University research can generate £22 billion for UK by 2026, report predicts

A report compiled by the sector predicts universities can contribute £11.6 billion worth of support to SMEs, businesses and not-for-profits over the next five years

Universities UK has today published a report that sets out the potential economic boost the higher education sector could offer the country in its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Compiled by the sector-funded National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE), the report sets out how universities can contribute £11.6 billion worth of support and services to small enterprises, businesses, and not-for-profits over the next five years. University research collaborations with external partners will create £21.7 billion for the UK economy in the next five years.  

The NCEE is funded by universities. Its governing board includes the vice-chancellor of Lincoln University and the provost of Coventry University. 

The universities minister welcomed the report, saying the sector could “solidify [its] position as the engines of regional growth”. 

The report estimates that 21,700 new companies and charities will start by 2026 because of universities, either from spin-out companies or entrepreneurial students and staff. Universities will train 191,000 nurses, 84,000 medical specialists and 188,000 teachers in the coming five years. 

UUK wants to put universities “at the heart of the economic and social recovery”, pledging that its 140 members will “do even more” to build partnerships locally and nationally. Universities will develop pledges and partnership agreements with strategically important employers and sectors, UUK said. 

This work is being overseen by a newly created Universities UK Economic and Social Taskforce, which is led by Professor Chris Day, vice-chancellor of Newcastle University, and a board member of Universities UK. 

“Universities want to do more, to help the UK to bounce back stronger, with opportunity and prosperity spread across the country,” said Prof Day. “We are looking to form strategic partnerships with employers and sector bodies throughout the UK to strengthen collaboration between universities and their partners.”

Read more: Chris Day: ‘University collaborations will help the UK bounce back stronger’

With the right kind of support and a stable funding environment, this growth and impact could be even faster and stronger than the report estimates
– Prof Julia Buckingham, president of UUK

President of UUK Prof Julia Buckingham said the report outlined how the sector could “contribute significantly to future economic success”.   

“With the right kind of support and a stable funding environment, this growth and impact could be even faster and stronger than the report estimates,” she added. 

The campaign, titled #GettingResults, is an effort by the representative body for universities to position universities in the public eye as civic institutions after several recent surveys suggest low levels of public support for or interest in universities.

A survey conducted last year by Public First found that just 17% of the British public think the government should spend more on HEIs, and only 1% of over 55s strongly believed the sector should expand. A separate survey, which included focus groups with constituents in ‘left-behind towns’, found an “overwhelming impression [of] distance and indifference” with universities. 

In a webinar last week, University of Manchester vice-chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell announced a civic university agreement between the five higher education institutions (HEIs) and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). An independent poll commissioned by the group found that three quarters (73%) of Mancunians thought universities are vital to the local economy. But the survey uncovered a disconnect between the public and the university, especially among older, non-university educated residents in the towns and suburbs of GMCA. “Fewer than half of residents thought we were directly involved with the local community, and only a third of people thought that we provided direct benefit to themselves or their family and friends,” Dame Nancy said. 

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said the sector could create “levelling up opportunities” for the economy and young people.  

“I encourage universities to join this movement, deepen their ties with local communities, and solidify their position as the engines of regional growth that this nation needs to build back better and fairer from the pandemic,” she said.  

Her colleague in government, research minister Amanda Solloway, said: “The immense contribution of UK universities to our economy and local communities cannot be underestimated.”

“Partnerships between these world-leading institutions and UK businesses are crucial to our economic recovery and the Getting Results campaign will play an important part in helping us to build back better from the pandemic.”

Read more: Greater Manchester universities and FE colleges pledge to create ‘world-leading ecosystem’

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