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What is a red brick university? List of red brick universities

What are the red brick universities and how did they get their name? Most importantly, should it make a difference when choosing where to study?

What is a red brick university?

The origins of the term ‘red brick university’ go back to the Victorian era, when a number of specialist institutions gained independence and became fully fledged universities in their own right. 

These universities got their ‘red brick’ label from the style of brickwork common at the time. While the Victoria Building at the University of Liverpool was the inspiration behind the term, it was the University of Birmingham that was first of the red brick universities to receive its Royal Charter (in order to gain independence).

Which are the red brick universities?

There are six universities that were the original red brick universities (listed in alphabetical order):
You can see these were based in cities that were big industrial powerhouses following the Industrial Revolution. The institutes that pre-dated these universities specialised in highly sought-after skills, training and knowledge, including engineering and medicine.

After the First World War, a second wave of civic universities came about, evolving from local university colleges. These included the universities of Reading and Nottingham

Other universities – such as Cardiff, Leicester and Hull, which gained independent status in the 1960s and share some of the same characteristics – are referred to as red brick universities too (although some would dispute this).

The cut-off point for red brick universities is around the 1960s, when the era of ‘plate glass universities’ (referring to their modern architectural design) came into existence.

Are red brick universities better?

The six original red brick universities are also part of the Russell Group, which bear a strong reputation when it comes to pioneering research.

You can see where these universities rank in the most recent league tables too. Click on one of them above to view their full profile, or search for them here.

But, importantly, you shouldn’t go to a particular university just because it's a red brick university (nor just because they’re a Russell Group university, rank highly in league tables etc).

You should look at the bigger picture and consider factors such as:
  • a university’s links to industries and employers.
  • what you’ll study on a course.
  • a university’s reputation for that specific subject – a uni may be ranked low in league tables as a whole, but your department might be highly regarded.
  • the cost of living in a particular city or town.
  • things to do for fun in that area.
  • how a university ranks for extracurricular activities such as sports or creative scene.
By considering a wide range of factors, you'll give yourself a good chance of making a university choice you're happy with. 

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