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£3m study into universities' impact on UK

Press release issued: 11 October 2007

Helen Simpson, a researcher from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) at the University of Bristol, is taking part in a £3m study into the social and economic impact of higher education across the UK.

A researcher at the University of Bristol is taking part in the largest study ever undertaken into the social and economic impact of higher education across the UK. Helen Simpson, from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO), is working with colleagues at the Institute for Fiscal Studies to investigate the links between research in higher-education institutions and the private sector. The three-year venture, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is worth £3 million and involves experts from 15 institutions. They are joining forces to build a national picture of how universities affect life throughout the UK.


The Bristol research will look at where private-sector research and development (R&D) facilities are based in relation to nearby university research departments. Using data from the UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) it separates research departments into those rated 5 or 5*, deemed to perform world-class, cutting-edge research, and those rated 4 or below.


Helen Simpson said, ‘Our research project asks whether firms are choosing to locate their R&D facilities near to university research departments, and whether the quality of university research matters for the extent of geographic clustering. For example, do firms in the pharmaceuticals industry locate their R&D labs near to chemistry and medical science departments carrying out world-class frontier research? Evidence that they do might imply that close geographic proximity to universities enables firms to capitalise better on the expertise of university scientists.'


While evidence on geographical location is indicative it does not provide direct evidence about the links between academia and enterprise. The research will therefore go on to examine the interactions between universities and businesses more explicitly, investigating whether a company’s proximity to a university results in formal co-operative R&D arrangements between the two as well as informal co-operation, for example using information and knowledge generated by universities to help businesses innovate.

Speaking about the project as a whole, Programme Coordinator Ursula Kelly, of the University of Strathclyde, said:

'Higher-education institutions play a significant role in regional and national economies. They are extensive businesses and employers, generating substantial export earnings. They are also an important source of innovation and influence the political, social, cultural and economic climate on the international scale. By analysing the impact of these activities and the processes through which universities generate benefits for wider society, we can inform policy and help all UK regions compete at the global level.'

Further information

  1. The research is being carried out under the ESRC Impact of Higher Education Institutions on Regional Economies Initiative, in partnership with the Scottish, Welsh and English Higher Education Funding Councils and the Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland. It has four key themes: higher education institutions and regional competitiveness, influence of students and graduates on regions, knowledge exchange between university and industry, and universities and community engagement.
  2. The other institutions involved in the project are the universities of Cambridge, Cardiff, East Anglia, Glamorgan, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Southampton, Strathclyde, Wales, the Open University, the Institute for Employment Studies and the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Please contact Dara O'Hare for further information.
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