English universities contribute £95 billion to economy, UUK tells Sunak

Universities UK’s submission to the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review 2021 emphasises the significant economic impact of universities

English universities contribute around £95 billion to the economy and support more than 815,000 jobs across the country, according to new findings being sent to chancellor Rishi Sunak today.

In addition, the higher education sector in England has grown by around a quarter over five years in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) – to over £50 billion.

The new research into the economic impact of universities, by economic consultancy Frontier Economics, was commissioned by Universities UK (UUK) and forms the backbone of UUK’s submission to the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), the deadline for which is 30 September. It draws on existing estimates of the economic footprint of the sector and applies those to 2018-19 Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) data on university employment, revenue and spending.

The findings – broken down by region – demonstrate how, as well as providing direct employment, universities also support the economy by purchasing services and goods from other sectors and through the spending power of their employees. The substantial numbers of international students that universities in England attract, and the visitor spending associated with those students – for example, families attending graduations or making visits – amounts to hundreds of millions.

UUK will also emphasise to the CSR that universities benefit the economy through life-changing research and the education of the future workforce, including public sector workers, and says a predicted 191,000 nurses, 84,000 medical specialists and 188,000 teachers will train at UK universities over the next five years.

Now is the time for government to capitalise on the strength of our world-class universities – Professor Steve West

“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,” said Professor Steve West, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of UWE Bristol.

“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.”

UUK’s submission to the CSR sets out the commitment of UK universities to four priority areas:

  • building back after the pandemic
  • creating opportunity across the whole country
  • positioning the UK on a global stage
  • ensuring we maintain our world class reputation for quality and value


It 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.  


Chancellor Rishi Sunak will conclude the CSR 2021 alongside an autumn Budget on 27 October.

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