‘Russell Group’ is a term you will likely be familiar with if you have ever gone through the university application process in the UK.
Founded in 1994, the Russell Group is a group of 24 UK universities that are considered to be the gold standard of academia.
Member universities have a strong reputation for carrying out pioneering research and can often be found near the top of university league tables.
The problem is, many people don’t really understand what the Russell Group is, and seem to have the misconception that Russell Group equals the best possible education. This is not at all the case.
The Russell Group is a self-selected association, and though they do tend to dominate the top of the league tables, there are many top (and even higher) ranking universities not in the group.
As someone who has attended both a Russell Group and a non-Russell Group university, I have found that there are distinct advantages to both sides.
Doing a BA in English at Newcastle University taught me academic skills like how to be a critical thinker and research and write effectively.
My time at the University of Sunderland has so far offered more practical opportunities, which in turn make me more employable.
Here are the key differences between Russell Group and non-Russell Group universities.
In my experience, Russell Group universities are very good at doing what they say on the tin: offering high quality research-led academic courses. Emphasis on the research.
As an English BA student, I was taught by some of the leading researchers and academics in the field. This meant that if I ever needed help for a particular piece of work, I could speak to experts who often had actually authored the books that were on my reading list.
But not every subject lends itself to a research-led approach, so when it came to choosing where to do a journalism master’s degree, I opted for a non-Russell Group university that offered practical experience and hands-on teaching.
Whilst previously I had to fight for an appointment slot within the lecturer’s weekly allocated three hours of contact time, now I can get the help I need quickly. At my current — non-Russell Group — university, there is less emphasis on research, meaning that the tutors and lecturers have more time to teach and support us.
Research-intensive universities get approximately 75% of university research grant money in the UK. Considering that there are over 150 higher education institutions in the UK, this is quite a dramatic difference in funding.
Though Russell Group universities receive more funding, this doesn’t necessarily equate to better facilities for all students. During my three years at Newcastle, there was no change to the humanities campus, but numerous additions and updates to the sciences campus.
I must highlight that this is very much my own experience, and every course and university will be different. I found that during my time at a Russell Group university I was surrounded almost exclusively by lots of people that looked just like me, with identical socio-economic backgrounds.
The result of being predominantly surrounded by fellow white (mostly female) students during my BA was that seminars often contained very two-dimensional conversations.
or more meaningful conversations to happen, you need more diversity in the room. My experience on my master’s course has been the polar opposite. There are people of all different ages, nationalities, beliefs and economic backgrounds, working together and learning from each other.
When it comes to applying for jobs after you graduate, a degree from a Russell Group university will certainly support your application.
Big name recruiters also tend to concentrate on visiting careers fairs and exhibitions held at Russell Group universities, which gives these students a chance to get ahead and talk to recruiters face to face.
But employers are much more interested in how you perform in an interview, as well as the skills and experience you gained whilst at university, rather than the specific university you attended.
At Newcastle there were lots of job fairs, and a careers service on hand to help with applications if needed.
However, in my experience, Sunderland offers a more personalised experience, with lots of bursaries and financial support on hand to encourage you to apply for opportunities such as work experience or internships that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford to do.
There are so many factors to take into consideration when choosing which universities to apply for. There are lots of differences between Russell Group and non-Russell Group universities, but as long as you go for a course you feel passionate about in a city you feel safe and happy in, you can’t go wrong!
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Talya is a part-time journalism master's student living in North Yorkshire.