How Much Does Going to a Russell Group Uni Matter?

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‘Russell Group’ is a term that most prospective university students hear a lot when applying to university. You may recognise some of their universities, such as the University of Oxford and Cambridge, as world-leading institutions. However, are these universities so prestigious because of their role in the Russell Group – does going to a Russell Group university really matter that much?

Whether or not you attend a Russell Group university does not matter that much. Russell Group university graduates do earn more on average than graduates from non-Russell Group institutions. However, on balance, there are non-Russell Group universities in the UK that rank higher some of the Russell Group universities.

Disclaimer: This article is based off one student’s opinion. Whilst the article tries to present a balanced argument, it may contain opinions that differ from your own. It should be used alongside your own research before deciding if going to a Russell Group university is right for you.

In this article, I’ll take you through how important attending a Russell Group university actually is, and whether or not you’ll be at a disadvantage if you attend a non-Russell Group university.

Does it matter if you go to a Russell Group university?

It probably will make some difference whether or not you attend a Russell Group university for your postgraduate and employment options. This doesn’t mean your academic and job applications will all be instantly rejected if you don’t attend a Russell Group, but attending one might improve your chances.

However, any difference that attending a Russell Group university will make to your future prospects will be marginal. There is no overwhelming advantage that studying at a Russell Group university gives you over non-Russell Group university students.

Of course, if you’d like to attend a university with a reputation for high-quality education, then going to a Russell Group might matter to you! Not attending one will not put you at a disadvantage to others if that isn’t what you want, though.

If you’d like another student’s opinion on whether or not attending a Russell Group university is important, I’d recommend checking out this Think Student article!

Why is the Russell Group considered prestigious?

Formed in 1994, the Russell Group universities are some of the most prestigious universities in the world, and particularly in the UK. This isn’t just for no reason!

According to statistics provided by the Russell Group, the Russell Group universities produce over two thirds of world-leading research in UK universities, and supply almost £87 billion into the national economy per year! You can read about these statistics and more on the Russell Group website, linked here.

Because of their contribution to global research and the UK economy, universities in the Russell Group have earned their reputation as some of the most prestigious universities in the UK. It’s understandable why so many students want to attend them each year.

Do employers favour graduates from Russell Group universities?

While it isn’t enough to be considerable, yes, some employers do prefer graduates from Russell Group universities to graduates from non-Russell group universities.

According to the Russell Group website, linked here, “Russell Group graduates are highly sought after by employers, both nationally and internationally. The benefits of a Russell Group education are recognised by many graduate employers, who as a result directly target our universities in their recruitment activities.”

Times Higher Education, who also compiles the university league table each year, reported that in 2023-24, 13 UK universities appeared in the Global University Employability Ranking; 11 of these 13 are Russell Group universities. Check out the full list on this page of the Times Higher Education website!

On a global scale, almost 50% of the Russell Group universities rank as some of the most desired universities for prospective employees. However, it should be noted that not graduating from a Russell Group university won’t put you at a major disadvantage when it comes to employment.

One reason for Russell Group universities dominating the UK universities that appear in global rankings is because the Russell Group has global research connections that make them well-known and respected. Other universities may be just as employable, but they may not have the global reputation that the Russell Group does.

Do Russell Group graduates earn more?

According to statistics, graduates from Russell Group universities do actually earn more than graduates from non-Russell Group universities.

On this page of the IFS (Institute for Fiscal Studies) website, they reported that “graduates of Russell Group universities have earnings 10-13% higher on average than graduates of other institutions with the same observable characteristics.”

“Graduates of the top 10 universities have earnings at least 14% more than apparently similar graduates of the “average” university”. For example, say you attended a non-Russell Group university and earned £40,000 a year; a Russell Group graduate would earn around £45,600.

Does it look bad on your CV if you don’t go to a Russell Group university?

No, it will not “look bad” on your CV if you haven’t attended a Russell Group university. The chances are most employers are not actively looking for the name of a Russell Group university on your CV.

Of course, saying you graduated from a Russell Group institution will have its benefits. However, most employers will be more concerned about your degree classification rather than where you graduated from. To read about what degree classifications are, check out this Think Student article.

This is because your degree classification will tell employers more about your capabilities than what university you graduated from. While there are very few downsides to attending a Russell Group university over a non-Russell Group institution, not graduating from one is not the end of the world.

A CV is all about showing off your skills. Which university you attended won’t do this more than your actual qualifications!

What are the top 5 Russell Group universities?

According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024, linked for you here, these are the top 5 Russell Group universities:

  1. University of Oxford: ranked first in the world.
  2. University of Cambridge: ranked fifth in the world.
  3. Imperial College London: ranked eighth in the world.
  4. UCL (University College London): ranked twenty-second in the world.
  5. University of Edinburgh: ranked joint thirtieth in the world.

As you can see from this list, Russell Group universities not only rank as some of the highest in the UK, but in the world too. Check out this World University Rankings from QS, linked here:

  1. University of Cambridge: ranked second in the world.
  2. University of Oxford: ranked third in the world.
  3. Imperial College London: ranked sixth in the world.
  4. UCL (University College London): ranked ninth in the world.
  5. University of Edinburgh: ranked twenty-second in the world.

Although the rankings differ from the list provided by Times Higher Education, the five highest-ranking Russell Group universities were the same. Therefore, the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, UCL and Imperial College London are the top 5 Russell Group universities.

What are the best non-Russell Group universities in the UK?

Using The Guardian’s UK university rankings for 2024, check out the list below of the top 10 highest-ranking non-Russell Group universities:

  1. University of St Andrews: ranked first in the UK.
  2. University of Bath: ranked sixth in the UK.
  3. Loughborough University: ranked tenth in the UK.
  4. University of Lancaster: ranked eleventh in the UK.
  5. University of Aberdeen: ranked twelfth in the UK.
  6. University of the Arts London (UAL): ranked fifteenth in the UK.
  7. University of Strathclyde: ranked sixteenth in the UK.
  8. University of Surrey: ranked twenty-first in the UK.
  9. Aston University: ranked joint-twenty-fifth in the UK.
  10. Swansea University: ranked joint-twenty-fifth in the UK.

You can check out the full list on The Guardian’s website linked here. A lot of these universities actually rank higher than Russell Group universities, so there’s not a huge difference between the quality of Russell Group institutions and non-Russell Group universities.

What is the hardest Russell Group university to get into?

The Russell Group universities are notoriously difficult to get accepted into. Let’s take a look at the offer rates for the Russell Group universities.

According to this page of the Save the Student website, in 2023 the University of Oxford was the university with the lowest offer rate in the UK, with only 19.2% of applicants receiving offers.

Not only that, but 7 out of the 10 universities in the UK with the lowest offer rates were part of the Russell Group. The non-Russell Group universities with the lowest offer rates were the University of St Andrews (third lowest at 24.7%), St George’s University of London (ninth lowest at 40%), and University of the Arts London (UAL) (tenth lowest at 43.2%).

As you can see from this data, some non-Russell Groups are even harder to get into than Russell Group universities! To read more about the hardest and easiest Russell Group universities to get into, check out this Think Student article.

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