Russell Group and comments

Russell Group 'a more natural fit'

15 March 2012

By John Morgan

The University of Exeter saw the Russell Group as a "more natural fit"
after the government's AAB policy "changed the debate", its
vice-chancellor said, as four additional institutions joined the elite
mission group.

Sir Steve Smith made the comments after it was announced that Exeter,
Durham University, the University of York and Queen Mary, University
of London - all previously members of the 1994 Group - had joined the
set of larger research-intensive universities.

The 1994 Group, which represents smaller research-led institutions, is
said to have been given only half an hour's notice of the
universities' decision to leave prior to the issuing of a press
release by the Russell Group announcing the new members.

Reportedly there had been a split within the 1994 Group over whether
it should offer a public defence of widening access in higher
education following the furore over the government's appointment of
Les Ebdon, the vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, as
the next director of fair access.

Sir Steve, a former chair of the 1994 Group, said the organisation
"has been fantastically strong and successful", but added that the
"sector is changing".

"The view at Exeter was that we see ourselves as more of a Russell
Group profile, certainly in terms of research strength, but also in
terms of admissions," he said.

Last year, the government announced that universities would be allowed
unlimited recruitment of students with A-level grades of AAB or better
in 2012-13. Institutions with a high proportion of such students will
benefit as they will be protected from cuts to undergraduate places.

Exeter, Durham and the University of Bath were the only non-Russell
Group universities in the top 10 institutions with the highest
proportion of AAB students, calculated on the basis of 2009-10 data
published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England last
year (see table above).

Sir Steve, who was Universities UK president at the time the AAB
policy was developed, said: "The AAB thing changed the debate."

He added: "Durham and ourselves were up there and then York was a
little bit lower, but not much."

The new members may put added pressure on Russell Group universities
with lower proportions of high-achieving students. Although Queen Mary
figures lower down the table for the proportion of AAB students, it
scored highly in the 2008 research assessment exercise.

Michael Farthing, chair of the 1994 Group and vice-chancellor of the
University of Sussex, is said to have pressed for a public assertion
of the group's commitment to widening access following press criticism
of Professor Ebdon's appointment.

But some within the sector believe that the group was held back from
delivering such a statement at a late stage by a number of member

The departures leave the 1994 Group with 15 members, while the Russell
Group now has 24.

Readers' comments

    really? 15 March, 2012

    So if the AAB changed the debate, why is Bath not in the Russell
Group (and why are some previous RG members now no longer in it)?
    Exeter 15 March, 2012

    AAB was probably the factor that let Exeter in. The Russell Group
to my mind is about Research Excellence, Exeter certanily does not
have the depth of breadth of high quliaty research that all the other
RG uni's have.

    If a number of well to do middle class white families want to send
there kids to Exeter then of course entry grades will increase. I
think Exeter have played a blinder in being able to free-ride on the
reputation of the Russell Group without doing anything more than being
a white town in the the Sunny South West that middle class Englanders
want to send their privately educated children too.
    Mark T 15 March, 2012

    "Reportedly there had been a split within the 1994 Group over
whether it should offer a public defence of widening access in higher
education..." So I take it some institutions are intrinsically opposed
to widening participation? Notably Exeter?