Russell Group universities are using their scale and global impact to improve wellbeing and prosperity for communities across the UK

28 June 2024

Throughout the election campaign, the major UK parties have been keen to underline the importance of locally-led growth and improvement across the UK – from the Conservatives’ urban regeneration proposals through locally-led urban development corporations, to Labour’s plans to devolve skills funding to combined authorities. 

A new paper from the Russell Group highlights how the country’s leading universities will prove to be valuable partners for the next Government, using their scale, research excellence and global connections to help create place-based solutions for people across the UK. 

A Bright Future: Places and People showcases the work that Russell Group universities are doing to boost the strength and wellbeing of communities across all four nations, to ensure everyone can benefit from a healthier, greener and more resilient economy. From providing medical and dental care in under-served areas, to welcoming millions of visitors every year to events, museums and live performances, today’s new report underlines the positive difference that having a thriving local university makes to a community – far beyond the immediate employment and study opportunities. 

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

“Partnership is a core ethos of Russell Group universities, and we know that combining our own strengths with those of others makes us better at solving the challenges facing the UK today. Our new report shows how we make a significant impact on the wellbeing and prosperity of our communities, by working closely with colleges, local authorities, public services and cultural organisations. 

"Our universities are an intrinsic part of the social and cultural fabric of their places, creating opportunities and providing access to ideas and resources that benefit millions of people every year. 

“This work should be a real source of pride for the country and should not be overlooked in discussions around the wider value that the sector provides. If the next Government wants to follow through on promises of local growth and prosperity, it should look to the universities who are already there on the ground, re-energising communities and laying the foundations for success”. 

Examples highlighted in the new report include: 

  • Cardiff University’s Mountain Ash Primary Care Dental Unit, located in the Cynon Valley where it is estimated 10,000 people do not have access to an NHS dentist. The state-of-the-art unit offers free, high-quality care in this dental cold spot, while providing training for dentists, therapists and hygienists. 
  • The University of Warwick’s Arts Centre ran a three-year collaborative project with residents of Canley, a suburb of nearby Coventry, that included establishing a thriving local samba band, setting up outdoor film screenings, hosting creative workshops, and running an annual parade. Over 7000 local people took part in 263 different events across the three years, and the partnership is continuing beyond the initial funding to support more local community events. 
  • Imperial opens up its Invention Rooms to local people of all ages, giving them the chance to learn new skills in science, technology and digital proficiency. Within this, the Maker Challenge programme gives young people the chance to see new developments through from idea to reality, such as wearable tech or innovative gadgets, with hands-on experience of cutting-edge technologies like 3D printers and laser cutters; while the What The Tech?! digital literacy programme unites students and elderly local residents to improve digital skills.  

While recent headlines about universities have focused on tuition fees and financial sustainability, macro-level analysis of the strength of the sector overlooks much of its localised, day-to-day impact. The new report underlines the scale of the impact of the higher education sector, which could fall under threat if current financial pressures are not relieved. 

University activity provides a robust return on investment – with every £1 of investment in research at Russell Group universities generating more than £8.50 for the UK economy – but rising costs, frozen tuition fees and the depletion of real-terms research funding means the wider scope of university activity, including these vital local partnerships, is at risk. 

A Bright Future - Places and People

Boosting the strength and wellbeing of UK communities.



  • Research and commercialisation activities at Russell Group universities generate £37.6bn for the UK economy and support over 250,000 jobs. 
  • As leaders in healthcare education, Russell Group universities are responsible for half the medical schools in the UK and train 4 out of 5 new UK doctors and dentists. 
  • Russell Group green research received £1bn of Natural Environment Research Council funding in 2022/23. 
  • Free events at Russell Group universities were attended 8.1 million times in 2022-23. 

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