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5 Types of UK universities

Did you know the UK has universities dating back to the year 1096? Read on!

The United Kingdom (UK) has always been known for its education system across the globe. Given the number of high-ranking universities it has to offer along with an amazing quality of life and exposure, it attracts large numbers of international students every year. No wonder it is a daunting task to make that perfect choice when choosing among 130 universities in the UK, consisting of both millennia-old to modern universities that offer great diversity, we can say that there is a university for everyone in the UK.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the five different types of UK universities:

1. Ancient universities

These are the universities that were incepted in medieval and renaissance times, whose dates of foundation range from c. 1096 to 1582 and these continue to exist till date! These universities often have lecture rooms and corridors that are housed in buildings that are hundreds of years old. Due to their historical nature, they still offer tutorials in addition to the lectures to help students connect with faculty in smaller, separate groups. 

Member universities

Year of foundation

University of Oxford


University of Cambridge


University of St Andrews


University of Glasgow


University of Aberdeen


UUniversity of Edinburgh


University of Dublin


2. Red brick or civic universities

These universities were established in the nineteenth century during World War I in major industrial cities to suffice the growing demand for university-level study in subject areas like science, design, technology and engineering. These non-collegiate institutions admitted students irrespective of religion or background and focussed on imparting “real-world” skills to them. 

Till today, the most attractive quality of these universities lies in their location and these are built in the middle of the cities on undefined campuses (sometimes with public roads running through them). All six red brick universities are also a part of the Russell Group and are quite sought after by international students.

Member universities

University status granted on

University of Birmingham


University of Bristol


University of Leeds


University of Liverpool


University of Manchester


University of Sheffield


*Formed by the dissolution of Victoria University and University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology

3. Plate glass universities or 1960s universities

These universities were formed between 1963 and 1992 based on the recommendation of the Robbins Report on Higher Education (1963) and as a part of education reforms to increase the number of universities in the UK. These universities were progressive and took new initiatives in areas of syllabus, examination, administration, teaching methods, and discipline. These are popularly known as Plate Glass group because of their architectural style and as most of them are built on designated green-field sites similar to the self-contained US-style campuses. 

Member universities

University status granted on/formed on

Aston University


University of East Anglia


University of Essex


University of Kent


Lancaster University


University of Sussex


University of Warwick


University of York


4. New universities or Polytechnic and metropolitan universities

These universities have evolved from Polytechnics, Further Education Colleges, Teacher Training Colleges, University Colleges and other higher education institutions as part of the education reforms between the 1980s and 1990s. Although they have recently received their university status, their education roots are old. These universities are growing exponentially and competing with other older institutions in terms of new facilities and a modern outlook. 

Some of the new universities along with their area of specialisation are: 

Member universities

Facilities and speciality

Arden universities

Specialise in distance and online learning. Primarily concentrate on Business Studies and related fields

Cardiff Metropolitan University

Most popular courses include Tourism Management and Food Technology

University of Chichester

Most known for the Media Studies, Production courses and Music Composition courses

Plymouth Marjon University

The university departments of Education, Creative Arts, Health Sciences and Sport are well-reputed

University College Birmingham

At an undergraduate level, Tourism, Events and Hospitality Management courses are popular

5. Russell Group universities

The Russell Group is a group of the top 24 British research universities, which are often compared to the U.S. Ivy league institutions. The group enjoys the reputation of receiving two- thirds of all research grant funding from the government and its member universities are often regarded as the ‘best’ in the UK. Besides, the portfolio also includes some of the ancient universities, 19th-century universities and few of the well-renowned civic universities. 

Member universities


University of Birmingham


University of Bristol


University of Cambridge


Cardiff University


Durham University


Read more about Russell Group Universities

Which type of university should you choose?

While deciding on the right university, match the university offerings with your needs and wants. Each type of these UK universities will have a unique characteristic. For instance, ancient universities require above average grades which might be overwhelming for students who aren’t prepared for an intense workload. Similarly, Russell Group universities focus on social wellbeing, research and offering outstanding courses, whereas new universities are the perfect hotspot for establishing a professional and personal network whilst exploring your interests. 

We understand researching everything on your own can be an exhausting task, and you may feel further confused. But don’t worry. Our experienced international education experts can guide you to find the right institution for you. In fact, our experts are now virtually available, and you can book your free counselling session to seek guidance at a convenient time. 

Embrace the new normal with IDP

Updated on November 5, 2020

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Top 6 reasons to study in the UK

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