Universities in the UK

Universities UK, the ‘collective voice’ of universities in the United Kingdom states three core areas of impact to the country from the 165 registered higher education institutions:

  1. Training people for the key jobs communities rely on including teachers, doctors, dentists, and nurses. 
  2. Creating jobs and investment directly and indirectly by students spending including £7.3 billion per year from international students. 
  3. Producing world-leading research that positively impacts peoples lives.

Graduate employment

2.38 million students were studying at University in the Uk in 2018-18. In 2016-17 over 90% of graduates were in work or full-time study within six months of leaving university and in 2019 the median graduate salary in England was £10,000 more than that for non-graduates. In 2018-19 almost 4,000 new graduate start-ups were created, and 131 new university-owned companies were created.


Universities in the UK employ 440,000 staff, with 49% of these on academic contracts and support a total of more than 940,000 jobs. In 2014-15 they generated £95 billion in output for the UK economy with a total income of £38.2 billion, £18.9 Billion from tuition fees and education contracts. 


The 2014 Research Excellence Framework or the REF, rated UK academic research productivity as 3.6 times that of the world average, with just 4.1% of the world’s researcher but 15.2% of the worlds most highly-cited articles. Research grants and contracts create an income of £6.2 billion annually.

Participation rates in the UK are at 49% of all 18-year-olds. Universities are becoming more inclusive, increasing the proportion of 18-year-olds from low participation neighbourhoods from 13.2% in 2010 to 21% in 2019. The proportion of students from the lowest-income households, judged by those who receive free school meals, has risen from 11.7% to 18.9% in the same period.

More investigation needed

These are all official figures published by the UK government and are provided on the Universities UK website. Many of the numbers sound very impressive and do not seem to warrant the public criticism that the HE sector regularly gets from politicians and the mainstream media. I am particularly interested in the ‘graduate premium’ on incomes and how variable this number is based on the university attended and subject area the student studied. 

I find the order in which the impacts are ordered interesting. Preparing students for jobs is first, the economic impact of the universities as employers second and research third. This order appears to be based on the size of the impact for the UK, but it is at odds with the way that most academics think, based on my experience, with research seen as the most crucial reason a university exists and the cultural impact to students second. 

Future posts are coming looking into the details of these observations. Check out the Universities UK website to dig into the details from this post or contact me on Twitter if you want to talk about the impact of Universities in the UK or the country you are based in.