Applying to universities and even deciding where to apply can be an overwhelming time. Reputation, location, accommodation - there are so many different factors to consider. Chances are if you’re looking into applying to university, you’ve probably heard the term ‘Russell Group’. Here we’ll break down everything you need to know to answer your question of "What is a Russell Group University?".

Introduction to the Russell Group Universities

The Russell Group is an umbrella term used to describe a group of research-focused universities in the United Kingdom that are known for producing academic success.

While the Russell Group universities are considered prestigious, entry requirements are similar to those of other universities. You still complete A-levels (or equivalent) in order to be accepted into a Russell Group university – you just might find that the grades you need are a bit higher than those needed for other universities.

A lecturer speaking to a group of people in a small lecture room, explaining What is a Russell Group University.

How many Russell Group unis are there?

There are currently 24 Russell Group Universities:
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Cambridge
  • Cardiff University
  • Durham University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • Imperial College London
  • King’s College London
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Liverpool
  • London School of Economics & Political Science
  • University of Manchester
  • Newcastle University
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • Queen Mary, University of London
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Southampton
  • University College London
  • University of Warwick
  • University of York

The history of the Russell Group

The Russell Group was first formed in 1994. At this time, 17 higher education institutions met to ensure the government were adequately representing their needs. They got the name Russell Group universities because they met at the Hotel Russell in London.

Since then, other universities have also joined the elite group: this is why there are now 24 of them compared to the initial 17.

How does the Russell Group compare to the Ivy League?

Like the Ivy League universities, the Russell Group are a group of internationally recognised universities. Both groups of universities have a strong reputation for providing pupils with a high standard of education.

As the Ivy League universities are based in America, their undergraduate degrees usually take 4 years to complete, compared to an average of 3 years at a Russell Group university. The only exception is if you do a year abroad (such as for a languages degree) or a year in industry (for example, for a computer science degree programme).

Although both university groups are private institutions of learning, the fees still differ quite a lot between them. Students based in the UK (known as home pupils) can expect to pay around £9,250 per year in tuition to study at a Russell Group university. Whereas, if they were to study at an Ivy League university, their tuition would be around $50,000 upwards per year. Similarly, international students completing their studies at a Russell Group can expect to pay more to do so. However, the Russell Group university fees for international students start at around £20,000 per year, so student debts are likely to be less if you study at a Russell Group compared to an Ivy League.

Whilst both will offer you a good standard of education, what you’ll study at each university will also vary. American universities typically have a broader curriculum, particularly for first-year students, as you don’t need to specialise in your chosen subject until further along in your degree programme. This is different at Russell Group universities, where you are expected to know your degree subject(s) before you start at the university, so you apply for a specific course.

Russell Group universities, therefore, have different entry requirements depending on the course you’re applying to. Some subjects, such as law and medicine can be very competitive, so they usually require higher A-level grades than others.

Students at russell group universities
 using their mobile phones and walking through a lecture building.

Red brick vs Russell Group - how do they fit in?

Red Brick is a term used to describe six members of the Russell Group, all of which gained full university status before WW1. Originally used as a derogatory term, by universities that had been around longer like Oxford, Red Brick universities are now considered prestigious and have been for some time.

So, Red Brick universities are popular choices and a great option if you’re looking to attend a uni with a good reputation.

Which institutions are red-brick Universities?

The following 6 universities are on the red-brick university list:

These universities make up the original red-brick universities. Although Reading University is not a Russell Group university, the University of Reading and the University of Nottingham are both widely considered to be recent members of the Red Brick group.

How can I get into University?

To have the best chance of getting accepted into a Russell Group university, you need to ensure you get good grades, a strong teacher reference and a range of extra-curricular activities. When it comes to choosing A-levels, it can be a bit tricky to know what’s best.

There are some subjects that will help keep your options open in terms of university courses, which are also considered academic enough to be accepted by most universities, including the Russell Group. These are called facilitating subjects.

Facilitating subjects include English literature, languages, history, geography, sciences (biology, chemistry and physics), and maths and further maths. Choosing a couple of subjects from this list means you can choose from a wider range of university courses when the time comes, as well as ensuring you’re taking A-levels that appeal to most, if not all, universities.

Is it hard to get into a Russell Group University?

Russell Group Universities tend to have higher entry requirements than other universities and lower acceptance rates. This does make them some of the hardest universities in the country to get into.

When we break down the applications and acceptances, Russell Group Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge tend to have a 15% acceptance rate from 20,000+ applications.

Which is the easiest Russell Group University to get into?

Whilst none of the Russell Group Universities are easy to get into, Nottingham and Leeds have a higher offer rate than other universities within the Group.

Does attending a Russell Group University improve your job prospects?

By attending a Russell Group University you are signalling to potential employers that you attended a prestigious institute that does have higher entry requirements than other Universities. This could be a bonus to make your CV stand out, however gaining work experience in your chosen field during your time at University can also help your application to shine.

Do Russell Group graduates earn more?

According to research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, found that graduates of Russell Group Universities earn 10%-13% more on average than graduates from other universities.