Response to HEPI article on Russell Group

20 August 2022

In response to the article on the Russell Group by Mary Curnock Cook published in HEPI today (20 August 22), Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said:

"Over half of Russell Group members are in the top 100 of the independently rated QS world rankings. In the recent REF exercise, 91% of our research was rated 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent' and we draw on this extensively to underpin the educational experience we give our students.

"Our members work hard to give everyone with the drive and determination to go to university the opportunity to do so. These comments are an unfair attack on the work they do with schools, parents, community groups and many others to help young people.

"As well as access and outreach programmes, our universities also work with schools and colleges, offering resources, training and even running academy trusts to help drive up attainment and give more young people the chance to succeed in all walks of life.

"The proportion of 18-year-olds from some of the most disadvantaged areas entering English Russell Group universities has increased every year for the last seven years and we are determined to continue that trend. Last year alone our universities took on 20% more students from the lowest participation areas.

"Once they are at our universities, young people are given a range of support to help them complete their courses and build a fulfilling career afterwards. This is reflected in the high levels of continuation rates and future earnings at our universities for students of all backgrounds."

Further information

The QS World University Rankings 2022 can be found here.

At English Russell Group universities, undergraduates from the most under-represented backgrounds (POLAR Q1 areas) are as likely to continue on their courses after the first year (94%). This means that POLAR Q1 students are as likely to continue their studies past the first year at Russell Group universities as those from the least under-represented areas (POLAR Q5) studying elsewhere.

In total, 89% of the most under-represented students (those from POLAR Q1 areas) achieve a first or upper second-class degree at Russell Group universities. Although there is a gap in degree attainment between the most and least under-represented students, this has closed from seven percentage points in 2016/17 to five percentage points in 2019/20, and our universities have set targets to eradicate this gap over time. 

Across all English Russell Group universities, the ratio between the least and most under-represented students (those from POLAR Quintile 5 versus POLAR Quintile 1) entering full-time undergraduate courses fell from 6.9:1 in 2013/14 to 4.8:1 in 2019/20. If current trends continue, we can expect the gap in progression to Russell Group universities to close further to a ratio of 3:1 by 2025/26.

On average, over £11m will be spent on access and participation programmes at each Russell Group university for each of the next five years to help close the gap in progression between students from the least and most under-represented areas of the UK.

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