The Russell Group is a self-selected association of twenty-four public research universities in the United Kingdom. The group is headquartered in London and was established in 1994 to represent its members' interests, principally to government and parliament; nineteen smaller British research universities formed the 1994 Group in response, which was disbanded in 2013. In 2010, Russell Group members received approximately two-thirds of all university research grant and contract income in the United Kingdom. The group is widely perceived as representing some of the best universities in the country.
Russell Group members award 60% of all doctorates gained in the United Kingdom, and over 30% of all students studying in the United Kingdom from outside the EU. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, 68% of world-leading (4*) research and 68% of research with an outstanding (4*) impact was carried out in Russell Group universities.
The Russell Group is so named because the first informal meetings of the Group took place at the Hotel Russell in Russell Square, London. Meetings generally take place shortly before meetings of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (now Universities UK) in nearby Tavistock Square, close to the University of London buildings and, particularly, Senate House.
The Russell Group was formed in 1994 by 17 British research universities – Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Imperial College London, Leeds, Liverpool, London School of Economics, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield, Southampton, University College London and Warwick. In 1998 Cardiff University and King's College London joined the group. In March 2001 the Russell Group decided against selecting a preferred option for the future funding of higher education, stating that endowments, a graduate contribution, increased public funding and top-up fees should all remain options. In December 2005 it was announced that the Russell Group would be appointing its first full-time director-general as a result of a planned expansion of its operations, including commissioning and conducting its own policy research. In November 2006 Queen's University Belfast was admitted as the twentieth member of the group. In the same month Wendy Piatt, the then deputy director in the Prime Minister's strategy unit, was announced as the group's new Director General and chief executive.
In March 2012 it was announced that four universities – Durham, Exeter, Queen Mary University of London; and York – would become members of the Russell Group in August of the same year. All of the new members had previously been members of the 1994 Group of British universities.
The Russell Group states that its objectives are to:
It works towards these objectives by lobbying the UK government and parliament; commissioning reports and research; creating a forum in which its member institutions can discuss issues of common concern; and identify opportunities for them to work together.
The Russell Group is led by Chief Executive Dr Tim Bradshaw and chaired by Prof Sir Anton Muscatelli, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow.
The Russell Group currently has twenty four members, of which twenty are from England, two from Scotland, and one from each of Wales and Northern Ireland. Of the English members, five are from Greater London; three from the Yorkshire and the Humber region; two from each of the North East, North West, West Midlands, South West and South East regions; and one from each of the East Midlands and East regions. Four Russell Group members are constituent colleges of the University of London and a fifth London institution, Imperial College London, was part of the University of London until 2007.
The table below gives the members of the group, along with when they joined, their total number of students, and their income (total and research).
|University||Year of joining||Total students (2013/14)||Total academic staff (2013/14)|
|University of Birmingham||1994||32,335||2,935|
|University of Bristol||1994||20,170||2,780|
|University of Cambridge||1994||19,580||5,430|
|University of Edinburgh||1994||27,625||4,010|
|University of Exeter||2012||19,520||1,785|
|University of Glasgow||1994||27,390||3,000|
|Imperial College London||1994||16,225||4,055|
|King's College London‡||1998||27,645||4,370|
|University of Leeds||1994||30,975||3,200|
|University of Liverpool||1994||21,345||2,665|
|London School of Economics‡||1994||10,145||1,610|
|University of Manchester||1994||37,925||4,720|
|University of Nottingham||1994||33,270||3,350|
|University of Oxford||1994||25,905||6,470|
|Queen Mary University of London‡||2012||15,420||2,189|
|Queen's University Belfast||2006||23,320||1,665|
|University of Sheffield||1994||26,600||2,905|
|University of Southampton||1994||24,040||2,900|
|University College London‡||1994||28,430||6,195|
|University of Warwick||1994||25,245||2,130|
|University of York||2012||16,680||1,005|
‡ Constituent college of the University of London, awarding its own degrees
In 2015/16, following the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, the 19 English universities with HEFCE research funding allocations (excluding transitional funding) in excess of £20 million were all members of the Russell Group. The only English Russell Group institution to receive an allocation below £20M was the LSE (£18.6M), which ranked 22nd behind the Universities of Leicester and Lancaster (both on £19M).
