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University Challenge

Finding the best...





Not only do we offer a series of starting points to help you consider which course at what uni, but we now feature, on this website, unique university schools data and of course an overview of those dreaded finances. 

It's never too early to start looking to the future - for that reason:

We now carry fantastic data showing not only which universities pupils go to from any given school but how many and to what courses. Moreover if a university or course is of specific interest to you you can see which schools the students attended. 





Finding a good university


Ask both 'What makes a good university?' And 'What makes a good university for me?'


Your starter for 10


Think about:


  1. The courses offered: Are they really for you? Make sure you look for courses that interest and excite you. Three plus years studying the wrong thing will either equal an eternity or equate to an early exit.
  2. Reputation and prestige. You may not care about league tables and the perceptions of others but it can make a big difference to career prospects. If you're interested in working for a particular organisation or within a certain field check out which universities they prefer and from where they recruit.
  3. The quality and type of teaching and instruction. Do you like to be taught and told or does the idea of a few hours of lecture and a lot of independent study research and seminars appeal? Does the idea of a vocational course possibly with a sandwich element appeal or are you very much in the ivory towers league?
  4. Exams. When it comes to exams do you prefer a little or a lot? What suits you? A research-based degree, one that has a considerable element of continual assessment or one that relies on final exams and dissertation?
  5. Location. Don't be stuck in the middle of nowhere if you're a city boy or girl at heart. Do you see yourself living and working here for at least 3 years? Have you considered an overseas option - perhaps The US, Australia, Holland?
  6. Environment. Do you want the intimacy of a campus or the freedom of a city? Does the local student accommodation and social scene match your expectations – if not, does it matter? 
  7. Affordability. Can you afford the tuition fees and local cost of living? Scottish students get free tuition in Scotland only, Welsh students can venture away from Wales and still benefit from subsidised fees. Is the local cost of living manageable for you? Accommodation costs in London and SE are typically much higher than those in the North/ Midlands.
  8. Activities and amenities.  Do these meet your needs and aspirations?
  9. What motivates you? Money or musings? If the former investigate career prospects carefully, if the latter what are the prospects for graduate study?
  10. Finally.  Look at the end product – at final year students and recent graduates – is this you?


Ultimately, what's good, is what is best for you.


Great, good, good enough?

With the advent of a plethora of league tables, departmental inspections and rankings it is debatable which universities lead the pack. Few would argue the prowess and acclaim, on the world stage, of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale in arguable order. But what of the others? Great and glorious, also ran or never ran?


Top universities and prestigious courses are still asking for high grades and will likely charge the highest fees but are they delivering value for money? Do higher fees equal 'better' degree or institution?

  • Don't just ask how many graduates are gainfully employed after six months but how many are in suitable graduate employment. What are they doing two years after graduation? 
  • Find out which employers recruit from your preferred university and from what courses.
  • Look at your career choices - where did people study, what degree course did they follow? (Most company websites have career profiles, similarly a good careers officer will advise on the best pathways to a chosen career).

Headline figures can mask students who take minimum wage jobs in call centres or burger bars just to get by. Some students take higher degrees, not because they wish to continue their studies but, because there is little else open to them...


Conventional thinking? 

About UK Universities

Choosing a good universityOxford is the oldest university in Britain, with rival and competitor, Cambridge founded several decades hence.

It was a couple of centuries later that Scotland got its first university – in the shape of St Andrews - with the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh founded before any new universities appeared in England. Undoubtedly all these old universities remain sought-after today, as do the newer but long-established ‘Red-Brick’ universities.

In Britain broad classifications are made – Oxford and Cambridge forming the elite with places at the sought after Russell Group of Universities battled for on a par with those who form the 1994 group; these, a mixture of Red-Brick and Plate Glass Universities.  Less sought after are many of the Million+ and 1992 groups – former polytechnics and colleges – though some are beginning to make their mark in a notable and forceful way, giving traditional universities a run for their money.  Many more though are still very much ‘recruiting’ rather than selecting universities.


Types of Universities


The Russell Group

This is perhaps the most talked about group, with its members revered as research-intensive universities, competing on an international stage.

