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Universities deliver economic benefits for the whole of Wales

New research reveals that Welsh universities create 1 in 20 jobs in Wales, alongside significant economic benefits for communities

Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Chair, Universities Wales

This article was originally published by the IWA.

Universities have long been part of our communities across Wales.

From providing access to education and skills to working with business on cutting edge research and innovation, the work that our universities do is closely intertwined with the people and places of Wales.

The higher education sector in Wales forms an important element of the Welsh economic base, generating output and jobs and contributing to Welsh GDP. An independent report – The economic impact of higher education in Wales – published this week by Universities Wales – reveals the full impact that Wales’ higher education institutions have on our local, regional and national economies.

Looking specifically at the academic year 2019/20, the analysis carried out by Viewforth Consulting found that universities contributed more than £5billion to the Welsh economy –made up of £1.6bn through direct activities, and a further £3.6bn through their purchases of goods and services from other sectors and through staff and student spending power. It also positions Welsh universities as key job creators in Wales, generating 61,722 – or one in 20 – jobs in just one year.

This significant economic impact runs alongside the huge contribution universities make to society through life-changing research and educating tomorrow’s workforce, including public sector workers. Recent analysis published by Universities UK predicted that 10,000 nurses, 4,000 medical specialists and 8,000 teachers will train at Welsh universities over the next five years.

An international outlook

The report also quantifies the benefits that Wales gains from the 22,000 international students attending Welsh universities. In these turbulent times, retaining a global outlook is more important than ever, and international students play an invaluable role in diversifying and internationalising our campuses and communities.

But alongside that, our international activities also offer tangible economic benefits to the country. In 2019/20, international students attending Welsh universities generated £661 million for the Welsh economy– almost 12% of all Welsh service sector export earnings. And this in turn had a visible impact on job creation, with one job being generated for every two international students coming to Wales.

Building Wales’ regions

These figures alone are significant, but what is particularly striking about the report’s findings is how our universities bring benefits right across local communities and, indeed, across the whole of Wales.

These benefits are felt in supply chains, by local businesses including retail, hospitality and recreation, and, crucially, by the people who make up our communities. It is this which is at the heart of the finding that 1 in 20 jobs in Wales are generated as a result of our universities. The work our institutions do touches upon many lives, many businesses and many communities. This is the collaboration that is at the heart of our sector.

Working for Wales

The role we play in our communities brings with it many responsibilities. During the past 18 months, Welsh universities have played a vital role in helping the country respond to the many challenges faced during the pandemic – training frontline workers, supporting local communities, and contributing to world-leading research and innovation.

As we rebuild and recover from the impact of Covid-19, Welsh universities will continue working with partners across Wales to embrace the challenges and opportunities of a changing world.

With the changing structures within Wales that regulate higher education and research, and the challenges posed by global issues such as climate change and automation, we remain firm in our ambition to grow and sustain a successful, enterprising higher education sector that draws in international expertise and excellence while delivering to our localities and regions.

We must also be conscious of what lies behind many of the figures that make up this report. Our universities are more than units of economic value: they transform lives, create opportunities, and feed into the growth of new businesses. And, of course, we must acknowledge the important role that our students play not just through their economic contribution but the way they enable our campuses to be vibrant, forward-thinking areas for learning and research.

As a sector we must keep our eyes firmly on this and continue to challenge ourselves to improve access to university, to better demonstrate what we have to offer, and to enable more people in our communities to benefit from these longstanding assets.

You can find the full report here.