In 2010/11, 19 of the 20 UK universities with the highest income from research grants and contracts were members of the Russell Group. In terms of total research funding allocations from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in 2007/8, the top 15 universities were all Russell Group institutions. LSE was 21st, due to its focus on less costly social sciences research. Queen's University Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh, were not included in this table, as they are not English institutions. The Russell Group institutions received 82% of the total HEFCE research funding allocation.
The research funding figures depend on factors other than the quality of research, in particular there are variations due to institutional size and subject spread (e.g. science, technology and medicine tend to attract more money).
In 2008, 18 of the then 20 members were positioned in the top 20 of Research Fortnight's Research Assessment Exercise 'Power' Table. The other two places were occupied by Durham University and Queen Mary University of London, which were not then Russell Group members but have since joined. The two Russell Group institutions outside the top 20 were QUB (21st) and the LSE (27th), while the other two universities to have since joined were York (22nd) and Exeter (25th). In the equivalent table for the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, the 24 Russell Group members occupied the top 24 positions, with the University of Lancaster in 25th being the highest-ranked non-Russell Group university.
For 2015-16, all 8 UK universities in the ARWU top 100, 17 of the 18 in the QS top 100, and 15 of the 16 in the THE top 100 are members of the Russell Group (the other place in both the QS and THE rankings being occupied by the University of St Andrews). On the 2016 national tables, the Russell Group provides 7 of the top 10 in the Complete University Guide, 6 in the Guardian University Guide and 8 in the Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide.
|University||ARWU (Global)a||QS (Global)a||THE (Global)a||Complete (National)b||Guardian (National)b||The Times (National)b|
|University of Birmingham||101–150||84=||141=||16||15=||15|
|University of Bristol||61||44||76||17||27||16=|
|University of Cambridge||3||4||2||1||1||1|
|University of Edinburgh||32||23=||27=||23=||30=||24|
|University of Exeter||151–200||158=||130=||14=||13||14|
|University of Glasgow||101–150||65||80=||36=||23||20|
|Imperial College London||27||8||8||5||6=||4|
|King's College London||46||23=||36||21||39||28=|
|University of Leeds||101–150||101||139||14=||14||10|
|University of Liverpool||101–150||173=||177=||41||67||42|
|London School of Economics||151–200||35||25=||4||15=||11|
|University of Manchester||38||34||54=||22||28||25|
|University of Nottingham||101–150||84=||147=||18||19||18|
|University of Oxford||7||6||1||2||2||2|
|Queen Mary University of London||151–200||127||121||33||44||43|
|Queen's University Belfast||301–400||202||201–250||35||38||38|
|University of Sheffield||101–150||82||104||31||40||21|
|University of Southampton||101–150||102||126=||26||35||30|
|University College London||16||7||16||7||10=||7=|
|University of Warwick||101–150||57||91||8||8||9|
|University of York||201–300||135=||137=||20||17||16=|
a Global ranking; latest available year (2017/2018)
b National ranking; latest available year (2018)
All but two of the universities in the Russell Group are part of the Sutton Trust's group of 30 highly selective universities, the Sutton Trust 30 (the absent members being Queen Mary University of London and Queen's University Belfast). The Sutton 13 group of the 13 most highly selective universities only includes one non-Russell Group member, the University of St Andrews. St Andrews was also the only non-Russell Group University in the top 10 by average UCAS tariff score of new undergraduate students in 2015–16, placing fifth with an average score of 525 (and an offer rate of 52.2%). Half of the Russell Group made offers to more than three quarter of their undergraduate applicants in 2015.
