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Understanding the Russell Group

Researching and understanding UK universities can be difficult. For a start there are many different ways to rank universities and evaluate universities. From UK university rankings to student satisfaction surveys and online forums, there is a web of tools at your disposal, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. 

To make this even more confusing there are also associations of universities, membership of which can become yet another way of understanding how well a university performs. 

Perhaps the most famous and recognised association of UK universities is the Russell Group. The very name has become synonymous with academic excellence, and students from around the world compete for places at some of the prestigious UK universities who are members of the Russell Group. 

But what is the Russell Group? In this article we will explore the Russell Group in detail to understand what it is, what its benefits are, and how students can strengthen their applications to Russell Group universities in order to get in. 

What is the Russell Group? 

Founded in 1994 the Russell Group is a self-selected association of UK universities whose purpose is to ensure that the conditions exist for them to make “social, economic, and cultural impacts through their world-leading research”.

Officially incorporated in 2007  the Russell Group is so named because the original informal meetings of the group took place in the Hotel Russell in Russell Square. Originally consisting of 17 members, this number has since expanded to 24 leading UK universities. 

The UK universities who are members of the Russell Group are as follows: 

There is a common misconception that the Russell Group universities are the 24 most highly ranked universities in the UK. In fact, in the Guardian University Guide 2024, Queen Mary University of London ranked 73rd in the UK. 

What are the benefits of the Russell Group? 

Even so, the Russell Group universities have an air of prestige in the UK, and there are many benefits to studying at this elite collection of institutions. Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits.

Employment prospects

In the UK especially, it is true that graduates from Russell Group universities have improved employment prospects when compared to those who study at institutions outside of the Russell Group. 

A report in 2023 looking at the labour market value of higher and further education qualifications showed that Russell Group universities tend to have the highest value-add in terms of earnings. In fact, research conducted by Milkround, a leading graduate recruitment firm, found that many of the UK’s biggest employers filtered their graduate job applications by university ranking. 

In addition to this, Milkround found that graduates from Russell Group universities receive a ‘10% salary top-up’ when compared with non-RG graduates in the workplace. 

It is worth mentioning here that these may be skewed statistics, as the Russell Group does include many of the UK’s leading universities, and therefore the enhanced employment statistics of Russell Group graduates could be owing to academic records, attitudes towards study, work ethic, and other factors unrelated to the fact that they studied at a Russell Group school. 


Another key benefit of studying with a Russell Group university is that they receive high levels of funding. In 2022/23, the top 19 English institutions in terms of funding continued to all be from the Russell Group. The total annual income for Russell Group members for 2020–21 was £20.30 billion of which £4.77 billion was from research grants and contracts, with an operating surplus of £1.15 billion. Russell Group universities hold a total endowment value of £6.18 billion (exclusive of colleges) and net assets of £31.52 billion. 

Indeed, these well-funded environments offer significant benefits to students. For example, they provide access to world-leading facilities and equipment, which for certain academic disciplines will be a particular advantage. 

Higher levels of funding also means a greater propensity to award research grants to postgraduate students. As a result, around 60% of all doctorates handed out in the UK are from Russell Group universities. 

Research-intensive learning environment 

The Russell Group universities all have a strong research focus, and as a result they provide a learning environment that is shaped in part by their research activities. 

The benefits of a research-intensive learning environment include: 

  • Networking with a world-leading community of cross-practice academics 

  • Research forming a part of the curricula

  • The ability to undertake research and inquiry whilst studying, and 

  • The opportunity to experience innovative pedagogical approaches.

Once again, for certain academic disciplines, the sciences in particular, studying in a research-intensive learning environment has significant benefits. 

Student satisfaction/Drop-out rates

Russell Group universities profess to have a focus on providing a ‘world class’ student experience, and to create ‘work-ready graduates’ who are prepared for employment post-graduation. 

This does bear out, with Russell Group universities achieving higher than average student satisfaction ratings in their NPS scores, and far lower than average drop-out rates. 

This is a significant benefit to students, as it demonstrates that Russell Group universities do create an environment that is conducive to success. 

How to get into a Russell Group university

So, now that we understand what the Russell Group is and what its benefits are, it’s important to understand what Russell Group universities look for in prospective students. Here are a few short steps to help you maximise your chances of securing a place: 

  1. Do your research

Before applying to a Russell Group university, do lots of research. University applications are made through UCAS, which is the UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Every course at each institution has a unique UCAS code, so it is worth noting these when you are ready to apply. 

  1. Understand the entry requirements 

Every course will have specific entry requirements in terms of academic performance. It is important to understand whether you are likely to meet or exceed the required grades in order to secure a place at these institutions. A great way of gaining insights into the specific entry requirements of your chosen universities is to attend University Admissions Talks (UATs). 

  1. English language competency

Non-native English speakers are required to prove their English language proficiency for Russell Group universities. There are some ways to avoid this, for example if you have already completed a degree in English language at another school, but the likelihood is that you will need TOEFL, IELTS, or another English language competency test. 

  1. Visa requirements

Another important consideration for international students is to secure a student visa. Typically you will need a Student Visa to study in the UK. You can apply for your visa up to three months before your course starts, and we recommend getting this done as early as possible. 

  1. Be a well-rounded student

Many Russell Group universities list extra curricular study and practical experiences among the things they look for in an application. Therefore, it is worthwhile looking for opportunities to advance your understanding or gain experience in your chosen subject to add to your university application. Our pre-university courses are designed to give students exactly that.


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