Universities in England contribute around £95 billion* to the economy and support more than 815,000 jobs** across England, new findings by Frontier Economics today reveal (@UniversitiesUK).  

In terms of GDP, the higher education sector in England has also grown by around a quarter over 5 years to over £50 billion. 

As well as direct employment, universities support these jobs through their purchases of services and goods from other sectors and through employee spending power. Universities also attract substantial numbers of international students, and visitor spending associated with international students runs in the hundreds of millions. 

This significant economic impact runs alongside the huge contribution universities make to the economy through life-changing research and educating tomorrow’s workforce, including public sector workers. A predicted 191,000 nurses, 84,000 medical specialists and 188,000 teachers will train at UK universities over the next five years. 

The new research by Frontier Economics, commissioned by Universities UK, falls just ahead of the official deadline for submitting evidence to the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review [CSR] on 30 September. 

Shining a light on the powerful impact of universities in those regions that the government is targeting in its “levelling up” programme, figures show that from the jobs universities support in the North East (32,000) to the South West (85,000), to the overall contribution universities make to the economy in the West Midlands (£8.6 billion) to the East of England (£9.4 billion), the positive impact of universities is felt in every region. 

UUK’s submission to the CSR will include the following recommendations to government: 

  • Sustainable funding: maintain the available spend per student to make sure the quality of education is not compromised and ensure the premium for supporting those from disadvantaged backgrounds is maintained. 
  • Research: maintain the UK’s position as a global research and development superpower, recommitting to spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development alongside the associated commitment to £22 billion in public investment in research and development by 2024/25. 
  • Developing the Lifelong Loan Entitlement: support a broader group of people to benefit from higher education by growing new initiatives such as pilots offering access to modular “bite-size” learning opportunities, and removing the qualification rules which can be a barrier for mature learners, those in work and those looking to upskill.  
  • Supporting transformation: providing targeted funding for the most innovative projects aiming to achieve sector-led change, such as supporting collaborations which increase course provision to better meet local skills needs and support levelling-up.  

Professor Steve West, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol, said:

“Universities have been celebrated for being front and centre in the fight against coronavirus, but it is also important to recognise the livelihoods they support through creating and supporting jobs and businesses across the country. 

“The economic and cultural contribution of our universities is vast and benefits communities across all parts of the UK. Universities can be central to speeding up the UK’s recovery from the pandemic. 

“Now is the time for government to capitalise on the strength of our world-class universities, working with us to ensure universities have the right funding environment to drive economic growth, create new jobs and improve opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds.” 

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