|University||Average Entry Tariffa||Offer Rate (%)b|
|University of Birmingham||421||79.2|
|University of Bristol||485||67.3|
|University of Cambridge||592||33.5|
|University of Edinburgh||483||49.2|
|University of Exeter||471||90.8|
|University of Glasgow||420||74.3|
|Imperial College London||552||50.7|
|King's College London||432||66.7|
|University of Leeds||427||75.4|
|University of Liverpool||387||83.1|
|London School of Economics||537||37.0|
|University of Manchester||431||73.4|
|University of Nottingham||425||78.5|
|University of Oxford||570||24.8|
|Queen Mary University of London||393||75.0|
|Queen's University Belfast||389||86.1|
|University of Sheffield||407||85.6|
|University of Southampton||390||84.0|
|University College London||501||61.7|
|University of Warwick||478||84.3|
|University of York||422||78.5|
a The average UCAS Points achieved by new students entering the university in 2015 - used to determine selectivity. Example: A-level, A* = 140, A = 120, B = 100 UCAS points; AS level, A = 60, B = 50, C = 40.
b The average offer rate for 18-year old applicants according to UCAS' June deadline for applications in 2015.
The Russell Group accounted for 49.1% of the income of the higher education sector in the UK in 2013-14, having risen from 44.7% of the total in 2001-02. Over the same period the total income of Russell Group universities rose by 69.9% in real terms, compared to a sector average of 54.4%. Russell Group universities are also seen as "particularly creditworthy" due to their membership of the group, allowing them to borrow money at low interest rates.
The total annual income for Russell Group members for 2016–17 was £16.67 billion of which £4.38 billion was from research grants and contracts, with an expenditure of £15.90 billion. The table below is a record of each Russell Group member's financial data for the 2016–17 financial year.
|University||Government Funding Body Grants (£m)||Teaching Income (£m)||Teaching Income as % of Total Income||Research Income (£m)||Research Income as % of Total Income||Total Income (£m)||Operating Surplus (£m)||Surplus as % of Total Income||Endowment Value (£m)||Total Net Assets (£m)|
|University of Birmingham||88.9||243.6||39.4%||155.4||25.1%||617.9||53.3||8.63%||112.6||1,227.6|
|University of Bristol||78.7||305.1||48.0%||124.0||19.5%||635.6||38.3||6.03%||70.2||890.8|
|University of Cambridge‡||178||264||15.4%||458||26.7%||1,714||72||4.20%||1,728||4,298|
|University of Edinburgh||191.8||278.5||30.7%||265.3||29.3%||905.8||58.3||6.44%||392.1||2,009.7|
|University of Exeter||40.0||219.2||55.0%||70.2||17.6%||398.9||9.6||2.41%||37.2||496.8|
|University of Glasgow||160.4||174.7||28.8%||179.8||29.6%||607.5||41.6||6.85%||188.4||791.2|
|Imperial College London||143.1||265.1||27.0%||348.2||35.4%||983.2||89.3||9.08%||141.7||1,462.8|
|King's College London||123.0||300.0||38.6%||192.6||24.7%||778.2||14.0||1.80%||213.5||926.2|
|University of Leeds||82.4||323.0||48.4%||131.1||19.6%||667.2||11.2||1.68%||72.7||748.8|
|University of Liverpool||77.2||255.2||48.9%||94.5||18.1%||521.8||45.1||8.64%||166.5||651.4|
|London School of Economics||26.3||199.3||57.4%||31.5||9.1%||347.4||35.5||10.22%||132.7||510.0|
|University of Manchester||133.9||432.3||43.4%||262.1||26.3%||996.6||30.8||3.09%||222.2||1,576.8|
|University of Nottingham||90.1||309.3||48.5%||123.7||19.4%||637.6||25.6||4.02%||55.1||405.5|
|University of Oxford‡||194.6||295.3||21.9%||559.0||41.5%||1,345.4||15.4||1.14%||828.7||3,165.2|
|Queen Mary University of London||68.2||207.7||48.4%||107.6||22.9%||428.8||13.6||2.89%||34.3||472.0|
|Queen's University Belfast||99.6||98.1||29.1%||79.6||23.6%||337.6||12.5||3.70%||65.4||409.3|
|University of Sheffield||83.8||281.7||45.8%||155.9||25.4%||614.7||—10.7||—1.74%||42.2||837.5|
|University of Southampton||76.0||246.3||42.2%||136.3||23.3%||584.0||46.2||7.91%||12.9||499.3|
|University College London||194.6||460.6||35.3%||458.4||35.1%||1,304.7||73.0||5.60%||111.4||1,187.4|
|University of Warwick||58.4||287.5||49.9%||120.3||20.9%||576.2||38.6||6.70%||4.8||174.3|
|University of York||40.9||166.1||50.1%||66.0||19.9%||331.4||13.1||3.95%||7.7||339.8|
‡ exclusive of colleges
In response to the Russell Group's support for tuition fees (and other issues), in 1994 the students' unions of the member universities formed the Aldwych Group as a parallel organisation to represent what they perceive to be the common interests of their students. It was established by Martin Lewis (who was general secretary of LSE Students' Union in 1994/5) as a watchdog in response to the creation of the Russell Group. It now appears to be moribund, with the website not having been updated to reflect the 2012 changes in membership of the Russell Group and containing no news items or press releases.
