Should I study at a Russell Group university?

Sean Campbell
Sean Campbell

26 June 2020 • 5 min read

Choosing the right degree for you is one thing, but so too is choosing the right university for you. When reading through prospectuses, promotional pamphlets and university information, we sometimes see universities boasting about being a member of the Russell Group. Even if you don’t know exactly what this means, it still makes them sound important! 

The assumption (and it is just an assumption!) of many is that Russell Group Universities are better;  They’re more prestigious, student results are higher on average, and job prospects are stronger. In this sense, it’s like the UK’s version of the Ivy League, the most prestigious colleges in the US. 

But is this all true? There’s plenty of alternative information out there that argues that a Russell Group university degree is not so important, and that you’d be just as well off studying somewhere else.   

All this information can be confusing -- trust us, we’ve been there before! Therefore, we’re going to make it easier for you. In this article, we’ll take a look at what the Russell Group actually is, and if it really matters if you study at one or not. 

What is the Russell Group?

Founded in 1994, the Russell Group is an association of 24 public research universities in the UK. They came together with the aim of representing their interests to the government. They began lobbying them in order to ensure that they would have the “optimum conditions in which to flourish and continue to make social economic and cultural impacts” through their research and teaching. 

Due to both their influence and performance, Russell Group universities receive approximately 75% of university research grant money in the UK. On top of that, as of 2017, Russell Group graduates held around 60% of all jobs that require a degree. They also award 60% of the UK’s doctorates.  

It’s little wonder therefore that member universities are happy to use their status as a mark of prestige. 

But it’s worth knowing that the Russell Group is a self-selected association. This means that it’s not necessarily true that all of their member universities are simply the best in the UK. While they are mostly among the elite, there are also plenty of top-ranking universities not in the Russell Group. 

The strange truth of the matter is that a lot of people don’t fully understand what the Russell Group is actually all about, and often mistake it for a guarantee of quality education, no matter the course you choose.  

Reasons to study at a non-Russell Group university

Even though many elite universities are members of the Russell Group, it’s important to remember once more that the group itself is self-formed, and it was not founded to be a sole indicator of excellence. Some very highly-ranked universities have simply elected not to join the group for their own reasons. 

As a quick example, the University of St. Andrews (No. 3), the University of Lancaster (No. 8), and the University of  Bath (No. 9), are not members.

Meanwhile, the best universities for specific courses are often not in the Russell Group either.  The University of Dundee is ranked as the number 1 place to study medicine in the UK for example, yet it is not a member of the Russell Group. Further to this point, the University of Bradford’s Occupational Therapy course is ranked 3rd in the UK, while the University of Strathclyde’ offers one of the top 10 places to study Law. 

So in short, there are plenty of elite UK universities and courses that aren’t Russell Group members. This is sure proof that you don’t absolutely have to attend a Russell group university simply because it’s a member.   

Do employers care if I go to a Russell Group university?

This is a more sensible question to ask. The simple answer? It all depends on your degree and industry. 

Truth be told, most employers care more about your skill and suitability for the job, rather than the university you attended. The vast majority of employers won’t mind if your university is not in the Russell Group or even in the top 20 or 30 universities in the UK. 

That said, having a top university on your CV sure does help it stand out from the crowd. Think about it -- if someone says they went to Cambridge, Oxford, or Harvard or Yale in the US, you’d likely be impressed just by the name. In fact, around 80% of barristers in the UK attended Oxbridge! Industries like Law, Engineering and Finance still do look approvingly on degrees from top universities. 

However, in a lot of cases, hiring staff care more about work experience, leadership and indicators for growth, motivation and development.  

But attending a highly ranked university can help your employment prospects in plenty of other ways too, not only in the standard of education and research. You can mingle and meet with influential people, make useful personal connections and get access to certain graduate schemes that may not be available at other universities.  

But remember that not all top UK universities are Russell Group universities. 

The big question: Is a Russell Group university right for me?

We always recommend choosing the right degree first. The right university for you is the one with the right degree for you. 

Rather than spending too much time worrying about whether your university of choice is in the Russell Group, you may be better focusing on other factors, such as their specific course ranking and curriculum, student lifestyle, study facilities and resources, as well as extracurricular student bodies and organisations. 

If it so happens that the university you settle on is a member of the Russell Group, then great! If not, don’t worry about it at all. What matters the most is you getting the right education to set you up for life in the professional world. 

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Sean Campbell
Written By
Sean Campbell

Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.


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