The contribution of Yorkshire’s universities to economic recovery

James Ransom, YU Associate

Universities UK launched a report today on the potential impact of the UK’s universities over the next five years. I wrote the report, which forms part of the #GettingResults campaign – showcasing the key role UK universities are set to play in the economic and social recovery from Covid-19.

We know universities already play a significant role in Yorkshire and the Humber. Our 2020 report, Levelling Up Yorkshire and Humber: health as the new wealth post-COVID, explored the rich collaborations that exist between higher education, colleges, healthcare providers, communities, businesses and local government. It also set out the significant research and innovation assets in the region.

Today’s report sets out how university partnerships need to be at the forefront of not only the recovery from the pandemic, but also the response to long-standing structural issues facing our society, from deep-rooted inequalities between places to the climate emergency. It provides a set of forecasts on what is possible over the next five years. The limitations of the data used to calculate these forecasts needs to be borne in mind. But the opportunities, if universities are supported in their efforts, can be transformative.

Yorkshire’s universities will provide over £1.2 billion of support and services to small enterprises, businesses and not-for-profits over the next five years. This includes specialist advice, access to the latest facilities and equipment to develop innovative products, and conducting bespoke research projects. On top of this, the region’s universities will attract over £1.9 billion of national and international public funds to spend on collaborative research with businesses and non-academic organisations.

Two thirds of employers in Yorkshire anticipate a need for upskilling in the next 12 months. In response, local universities will deliver the equivalent of 3,500 years of professional development training and education courses to businesses and charities in the next five years (and 578 years’ worth in the next 12 months).

The region’s universities have a track record of attracting funding for local regeneration projects with significant economic and social impact. Over the next five years, these will have a value of over £164 million. They will also help create over 1,000 new businesses and charities.

And over the next five years, universities in Yorkshire and the Humber will train 14,000 nurses, 6,000 medics and 18,000 teachers.

There are several important things to note. First, these figures could represent significant under-estimates, given lower data returns during the pandemic and changes around, for example, the cap on medical school places. But, given the dramatically changing economic and policy environment, such a contribution from the region’s universities cannot be taken for granted. World-class innovation and research assets need support. Training highly skilled people requires investment. Ensuring the benefits of both of these are felt equally around the UK will depend on robust policy and funding decisions.

Local and Combined Authorities should continue to work with universities on their economic and social planning. Government should support university collaborations with dedicated funding, and encourage these in programmes such as the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and Levelling Up Fund. And UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) should take the lead in efforts to improve and maintain funding to rebalance regional research and innovation funding.

Given the benefits of working together and the scale of the recovery ahead of us, collaborations between universities and their partners need to continue to grow and develop. Universities are open for business, and Yorkshire and Humber can set a model for the rest of the UK to follow.

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