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University mission groups explained

Natasha Ross looks at what university mission groups mean for prospective students.

Note: since this article was published, the 1994 Group has disbanded.

Mission groups aren’t the first thing everyone looks at when they first start looking at universities, and when I made my choices about where to apply, I didn’t have a clue what mission group the universities I was applying for were in.

University mission groups can seem like another set of mystical criteria that different universities fall into, but can they provide a useful steer for students looking for what university to go to?

There are four mission groups, the Russell Group, the 1994 group, University Alliance, and million+. A mission group is a collection of universities united around a purpose or theme. Some universities choose not to be in any mission group at all.

The Russell Group

Who: University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, Imperial College London, King's College London, University of Leeds, University of Liverpool, London School of Economics & Political Science, University of Manchester, Newcastle University, University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, Queen's University Belfast, University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, University College London, University of Warwick. These institutions will be joined in August 2012 by the University of Exeter, Durham University, Queen Mary University, and the University of York.

In their own words: '20 leading UK universities which are committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector.'

Unique Selling Point: Generally Russell Group institutions are the oldest and most prestigious universities, and they expect the highest entry requirements. Its members tend to be high in league tables and most respected in terms of academic standing.

The 1994 Group

Note: the 1994 Group is no longer active.

Who: University of Bath, Birkbeck, University of East Anglia, University of Essex, Goldsmiths, Institute of Education, Royal Holloway, Lancaster University, University of Leicester, Loughborough University, University of Reading, University of St Andrews, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of Surrey, University of Sussex.

In their own words: 'Established to promote excellence in research and teaching. To enhance student and staff experience within our universities and to set the agenda for higher education.'

Unique Selling Point: The 1994 Group says it is  the best mission group in terms of ‘Student Satisfaction’ (as measured by the National Student Survey). Its website states that the majority of top ten universities for student satisfaction have been 1994 group institutions every year since 2005, and that overall, the group out performs the university sector substantially in this area. Second to the Russell Group in terms of expectations of entry requirements of potential students.

University Alliance

Who: Bournemouth University, University of Bradford, Cardiff Metropolitan University, De Montfort University, University of Glamorgan, Glasgow Caledonian University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Huddersfield, Kingston University, University of Lincoln, Liverpool John Moores University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Northumbria University, Nottingham Trent University, The Open University, Oxford Brookes University, Plymouth University, University of Portsmouth, University of Salford, Sheffield Hallam University, Teesside University, University of Wales, Newport, University of the West of England

In their own words: 'University Alliance is a group of 23 major, business-engaged universities committed to delivering world-class research and a quality student experience around the UK.'

Unique Selling Point: University Alliance is proud of its links with business and the contribution it makes to the economy and supporting entrepreneurial activity.

Million+

Who: University of Abertay Dundee, Anglia Ruskin University, Bath Spa University, University of Bedfordshire, Birmingham City University, University of Bolton, Buckinghamshire New University, Canterbury Christ Church University, University of Central Lancashire, Coventry University, University of Cumbria, University of Derby, University of East London, Edinburgh Napier University, University of Gloucestershire, University of Greenwich, Kingston University, Leeds Metropolitan University, London Metropolitan University, Middlesex University, University of Northampton, Staffordshire University, University of Sunderland, University of West London, University of The West of Scotland, University of Wolverhampton

In their own words: 'We are a university think-tank. This means we work to help solve complex problems in higher education and to ensure that policy reflects the potential of the UK's world-class university system.'

Unique Selling Point: Million+ doesn’t define itself as much by its members, but as a ‘think tank’ who attempt to influence policy. Obviously all mission groups try to influence government policy in order to benefit their members, but million+ seems to consider it its main function.  It also champions the benefits of “new universities” (those which became universities after 1992, and were formerly other types of educational institution).

How can mission groups help me choose a university?

Mission Groups can be a useful place to start when you are looking for a list of similar institutions, and there are some very real differences between the universities in each group. The Russell Groups and 1994 Group lead the league tables in terms of almost every traditional subject (English, Maths, History etc) while University Alliance and Million+ contain ‘new’ universities (universities which became accredited universities after 1992) and definitely show they are younger institutions - providing some specialist or modern courses that you might not find at the older, more traditional institutions. Newer universities have also proved themselves good at providing more flexible opportunities, as they are home to more mature and part-time students than the Russell and 1994 Groups, and can be more flexible in terms of entry requirements as well. As mentioned above, a few universities choose not to be in any mission group at all – showing that the groups are definitely not all encompassing in terms of telling you what you need to know. In fact, you can find out much more about potential universities from other sources, and the Choosing A University section is a great place to start.

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