The Russell Group comprises The Universities of:

Birmingham; Bristol; Cambridge; Cardiff; Edinburgh; Glasgow; Leeds; Liverpool; Manchester; Newcastle; Nottingham; Oxford; Queen's Belfast; Sheffield; Southampton; University College London (UCL); Warwick plus Imperial College London; King's College London and The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

They were joined in March 2012 by:

Durham; Exeter; Queen Mary, University of London; York.


The 1994 Group

Another group claiming research excellence is The 1994 Group. This includes many of the 'traditional' universities that are not members of The Russell Group.

The 1994 Group comprises The Universities of:

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


Red Brick Universities

This term, still in use, strictly refers to the 6 universities in industrial towns that were founded before world war one – and built with red-brick facades. At the time, all had an engineering/science bias, were non-collegiate (unlike Oxford, Cambridge and Durham) and recruited students without reference to religion or background.

The original red-brick six were: The Universities of:

Birmingham; Bristol; Leeds; Liverpool ; Manchester and Sheffield.


Red-Brick pretenders?

A number of other universities claim (for various reasons) 'Red-Brick' status, these are The Universities of:

Aberystwyth; Bangor; Cardiff; Dundee; Exeter; Goldsmiths College; Hull; Leicester, Newcastle; Nottingham; Queen Mary; Queen's Belfast; Reading; Royal Holloway, Southampton and Swansea.


Plate Glass Universities

Sounds modern? That’s because they are.  In 1963 The Robbins Report led to the creation of a number of new universities, later termed 'Plate Glass Universities' by Michael Beloff in his book ‘The Plate Glass Universities’, published in 1968.

The original Plate Glass universities were The Universities of:

Sussex, York, East Anglia, Essex, Lancaster, Kent and Warwick. In addition a number of other 'New Universities' are sometimes referred to as 'Plate Glass Universities' These are the universities of: Aston; Bath; Bradford; Brunel; City University, London; Heriot-Watt; Keele; Loughborough; Salford; Stirling; Strathclyde; Surrey and Ulster.

These universities should not be confused with the post 1992 universities all of which had a former life as polytechnics, colleges or institutes of education.


Post 1992 Universities

More than 60 new universities effectively doubled the number of places on offer. These are The Universities of:

Abertay Dundee;  Anglia Ruskin; Bath Spa; Bedfordshire; Birmingham City; Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln; Bolton; Brighton; Bournemouth; Buckinghamshire New University; Canterbury Christ Church; Central Lancashire; Chester;  Chichester; Coventry; Cumbria;  De Montfort; Derby;  East London;  Edge Hill; Edinburgh Napier; Glamorgan; Glasgow Caledonian; GloucestershireGlynd?r; Greenwich;  Hertfordshire; Huddersfield;  Kingston; Leeds Metropolitan;  Lincoln;  Liverpool Hope; Liverpool John Moores;  London Metropolitan;  London South Bank;  Manchester Metropolitan;  Middlesex; Newman University College; Newport; Northampton; Northumbria;  Nottingham Trent; Oxford Brookes;  Plymouth;  Portsmouth;  Queen Margaret; Robert Gordon; Roehampton; Sheffield Hallam;  Southampton Solent; Staffordshire; Sunderland; Swansea Metropolitan; Teesside;  Thames Valley;  University of the Arts London;  University of Wales Institute, Cardiff; University of the West of England;  University of the West of Scotland (formerly University of Paisley ); Westminster; Winchester; Wolverhampton;  Worcester;  York St John University.



Million+ describe themselves as a university think tank. They publish research reports and policy papers. There members comprise a number of 'New Universities' (formerly polytechnics/colleges), they are The Universities of:

Abertay Dundee; Anglia Ruskin; Bath Spa; Bedfordshire; Birmingham City; Bolton; Buckinghamshire New University; Central Lancashire; Coventry; Derby; East London; Edinburgh Napier; Glasgow Caledonian; Greenwich; Kingston; Leeds Metropolitan; London Metropolitan; London South Bank; Middlesex; Northampton; Roehampton; Southampton Solent; Staffordshire; Sunderland; Teesside; Thames Valley; The West of Scotland and The University of Wolverhampton.


