Economic Impact of Russell Group Universities

02 November 2017

The UK’s leading research-focused universities are injecting nearly £87 billion into the national economy every year, a major new study reveals today.

The aggregate contribution to the nation’s economic wealth generated by the 24 Russell Group universities equates to eight months’ UK-wide expenditure on the NHS.

The £86.8 billion figure is contained in a new study on the short, medium and longer-term impact of Russell Group universities by the respected economic research consultancy, London Economics. Its authors have undertaken the most comprehensive and detailed analysis to date of the group’s combined net contribution by calculating the impact of their teaching and learning activities, their world-renowned research, their spending on goods, services and people, and their value as a major exporter through the income generated from overseas students.


The total economic impact calculations are based on a snapshot of a single academic year 2015/16. Download our factsheets to find out more.

Among the key findings in today’s report are:

Teaching and Learning

  • The 166,000 UK-domiciled students who began their studies at Russell Group universities in 2015/16 will go on to contribute £20.7 billion to the UK economy over their working lives through their enhanced skills, productivity and earnings
  • More than half of this contribution (52%) will be in the form of additional tax and National Insurance receipts to the Exchequer to fund vital public services. The remaining contribution will be accrued by the graduates themselves in the form of their enhanced spending power after tax and student loan repayments


Research and Knowledge Transfer

  • Research carried out at Russell Group universities in 2015/16 will contribute £34.1 billion to the UK economy
  • This figure is based on the net direct impact of research activities by Russell Group institutions in that year combined with informed estimates of how this research will help the private sector become more productive through developing cutting-edge technologies and better ways of doing business 
  • For every £1 of public research funding they secure, Russell Group universities deliver an average return of £9 to the UK economy 


Educational exports

  • The immediate export value to the UK in the form of net tuition fee and other studies-related income from the 100,000 EU and non-EU students enrolling on courses at Russell Group universities in 2015/16 is £4.8 billion
  • Every 7 non-UK students embarking on an undergraduate degree at a Russell Group university will generate £1 million for the UK economy


The direct, indirect and induced impact of Russell Group universities to the local, regional and national economy

  • Russell Group universities support a total of 261,000 full-time equivalent jobs – more than the entire population of cities like Aberdeen and Plymouth. 153,000 of these jobs are supported through direct employment and a further 108,000 supported indirectly through the expenditure of the universities, their staff and international students
  • The overall economic impact of spending by the 24 universities in 2015/16 together with the spending of their staff, their suppliers and their international students in the wider economy was £27.2 billion


The Russell Group has produced a series of fact sheets and infographics to illustrate the key findings from the London Economics report.

Commenting on today’s report, the Chair of the Russell Group, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal of the University of Glasgow, said:

“This analysis provides compelling evidence that our research-intensive universities are critical to the future prosperity of the United Kingdom.

“As we continue to recover from the financial crisis and carve out our position in a post-Brexit world, it serves as a reminder that higher education represents a smart investment in the country’s future.

“As beneficiaries of substantial public funding, we have a duty to demonstrate our value to students, to graduates and to the wider UK PLC. This new study throws into sharp relief how Russell Group universities are engines of growth and drivers of innovation in their local and regional economies. They will have a central role to play in delivering the government’s industrial strategy ambitions.

“Every pound invested in our universities, which bring together world-class research and outstanding teaching, has the power to transform our economy and our society. “

Chief Executive of the Russell Group, Dr Tim Bradshaw, added:

“We know the value of our universities can never simply be measured in monetary terms alone. Nonetheless, today’s report shows that Russell Group universities represent an excellent return on investment both for graduates and for the taxpayer.

“The findings also demonstrate how higher education remains one of the UK's biggest success stories and one of our most valuable export industries.

“As a nation, we need to keep this at the forefront of our minds as we negotiate the terms of our exit from the European Union. It is important we stay ambitious in developing our world-class universities and ensuring we have a sustainable funding system in place that is fair to students, to the taxpayer and to universities.”

Notes to Editors:

London Economics were commissioned by the Russell Group to capture and quantify the different aspects of the economic impact of its 24 members using the most recently published datasets.

The total economic impact calculations are based on a snapshot of a single academic year 2015/16. Broadly similar impacts will be created for both earlier and later years.

You can download the full report from London Economics here.


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