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The Russell Group, which represents the UK’s elite universities, has today announced the admission of four new institutions, increasing its membership to 24.
The universities of Durham, York, Exeter and Queen Mary (University of London*) are the new members. All were previously members of the 1994 Group, which represents smaller research-intensive universities.
Lancaster University is also a member of the 1994 Group, which has now been depleted to just 15 members.
Speaking to the Times Higher Education Supplement (THE), Russell Group Chair and Vice Chancellor of the University of Leeds Michael Arthur said: “We are delighted to announce that the Russell Group board has invited four more members to join the group, all of whom have accepted.
“Durham, Exeter, Queen Mary and York have demonstrated that – like all other Russell Group members – they excel in research, innovation and education and have a critical mass of research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.”
The THE report cited increasing pressures from developing Higher Education sectors around the world as driving the shift.
“I look forward to working with our new members to make sure the UK remains a global leader in higher education and continues to reap the economic and social benefits that our leading research-intensive universities provide,” said Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group.
Chair of the 1994 Group, Michael Farthing, expressed disappointment at the move but stressed that the 1994 Group continued to support research-intensive institutions.
Lancaster Vice Chancellor Professor Mark Smith echoed these sentiments.
In a short statement to SCAN he said: “Lancaster University is a member of the 1994 Group of smaller research intensive universities and we share a belief with the other members that excellent research and teaching go together to provide our students with an outstanding educational experience.”
The Vice Chancellor’s statement does not gesture towards potential consequences for Lancaster of remaining in a diminished 1994 Group following the first expansion of this kind since the Russell Group’s inception in 1994.
Lancaster actually outperforms Durham, Queen Mary, Exeter and York in The Guardian’s university league tables, having climbed significantly in the last three years.
Lancaster also ranks higher than Queen Mary, Exeter and York in the Complete University Guide.
The Russell Group website states that “87 per cent of students are satisfied with the quality of their university course across Russell Group universities, compared with 83 per cent across universities in the UK.”
However, Lancaster also outpaces the national average. In the most recent National Student Survey (NSS), 88 per cent of students reported being ‘satisfied’ with their course at Lancaster.
Responding to the news and its possible effect on the students’ unions of the 1994 Group, Lancaster University Students’ Union (LUSU) President George Gardiner said: “Today comes as a surprise as it is the first shift of its kind and signals a significant change in the [Higher Education] sector.
“It will certainly put pressure on the remaining ’94 unions and this only intensifies the fact [that] Lancaster needs to consider its strategic future.”
UPDATE 13/03/12: Andrew Scheuber, Communications Officer for the Russell Group, clarified that there have in fact been minor expansions to the Russell Group in recent years. King’s College London and Cardiff University joined back in 1998, whilst Queen’s University Belfast were added in 2006.
Asked whether there were any plans for further expansion, Scheuber said: “We have no plans for further changes in the membership.”
*Correction. The initial published version of this article mistakenly read ‘Queen Mary (University College London)’. This has been corrected to ‘Queen Mary (University of London).’ Assistant Editor.