United Kingdom. They employ a quarter of a million people and teach one quarter of the UK’s undergraduate students. 

    How do you apply to universities in the Russell Group?

    Russell Group universities can be applied to through the same central system that all UK universities can be applied to - Ucas. The Ucas application portal allows students to apply to up to five universities in the UK and these include Russell Group universities too. 

    Russell Group universities do not have any differences in the application process from any other university in the UK. 

    Can international students study at Russell Group institutions?

    Yes, international students can study at Russell Group institutions in the UK. These leading universities are open to accepting international students for various undergraduate, postgraduate, and research programmes.

    Admission requirements and application processes may differ from university to university and programme to programme, so it's important for international students to carefully review the specific entry requirements and application procedures for each.

    Generally, international students will need to meet English language proficiency requirements (such as IELTS or TOEFL scores), provide transcripts and academic references to be considered against local students providing their a-levels, and possibly take additional tests or interviews depending on the programme they want to study.

    International students should also be prepared to demonstrate their ability to cover tuition fees and living expenses, either through personal funds, scholarships, or other financial support.

    It's recommended to visit the official websites of the specific Russell Group universities you're interested in to find detailed information about their admissions process for international students and the programmes that they currently offer.


    What are the benefits of attending a university in the Russell Group? 

    As an undergraduate, your day-to-day lessons may be delivered by tutors at the top of their field, and you’ll have access to high-quality research facilities.

    As a postgraduate student you may find the impact of a Russell Group university more apparent. Students will have access to many research opportunities and top-quality facilities, and can benefit from funding attracted by the Russell Group. 

    It is important to note here that you will not be disadvantaged if you do not study at a Russell Group university. It is better to research which universities are good for your chosen course and to choose a location that suits you, rather than focusing on simply choosing a Russell Group university.  

    Do employers prefer Russell Group graduates? 

    All candidates are judged on their grades, experience and interview performance when applying for a job. However, a degree from a Russell Group university can be seen as an extra level of prestige by employers. When it comes to competitive, research-based roles, a degree from a universally recognised research-led universities can be a bonus. 

    Graduates from Russell Group universities have access to several schemes during their studies that provide them with real-world work experience and may set them apart from other graduates when entering the professional world. 

    What is the difference between Russell Group and red-brick universities?  

    You may have come across the phrase “red-brick university” when researching universities in the UK.

    Red-brick universities originally referred to institutions that were in industrial cities and were best known for their engineering courses at the time. This classification is rarely used now, and attending one of these universities will not provide students with any extra benefits (although all the red-brick universities are now part of the Russell Group). These universities are: 

    Top 5 Russell Group universities

    The top 5 universities in the Russell Group according to the are the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London (UCL), and University of Edinburgh.

    Scroll down for the full list of best Russell Group universities in the UK:

    Russell Group Rank University World University Ranking 2023
    1 University of Oxford 1
    2 University of Cambridge 3
    3 Imperial College London 10
    4 University College London (UCL) 22
    5 University of Edinburgh 29
    6 King's College London 35
    7 London School of Economics 37
    8 University of Manchester 54
    9 University of Bristol 76
    10 University of Glasgow 82
    11 University of Warwick 104
    12 University of Birmingham = 108
    13 University of Southampton = 108
    14 University of Sheffield 114
    15 Queen Mary University of London 124
    16 University of Leeds 128
    17 University of Nottingham 130
    18 University of Exeter 137
    19 Newcastle University 139
    20 University of Liverpool 176
    21 Cardiff University 187
    22 Durham University = 198
    23 Queen's University Belfast = 198
    24 University of St Andrews 201 - 250

    The THE World University Rankings are a list of the best universities globally. These rankings are calculated by looking at how well these universities teach, how much research they do, and how much influence their research has. THE use 13 indicators to compare universities fairly and use this data to create other rankings. Read more here.


    Q. What is the Russell Group and its purpose?
    A. The Russell Group is a collection of 24 British research universities working on global challenges through research and education.

    Q. How and why was the Russell Group formed?
    A. The Russell Group started in 1994, with 17 universities meeting at London's Hotel Russell, giving it its name.

    Q. What are Russell Group universities?
    A. Russell Group universities are a collection of leading research universities in the UK.

    Q. How many Russell Group universities are there?
    A. There are 24 universities that are part of the Russell Group.

    Q. What are the rankings of Russell Group universities?
    A. Russell Group universities generally rank high in national and international rankings. You can see their current ranking in the world or in the UK on our website.

    Q. Is attending a Russell Group university better than attending non-Russell Group universities?
    A. Attending a Russell Group university can offer enhanced prestige and opportunities.

    Q. Are Russell Group universities the best?
    A. While highly regarded, Russell Group universities may suit some but you may find another university has the programme you want to study. You can read more about finding the right university on our website.

    Q. What is the difference between Russell Group universities and other universities?
    A. The main difference is that Russell Group universities focus on research and influence in policy.

    Q. How many students attend Russell Group universities?
    A. Around 25 per cent of UK undergraduates study at Russell Group universities.

    Q. Does the Russell Group include Oxbridge universities?
    A. Yes the Russell Group includes the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.

    Q. Is Bath a Russell Group University?
    A. No, the University of Bath is not part of the Russell Group.

    Q. Is Loughborough a Russell Group University?
    A. No, Loughborough University is not part of the Russell Group.

    Q. Is Royal Holloway a Russell Group University?
    A. No, Royal Holloway is not part of the Russell Group.

    Q. Is Exeter a Russell Group University?
    A. Yes, the University of Exeter is part of the Russell Group.

    Q. Is Lancaster a Russell Group University?
    A. No, Lancaster University is not part of the Russell Group.

    Q. Is Reading a Russell Group University?
    A. No, the University of Reading is not part of the Russell Group.

    Q. Is Cardiff a Russell Group University?
    A. Yes, Cardiff University is part of the Russell Group.

    Q. Is the Russell Group Similar to the Ivy League?
    A. Both the Russell Group and the Ivy League represent prestigious institutions, but they are separate and located in different countries.

    Q. How can I apply to Russell Group universities?
    A. You can apply through UCAS, the central application system for UK universities.

    Q. Are there any differences in applying to Russell Group universities compared to non-Russell Group universities?
    A. The process is similar to other UK universities, applications are completed through UCAS.

    Q. Can international students apply to Russell Group member universities?
    A. Yes, these 24 world-leading universities accept international students for many programmes.

    Q. What are the benefits of attending a Russell Group university?
    A. There are top tutors for undergraduate students, research opportunities for postgraduates, and potential funding for further studies.

    Q. Do employers prefer Russell Group graduates?
    A. All graduates are assessed on grades and experience, but a Russell Group degree can add prestige, especially for research roles.

    Q. How do Russell Group graduates stand out?
    A. Russell Group graduates access real-world work experience during their studies, helping them to stand out to potential employers.

    Q. Russell Group vs. red-brick universities?
    A. Red-brick universities, were originally from industrial cities and were known for engineering. These universities are now part of the Russell Group, which includes other institutions.

    Q. Is every red-brick university in the Russell Group?
    A. Yes, University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, University of Liverpool, University of Leeds, University of Manchester, and University of Sheffield are part of the Russell Group.

    Q. What Russell Group universities are located in London?
    A. University College London, King's College London, and London School of Economics and Political Science are all located in London and are part of the Russell Group.

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