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The Russell Group universities view themselves as the leaders in UK higher education. Created in 1994, they were originally comprised of 17 universities, amongst them Oxford, Cambridge, University College London and Imperial College. In the last six years, membership had grown to 20. According to the 2008 research assessment exercise, these 20 produce 60% of the UK’s research in the ‘top world-class’ category. The Russell Group, as was recently noted in The Guardian, is regarded as a “powerful lobbying organisation” with “considerable influence in Whitehall” (i.e. at the highest levels of government in the UK).
The four new members are leaving another consortium, the 1994 Group. This association represents 15 other research-intensive, but mostly smaller universities. Michael Farthing, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex and Chair of the 1994 Group, voiced his disappointment about the departure of the four, which will take effect in August.
The birth of the two groupings relates back to 1992, when the UK abolished its “binary system” by transforming the former polytechnics into universities. In reaction to this development, the leading “pre-1992 universities” met at the Russell Hotel in London to analyse implications. In order to avoid that the “new universities” would eat into their share of research and funding, they created the Russell Group. Those “pre-1992 universities” not at the table banded together to form the 1994 Group. But the 15 never got near the share of research funding of the Russell Group (almost two-thirds of the national total) – which may be a reason for the move of the four.Russell Group 1994 Group The Guardian