What’s the worst uni in the Russell Group? Vote now

School spirit and pride are alien to the British psyche – let’s face up to some hard truths


Hallowed institutions are made to be disrespected – it’s good for the soul. Now, don’t get offended, but we’ve made the case for why each university in the Russell Group is the worst of the lot. Read our words then vote in the poll.


Apart from being filled with really nice people who inspire no real emotional response in anyone, Brum is also the student capital of horrendous violent crime. This year has seen endless knifepoint muggings, break-ins, and even the skinning and barbecuing of a dead badger.

No one knows what Birmingham is about, but that doesn’t mean they want to find out.


The badger in question


Refusing to side with either public school camp, Bristol is neither Durham nor Leeds. Instead its students try to navigate a third way where they appear both cultivated and fun-loving. Sadly, it looks more conceited than cultured. Chucking on a pair of Airmax and reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s Wikipedia doesn’t make you look like a hippy genius, it’s just really try-hard.



When it comes to competition, the only thing that matters to Cambridge is beating its elite rival. Unfortunately, the Cantabs come second to Oxford on pretty much every count, making it the university with the biggest inferiority complex in Britain. They are newer, less famous and worse at sport than their rivals. The only thing they ever beat Oxford in was the Civil War, when they sided with Cromwell. And even then everyone accused them of being puritanical squares, which they are.



Cardiff will probably never be able to dispel the suggestion that they’re only in the Russell Group because a Welsh one was needed, but it has another problem too – the astonishing density of meathead rugby boys wearing flip flops and stash tracksuit bottoms. But not in a rah way, it’s more of a fake-tanned, Gavin Henson sort of vibe. If you’re wondering what their female equivalent of that is, it’s a pair of fucking hair straighteners.



Nicknamed Dullham because of their appetite for really drab nightlife, they have all of the downsides of Oxbridge: boring, clever people wearing red trousers in rubbish nightclubs, and none of the benefits. It’s the home to the worst club in Europe, and seems to be totally insulated from any youth subculture which wasn’t cultivated in the boarding houses of the nation’s public schools. Durham is the Clapham of universities, a perverted King Midas for whom everything they touch instantly becomes lame.



A throwback to the days when rich kids held dinner parties and wore pink shirts with the collars turned up, Edinburgh withstood the hipsterfication of posh people by building its social sphere around an elite cadre of European royalty and those Sloanes who have absolutely no self-awareness. It’s charming in a way, but Edinburgh students are on a one-way train to a Swiss banking internship, skipping out their childhood on the way.

Good form

Still good form in Edinburgh


Still shopping at Jack Wills in 2014, Exeter is a glorified finishing school, training its attendees in the refined arts of clapping yourself on the back, lacking empathy and looking down on people worse off than you. If you’re not from Guildford or Cheltenham, you might as well be from Mars; if you’re looking for a student existence populated solely by acquaintances, then you’ve come to the right place.



Students have been known to dabble in both drinking and drugs, so you’d expect Glasgow to have an almost natural harmony between its local residents and its part-timers. Not so. The character-building exposure to a “real city” may have its appeals when you’re flicking through the prospectus in the comfort of your sixth form centre, but after the third time you get glassed  leaving your “brutalism as an antecedent” lecture, the appeal wears thin. Like Afghanistan, the only good thing about it is telling people you were there.

The charm of gritty urban housing (pic: The Justified Sinner)

The charm of gritty urban housing (pic: The Justified Sinner)

Imperial College London

To be fair, if you are a geeky, male international student, you will fit right in at IC. Everyone claims their university is really different to the others, but Imperial actually is. We don’t want to criticise too much, because we quite like the little nerds, but boy do we not want to join them.


King’s College London

Though they long to be seen as political aficionados who saunter around Somerset house reading French literature through round-rimmed specs, King’s students are kidding themselves. These tweed blazer-wearing know-it-alls are too busy indulging in spray-on sixth form politics. When they’re not busy pretending to empathise with the Israel/Palestine conflict, they’re seeking out the next divestment/disaffiliation/prohibition motion to present before the big political beasts of the revered SU. Before doing a masters of course.


It’s fair trade


OK, we’ll admit it – the self-styled coolest uni in Britain does have a lot going for it. Good looking students, great nightlife, and a cool city. But Leeds has turned into a parody of itself. You’ve probably heard the joke: what grades do you need for Leeds? LSD and two Es.

If you want evidence for how seriously they take this reputation, look no further than student MC Slick Nick, who raps: “Welcome to Leeds, what can I get ya? A gram of mephedrone or some dub to step to?” As one commenter put it, accidentally summing up the malaise of the classic Leeds student: “Simon Nicholson, who attended a school that cost £30,000 a year has just produced one of the weakest attempts of joining the popular culture music scene.”



To get into Liverpool, you need three Bs at A Level. If the bar to get in was any lower it’d basically be a doorstop. Consistently wears the ‘original redbrick uni” label as a badge of honour in the same way that Laurie Penny calls herself a journalist – technically accurate, but hardly the first name that jumps to mind.


