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A Magnet for Impact

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By Professor Colin Riordan

President and Vice-Chancellor,

Cardiff University

 

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Over the past decade, Cardiff University has published several regular snapshots of our financial impact. Our most recent summary, prepared by London Economics, valued Cardiff’s total economic impact on the UK in 2020-21 — at the height of the pandemic — at almost £3.7 billion. This means that for every £1 the University spends, we generate £6.40.

As I explained in the report’s foreword, the public view of universities tends to be heavily conditioned by personal experience. While it is true that the education of undergraduates is a central pillar of university activity, it is only one element of our huge range of activity.

Our positive contribution to the balance of trade may not be obvious to all, but the reality is that the value of Cardiff University’s ‘educational exports’ (international students) stood at £655m in 2020-21, exceeding the combined export performance of the car and other vehicle industry in Wales.

Overseas students or their governments don’t just pay tuition fees during their time with us.  While here, our students spend in the Welsh and UK economy, receive visits from family and friends, and so on.

Cardiff University has a huge impact on the local economy and beyond. We employ around 7,000 people directly, and our activities support more than 7,000 additional full-time equivalent jobs in the UK – 10,000 of the 14,000 are based in Wales.

And, most strikingly, we generate our economic impact fairly evenly across our activities. While research and knowledge generate 23% of our impact, teaching and learning activities account for 33%. Educational exports make up a further 18%. The remaining 26% arises from our other direct and indirect expenditure. Across the whole palette of our activity, Cardiff University is creating economic and social benefit for Wales, the UK, and indeed the world.

This is especially important in the current economic climate, where universities face huge challenges about how our funding model can be made more sustainable.

At the time of writing, the UK Government is expected to tighten public spending in the Autumn Statement. Cuts to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – the Government’s innovation and research agency – have been mooted: so, too, have cuts to university funding.

Welsh Government recently published its draft innovation strategy, but without specifying how the plan will be resourced and implemented. Cardiff University has urged Welsh Government to concentrate on strategic priorities and provide seed funding for early-stage partnerships, and, in the medium term, to accelerate projects with important economic potential, like power electronics and precision medicine. Longer term, we would welcome a dynamic, flexible and agile Wales innovation strategy that adapts quickly to change.

As our London Economics report showed, Cardiff University has a live portfolio of over £0.5Bn of research and innovation contracts, representing 58% of the HE sector in Wales.

For every £1m million invested in Cardiff University research (excluding knowledge exchange activities), £4.89 million is generated for UK companies. There are 426 patents held by Cardiff University, and £59 million is generated through 164 active spinouts and staff and student start-ups. In turn, these support 1,285 full-time jobs, 665 of which are in Wales.

Welsh universities have a duty not only to ensure our teaching, research and innovation have a recognisable economic and social impact, but that this is valued by government at all levels. We at Cardiff University are demonstrably playing our part in driving jobs and growth. If the funding challenges can be addressed, we believe we can do even more in the years ahead.’