Report on UK universities' investment intentions highlights their "self-confidence and ambition", says expert

Out-Law News | 21 May 2014 | 12:58 pm | 1 min. read

The UK's leading universities plan to spend as much as was spent on the 2012 Olympics over the next four years to support their research ambitions and attract new students, according to a new report.

Analysis carried out by BiGGAR Economics found that the 24 Russell Group research-focused universities planned to spend over £9 billion on capital projects by academic year 2016/17 (55-page / 1.4MB PDF). Planned projects including new student accommodation, research facilities and IT could support more than 98,500 new UK jobs and generate almost £5 for the UK economy for every £1 invested over the next 25 years, according to the sector-commissioned report.

"The report signals the self-confidence and ambition of some of the UK's leading universities, and not just within the so-called 'Golden Triangle' of Oxford, Cambridge and London," said universities law expert Nicola Hart of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

"Capital funding from public sources has more or less died out, but successful universities are increasingly exercising their autonomy and levering their reputations to raise funds for major developments. Often these involve partnerships with other types of organisations and require a creative approach to new ways of working," she said.

The report tracked the potential benefits of 67 projects with a combined value of £3.8 billion into which the universities intended to invest over the next four years. It calculated the quantifiable economic impact of these projects based on short-term impacts, such as construction jobs; long-term operational impacts, such as increased expenditure from additional staff and students based in new facilities; and long-term 'catalytic' impacts, such as research breakthroughs and more productive students.

Among the projects highlighted by the report were seven "major developments" featuring areas for academic, residential and commercial uses; 17 new teaching and research facilities for subjects in the STEM (science, engineering, technology and mathematics) fields; new medical research facilities, sports and library facilities and 'business engagement' projects designed to build links to specific sectors. These would be funded by a combination of government capital grants, income from research and teaching, private donations and borrowing, the report said.

Russell Group director-general Dr Wendy Piatt said that although the UK government had recognised "much of the contribution" made by universities to the economy, more capital investment was needed to match the growth ambitions of international competitors.

"Russell Group universities are engines of growth for the British economy," she said. "Not only do they lead the way in teaching and research - but they're also a driving force behind the creation of new jobs, new opportunities for start-up companies and urban renewal in our cities."

"The government has recognised much of this contribution but we would urge them to step up big capital investment in our universities. We will keep investing on behalf of our students and academics but the rest of the world are snapping at our heels and spending money to match their ambition. We must do the same," she said.