Aside from the unions of the Russell Group universities (above), the Aldwych Group was also observed by two other bodies:
In a statement to the Higher Education Policy Institute, David Watson of the University of Oxford suggested that the Russell Group’s claim to represent 24 'leading universities' was "a real stretch". In the context of the Russell Group's reputation in the sector, he continued: "particularly dangerous, I think, is the bottom half of the Russell Group…The problem with the Russell Group is that it represents neither the sector as a whole [nor], in many cases, the best of the sector.” Performance in research intensity showed that there were dozens of other UK universities “above the bottom Russellers”.
A Durham University academic, Vikki Boliver, published a report in 2015 claiming that the prestigious position of the Russell Group was not based on evidence, but rather successful marketing. Only the universities of Oxford and Cambridge were significantly more elite than the majority of "old" universities when a grouping analysis was performed using data on academic selectivity, research activity, teaching quality, socio-economic exclusivity and economic resources. The other 22 members of the Russell Group sit in a second tier of universities along with 18 other "old" universities (University of Aberdeen, University of Bath*, University of Keele, University of Dundee, University of East Anglia*, Goldsmiths*, Heriot-Watt University, University of Kent, Lancaster University*, University of Leicester*, Loughborough University*, University of Reading*, Royal Holloway*, University of St Andrews*, SOAS*, University of Strathclyde, University of Surrey* and University of Sussex*), mostly comprising former members of the defunct 1994 Group (shown by asterisks). Another 13 "old" universities and 52 "new" universities made up a third tier, with a fourth tier of 19 "new" universities. Within each tier, the differences between the institutions were less significant than the differences between the tiers. This reflected an earlier result from 2010 that, when the "Golden Triangle" universities (defined in the study as Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE, and UCL) were omitted, the remaining (then) members of the Russell Group were outperformed by the (then) members of the 1994 Group.
Ant Bagshaw from the Wonkhe think-tank has criticised the use of Russell Group membership as a proxy for selectivity in official Department for Education reports and statistics, as better measures of selectivity are available from UCAS data. He states that the idea that "Russell Group membership is synonymous with 'best'" is "persistent, but unverified". He also notes that this may lead to less scrutiny of the performance of non-Russell Group selective universities with respect to widening participation and improving access.
The Institute of Economic Affairs has argued that the Russell Group acts out of protectionist interests. It is claimed that this will "restrict competition, discourage innovation and encourage inefficiency, thereby depriving students of lower prices and/or greater choice".
The Russell Group has been prominent in recent years in the debate over the introduction of tuition fees, a measure which it has strongly supported – much to the dismay of the universities' students' unions. Indeed, members of the Group argued that even the fees proposed by the controversial Higher Education Bill would not be sufficient to cover the rising cost of undergraduate teaching, and successfully argued for the right to charge variable fees at much higher rates, so-called top-up fees.
“The Russell Group has successfully stage-managed the position that it is seen as comprising the best universities. Some are and some aren’t, but by and large this is nonsense.
“However, parents increasingly say they want their child to go to one.”
The analysis, due to be published on 25 March, uses citation data to show that when the five "golden-triangle" institutions - the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London and the London School of Economics - are removed from the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities, the 1994 Group of smaller research-led universities outperforms it.