Top universities in Australia wield as much as 30% more economic influence than the UK’s leading grouping of research universities, according to a recent study.
Recent analysis found that the “Group of Eight” (a collection of Australia’s leading universities) injected the equivalent of £37.9 billion into the economy in 2016, roughly £4.7 billion per institution.
The Russell Group, by contrast and despite having 24 institutions, contributed only £3.6 billion per institutions, or £86.8 billion across the group, in the same period.
Group of Eight universities are thought to benefit from their larger size than British universities, taking in an average of 18,000 students compared to around 11,000 at the average Russell Group university.
Ian Jacobs, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales (a Group of Eight member) commented that “The Go8 is an intense economic driver, even compared to the Russell Group, which is one of the most pre-eminent in the world.”
However, Jacobs, a former vice-president at the University of Manchester, admitted that it would be “unwise” to “read too much” into side by side comparisons, though argued that they suggested “the Go8 is perhaps more impressive than we have thought.”
Dr Gavan Conlon, the leader of the education team at London Economics who conducted the study, argued that the results were distorted by certain “natural advantages” in Australia, including its relatively closed economy.
Other studies also suggest that the Russell Group makes a greater contribution to the economy through revenues generated by teaching and learning activities, which could total as much as £20.7 billion a year, compared to just £2.78 billion from the Group of Eight.
Dr Conlon said that he had been surprised by the “spillover effect” of research from the Group of Eight, commenting that the “multiplier” of 9.76 for its research spending (the amount generated for every pound spent) was higher than expected. Money spent on research by the Russell Group, meanwhile, had a multiplier of just 5.5.
Although many universities have commissioned their own studies of economic impacts, most have only considered the impacts of their expenditure, and Dr Conolon argues that more sophisticated analyses like his own should take into account the universities’ wider economic impact.