What are the types of UK universities?

Learn about the different types of UK universities.

The UK's higher education system is one of the oldest in the world. Due to its rich history, there are a lot of terms thrown around to categorise universities. Let's look at them in detail.

Ancient universities

Any UK university established before the 19th century is known as an ancient university. These universities are among the first standard higher education institutions of the English-speaking world. Initially, most of the schools in the UK taught language and songs. Ancient universities introduced liberal education that laid the seed for academic research and development we see today.

The six prestigious ancient universities are:

  • University of Oxford
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of St Andrews
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of Edinburgh

Red Brick universities (civic universities)

Red Brick universities (civic universities) were established explicitly for development. Unlike their older counterparts, these universities mainly focused on science and engineering. With the industrial revolution at its wake, a bunch of top-notch universities cropped up in important industrial cities like England and Manchester. To date, they continue to provide an exceptional education.

Though they are formally known as civic universities, the term 'red brick universities' caught up because of the way they look.

Some of the red brick universities include:

  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Manchester
  • Newcastle University
  • University of Reading
  • University of Nottingham

Plate glass universities (1960s universities)

During the economic and social boom of the 1960s, the UK government commissioned the Robbins report. The report declared that there were too few universities in the UK. This gave way to several new universities, now known as the plate glass universities.

These universities are called plate glass universities because of the modern architecture and stunning glass buildings. 

Some of the plate glass universities include:

  • Aston university
  • University of East Anglia
  • University of Essex
  • University of Kent
  • Lancaster university
  • University of Sussex
  • University of Warwick
  • University of York

New universities (polytechnic/metropolitan universities)

Many polytechnic universities were established in the 1970s and 1980s to boost skilled labour in engineering, science and technology. These institutions were granted the right to be named universities in 1992. From then till now, these universities have been equipping students with top skills for career development. 

Some of the new universities are:

  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Middlesex University
  • University of Northumbria
  • Nottingham Trent University
  • Oxford Brookes University
  • University of Plymouth
  • University of Portsmouth
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • London South Bank University
  • Staffordshire University
  • University of Sunderland,
  • Teesside University
  • University of the West of England Bristol
  • University of Westminster

Modern universities

Any university that was established or granted university status after 1992 is known as a modern university. Though these universities are relatively younger than their older, more experienced counterparts, they are no less in educational quality. With new and innovative teaching methods, they too strive to provide top-quality education. 

Some of the top modern universities include:

  • Anglia Ruskin University 
  • Birmingham City University 
  • University of Brighton 
  • Coventry University 
  • De Montfort University 
  • University of Greenwich 
  • University of Huddersfield 
  • Leeds Beckett University 
  • Liverpool John Moores University 
  • London Metropolitan University 
  • University of South Wales 

Other categories of UK universities:

Colleges of higher education

Colleges of higher education are educational institutions that cannot award degrees themselves. They award degrees through partner universities that they are affiliated to. These institutions can apply to get university status. 

Examples of colleges of higher education:

  • Bell College, Hamilton & Dumfries
  • Burton College, Staffordshire
  • City College, Birmingham
  • Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh
  • Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, Glasgow
  • Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow
  • Hull York Medical school
  • Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, London
  • Rose Bruford College, Sidcup
  • College of St Mark & St John, Plymouth
  • Scottish Agricultural College, Edinburgh
  • Wirral Metropolitan College
  • Writtle College, Chelmsford

University colleges

These are educational institutions that can award taught degrees in their name but cannot award research degrees. Many university colleges have partner universities or are affiliated to other universities to award research degrees. University colleges can apply to get university status.   

Examples of university colleges:

  • AECC University College, Bournemouth
  • University College Birmingham
  • Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln
  • The Arts University College at Bournemouth
  • Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, High Wycombe & Chalfont St Peter
  • University College for the Creative Arts at Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone & Rochester
  • Norwich University College of the Arts
  • St Mary's University College, Twickenham, London

Russell Group universities

The Russell Group is made up of a set of 20 prestigious research universities in the UK to maintain high-quality education, innovative teaching methods, excellent student experience and world-class research output. 

It acts as an informal regulatory body that ensures that students get the best possible experience and education. 

Russell Group universities include:

  • 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 London)
  • University College London (University of London)
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Liverpool
  • London School of Economics and Political Science (University of London)
  • University of Manchester
  • Newcastle University
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • Queen's University Belfast
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Warwick

Like the Russell Group universities, there are many groups striving to provide high-quality education in the UK. Some of such groups are Million+ group, GuildHE, and University Alliance.