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The economic impacts of Scottish universities


Scottish universities play an increasing role in economic development and universities are viewed as 'generators and exploiters' of new knowledge. Scottish universities have 'dynamic' impacts upon economies, in terms of generating and attracting talent, providing formal and informal technical support to businesses, offering specialised expertise and facilities for business-based research and development activities, and acting as a conduit enabling businesses to access knowledge from international academic research networks. The report examines the contribution of Scottish universities to economic growth. In particular, the report aims to: review research on the economic benefits of universities; assess the current economic contributions and impacts of universities (the attraction of research income, commercialisation of university research, university and business research, and university internalisation); outline SE support in each area; raise policy issues and questions; and highlight data gaps and areas for future research.


The methodology consisted of a review of recent literature and data on the economic benefits of Scottish universities.


The report finds that the 'static' benefits of Scottish universities include the combined impact on the Scottish economy in 2008-2009 of 149,000 jobs (directly and indirectly) and £6.2 billion of GVA. However, the report suggests that it is more difficult to quantify the specific 'dynamic' benefits of higher education institutions (HEIs) on the economy. Scottish universities receive 14 per cent of total research income awarded to UK universities. Scotland performs well in commercialising IP through university spinouts, with regard to the number of spin-outs. In terms of commercialising IP through licensing, Scottish universities seem to underperform the UK average in the number of licenses, but perform better in revenues generated by the licenses. Compared to the UK, Scottish universities have fewer consultancy contracts with businesses, but the average value to universities is higher (suggesting 'higher quality' engagement). Internationalisation activities by Scottish universities is growing, in terms of attracting overseas students and research income and developing overseas facilities. However, the report suggests that evidence gaps of the impact of Scottish universities include: the direct and indirect (spillover) economic impacts of the attraction of research income; the economic benefits of licensing of university IP to businesses; and the benefits to businesses, and the economy, of engagement with universities.


No specific recommendations were made.

Author Scottish Enterprise (SE)
Published Year 2012
Report Type Research
  • Internationalisation
    Internationalisation of Scottish businesses