Four universities join elite Russell Group

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

image captionThere will now be 24 universities in the Russell Group

Four more universities are joining the Russell Group of leading universities - Durham, Exeter, Queen Mary, University of London, and York.

The Russell Group represents some of the most prestigious universities in the UK - and will now have 24 members.

The group's chairman Michael Arthur said the universities shared a "critical mass of research excellence across a wide range of disciplines".

These four institutions have left the 1994 Group of universities.

A majority of universities in the UK now belong to one of the so-called "mission groups".

These mission groups have become part of the politics and marketing of higher education.

Brand identity

The Russell Group, set up in 1994 and named after a London hotel where university heads held meetings, is the representative of some of the biggest names in higher education.

The expansion of this group has been at the expense of the 1994 Group, which is characterised by research-intensive institutions, often with a particular specialism.

The 1994 Group issued a statement expressing its disappointment.

Other mission groups include Million+, representing new universities, and Guild HE, representing specialist vocational institutions and University Alliance for business-focused universities.

While such mission groups developed as ways of lobbying and shaping higher education policy, they have also become part of marketing a university's "brand".

The increase in tuition fees to up to £9,000 per year has made it more important for universities to be able to sell the prestige of their courses to students.

Acquiring the label of a Russell Group university could be seen as adding value - particularly for the lucrative overseas student market.

The other Russell Group universities are Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Imperial College London, King's College London, University College London, Leeds, Liverpool, London School of Economics, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen's University Belfast, Sheffield, Southampton and Warwick.

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