Just very standard

London School Economics & Political Science

Congratulations. you’ve sold your soul before it’s even had time to form. You’ll be tapped up by KPMG, E&Y, PwC – but at the cost of many LOLs and OMGs. Giving up your social life for your career prospects may seem like a pareto-optimal move at 18, but the market-unregulated externalities will hit you in the face in the form of a midlife crisis when the only curves to supply your demand comes courtesy of “city escorts”.


It may be a nightlife mecca, but “Madchester”, as its residents cringeingly call it, ain’t half pleased with itself. There’s something a bit desperate about constantly telling everyone how much you fucking have it at The Warehouse Project listening to the eclectic sounds of Murkage Dave and co. Credit to Manchester for keeping its urban grunge appeal, unlike Leeds, but seriously, that bohemian poverty thing stopped being impressive a long time ago.



The only uni in the Russell Group with an embarrassing obsession with pervy z-listers. You’ll find them tirelessly clambering to bag a booth with people called “Scotty T”. They drink these things called trebs, call pulling tachin’ on and refer to the city as the Toon, and not in an ironic way. People who work in promo are actually proud, the weather is shit and people still wear snapbacks. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with those things in isolation, but taken together they make Newcastle the naffest of the group. They are the locals of the uni world.



Having fun, but never getting out of control, Notts is where middle-class kids go for a taste of real youth in a safe environment. Lenton, the student ghetto, makes you feel like you’re slumming it with the locals without ever actually having to fraternise with them or lock away your iPad. And if things get nasty, you can hotfoot it to the mollycoddling sanctuary of the campus, a big splash of green that reminds you of home. Enjoy it while you can, you’ll be off to your dad’s accountancy firm in the summer.



Finally you’ve left that group of friends from your hometown that you never really fit into, and made it to the “dreaming spires”. The logical next step is to form your own society named after a Victorian libertine with its own tie and a ban on talking to the opposite sex before 11pm. From the inside it probably feels “decadent” but all outsiders want to know is why your entire identity is derived from books written about your university and why your Facebook profile says you are “Chief Vombardier in the Banter Squadron.”


Queen Mary London

We honestly thought this was a sixth form college until we wrote this article, but yes Queen Mary is a university and it’s in the Russell Group. QMUL is situated in East London, but don’t let that fool you – they’ve managed to be in the one bit of East London that isn’t trendy in any way. Good kebab shops are really all we can list in defence.

Genuinely what it looks like

It’s genuinely this nice and you’ve still not heard of it. Must be awful.

Queen’s Belfast

Free-falling down the league tables, cut off from most of Britain, and populated by dull out-of-towners (known as “Culchies”) who go home every weekend, Queen’s is less of a uni bubble, and more of a collection of buildings. It might seem exotic because it’s on its own island, but all that really means is clubs close earlier and everyone walks around in a Gaelic Football top.

It's just different

It’s just different


Sheffield is like going to eat a bowl of cereal and tasting milk that’s gone off. It has so much promise, but then it just fucks it all up. The arts tower is the tallest uni building in the UK. But that’s as close to the stars as this bumout uni will ever get. Mild-mannered and moderate, the Sheffield student is defined by the city’s identity crisis – all those hills, right next to a city with trams. It doesn’t make sense. It’s an enigma. A really boring one.




A geographic enigma. Just quite how Southampton manages to be so close to the sea – something that has wholly positive associations – and yet so far away from anything worth talking about is a mystery. Most of its students probably still post on thestudentroom and are the types of people that proudly proclaim they’re a Ravenclaw. Seriously, if we’re missing something with this one, please get in touch.

Southampton: the Ravenclaw of the Russell Group

Southampton: the Ravenclaw of the Russell Group

University College London

It’s sort of nice that UCL students still cling to a romantic, European notion of anarchist students discussing existentialism and protesting against job cuts. But then you meet them and realise how obnoxious and entitled politically-minded young people are. At UCL, they still use the word “bourgeois” and write letters to the New Statesman. If this conceit is the opposite of youth apathy, we’ll stick with the status quo.



A hideous concrete jungle in the arse-end of nowhere, the uni has the architecture and atmosphere of Heathrow Terminal 2, only with more tedious rules and jobsworths telling you what to do. Like Newcastle fans with their delusions of grandeur, Warwick is convinced it’s a “big uni” with a rightful place at the top table. Sorry guys, you’re a bit clever and certainly dull enough, but “Woxbridge” will never be a thing.


Pretty bum out


If you were to take the worst parts of every university and put them in a university-making machine, York would pop out. Truly the Frankenstein’s monster of university characteristics. York is for those who weren’t ambitious enough for Oxbridge and tragically not smart enough for Warwick. In terms of social life, York’s well known for its Brutalism and ducks. Unfortunately this also means it’s full of the types of people you’d expect to be into Brutalism and ducks.