The University Alliance

A group of 22 universities with a business focus.  The universities in this group claim a balanced portfolio of research, teaching, enterprise and innovation. All are all Plate Glass or post 1992 universities.

Alliance members are The Universities of:

Aberystwyth; Bournemouth; Bradford; De Montfort Glamorgan; Gloucestershire; Hertfordshire; Huddersfield; Lincoln; Liverpool John Moores; Manchester Metropolitan; Newport; Northumbria<; Nottingham Trent; Oxford Brookes; Plymouth; Portsmouth; Salford; Sheffield Hallam plus The University of The West of England,  University of Wales Institute, Cardiff and The Open University.


Private Universities and Overseas Options

With the advent of hefty tuition fees from 2012 a burgeoning of private universities in the UK is expected. Currently a handful, such as the University of Buckingham, operate outside of UCAS but others are expected to emerge; we will keep you posted. We are also witnessing an increase in the number of students considering university outside of the UK. To accommodate the changes our useful guide Uni In the USA (see below) is being updated to include other overseas universities that we think worthy of consideration. We will bring you more details shortly.


University Beyond The UK

Small but increasing numbers now cross the pond to study at US universities including those in the Ivy League and, with the advent of tuition fees at English universities, handfuls are considering spending their student days at European uni's.

There are many options available to UK students who choose to read for a degree outside of the UK. We explore a number of these in Uni In The USA...And Beyond .



Uni in the USA... buy now


Uni in the USA...And BeyondThe Guide to US universities written by students for students


...with a helping hand from The Good Schools Guide


Who will the uni suit? What is it like to be a student there? How hard do students work? What about the social scene, the campus, sports...? 

See what students really think...Uni in the USA...

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Moving overseas?

Make The Good Schools Guide International  your first port of call - The number one guide to world-class schools overseas.

University finances

Fees charged by universities vary throughout the UK and are dependent on the nationality and place of residence of the student; for example, Scottish students attending Scottish universities do not pay tuition fees but EU (including English) students attending English universities make a contribution. Fees at English universities are capped at a maximum of  £9,000 for the 2012/13 academic year. 

Current financial help available depends on circumstances but includes:

  • a maintenance grant for some full-time students from lower income families,
  • a tuition fee loan,
  • a maintenance loan for students living away from home (reduced for students in receipt of a maintenance grant).
  • disability grant/additional financial help for eligible students.
  • scholarships and bursaries - for some courses at some universities - check with individual institutions.


Exceptionally, some colleges / universities may offer bursaries.  See for more details including eligibility for finance and a useful section on how/when to apply. UK applicants can apply for finance via the UCAS website


University A levels

Before applying, always check the course requirements. If you are not sure what you want to do at university The Russell Group of universities recommends selecting a couple of A levels from their 'facilitating list'. These are:

Biology, chemistry, geography, English(literature), history, maths, further maths, physics, a foreign language.

These, along with economics and politics are considered 'hard A levels' and are looked on especially favourably by top universities. 

Soft subjects include, photography, media studies, art and design and business studies. The Russell Group suggest that, having one of these in a portfolio of subjects is fine but recommend any soft subject should ideally be combined with harder or facilitating subjects for many courses at most universities. 


University data and university groupings


University groupingsOn this website we carry extensive university data.


For any school see:

  • The types of universities pupils go onto. 
  • The actual universities and how popular they are with pupils at a given school
  • The course types - Humanities, Sciences, Languages, Arts etc that pupils pursue.
  • The individual courses they choose to follow. 

For more information on the data available see University Entrance Data.


Further reading

Oxbridge Admissions - Who should apply? What to expect.

Moving On To University - a lively look at the 'bereft' parent

Uni In The USA...And Beyond - Find out more about our very own guide to studying overseas.

University Links - key websites

University Guides Selected reading material

University Entrance Data - Don't miss the extensive, unique and unmissable university data on this website.

Uni in the USA... And Beyond - Our brand new section containing reviews of top overseas universities

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