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Social impact of universities

Posted 15 June 2011

UNIVERSITIES WEEK 2011 Wednesday: Big Ideas for Society

Social impact of universities worth over £1.31 billion, says new report Benefits are felt by everyone, not just those who go to university

UK Universities add at least £1.31 billion a year in value to UK society in the form of health and well being, citizenship and political engagement, according to new research by leading independent think-tank nef (the new economics foundation), published in association with Universities UK.

Degrees of Value: How universities benefit society attempts for the first time to put a monetary value on some of the ways that universities contribute to society at a local and a national level, using Social Return on Investment (SROI) methodology. These values are above and beyond the economic contribution that universities make.

The research looked at just some of the social contributions of universities in Britain:

•         A healthier, more co-operative and more democratic nation:  Research has shown that universities improve political engagement, foster interpersonal trust and improve health, benefitting the whole population, not just those who went to university. The report estimates the value of these outcomes alone is £1.31 billion.*

•         Higher social mobility: Manchester Metropolitan University has facilitated above average social mobility in the local area, through catering to local course demands, outreach programmes and offering opportunities for part time students. The social value of this outcome is around £147 million a year.**

•         Volunteering and culture: The University of Warwick is bringing £28.6 million of value in cultural enrichment a year to the local community through its Arts Centre*** and just through one strand of its student volunteering programme, working with primary schools to improve reading and allowing local children to meet international students from a variety of cultures.+

The report recommends that the Government starts to take account of these and other social contributions made by higher education and values them accordingly. It also recommends that universities across the country start to become more vocal about their community and outreach work, such as the projects at MMU and Warwick, and continue the work they are doing in improving access for students from poorer backgrounds.

"Everyone knows that higher education is essential for a thriving economy. But universities deliver much more than just economic benefit to the UK.  They've been helping to build a big society - long before the current concept had ever been conceived" said Dr Faiza Shaheen, the author of the report and economist at nef. "It's really important that as the Government starts to reform university funding and student fees that they don't inadvertently undermine these social contributions. Across a whole range of issues that David Cameron and Nick Clegg allegedly hold dear - from social mobility and community cohesion to volunteering and democratic engagement - universities are already making a huge difference."

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: "The value of higher education is generally assessed solely in terms of how much money universities generate for the individual, for business and for the wider economy. Critical though these considerations are, they tend to ignore the huge public good that universities generate, both locally and nationally. This study addresses the often overlooked but fundamentally important ways in which higher education makes for a better society."

Sean O'Shea, Chief Executive, University Partnerships Programme, said: "This research highlights the reasons why UPP is proud to work in this sector. For us, universities represent a critical element of the wider economy, equipping the future workforce with the skills that drive innovation and growth. Just as important, however, is the impact that Higher Education has on the experiences and life chances of individuals, as well as civil society more widely."

The report forms part of the second annual Universities Week, which takes place from 13-19 June 2011, and aims to increase public awareness of the wide and varied role of the UK's universities.  Universities Week looks at the many different ways in which universities affect all of our lives - from supporting the economy, to working within local communities, to looking at how their research programmes could change our futures.

Hundreds of events will be taking place around the country open to members of the public, as well as high-profile media coverage and activity across social media networks.

For more information on Universities Week, visit http://www.universitiesweek.org.uk

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