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University EU research funding gives £1bn boost to economy and creates jobs

Julia Goodfellow speaking at a Universities for Europe event

EU research funding generates more than 19,000 jobs across the UK, £1.86 billion for the UK economy and contributes more than £1 billion to GDP, according to new figures published today. 

The Universities UK analysis – looking at the latest data for the year 2014-15 – showed that UK universities attracted more than £836 million in research grants and contracts from EU sources.  

This represented 14.2% of all UK income from research grants and contracts in that year. The UK does disproportionately well in securing EU research funding, securing 15.5% of the funding allocated under the previous EU research and innovation programme (FP7).

The analysis looked at the direct impact of this EU research funding to universities, as well as the knock on impact on jobs and growth in the wider economy.

The analysis found that:

  • Inside the university sector, EU funding supported 8,864 direct jobs, £836m in economic output and a contribution of nearly £577m to GDP

  • In industries outside the university sector, EU research funding to UK universities generated more than 10,190 full-time-equivalent jobs, £1.02bn of output and a contribution of nearly £503m to GDP

  • The three UK industries that benefited most from this knock-on impact were: business activities (more than 2,604 full-time-equivalent jobs); wholesale and retail trade (more than 2,048 full-time-equivalent jobs); and manufacturing (over 1,259 full-time-equivalent jobs)

Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, said:

"EU research funding helps our universities to thrive, enabling UK researchers to collaborate with the best minds from across the EU in order to tackle global problems, from cancer to climate change.

"What is clear from this new analysis is that this EU funding also benefits the UK economy, boosting growth and creating jobs both directly and indirectly in a range of sectors in all corners of the UK. EU support goes far beyond money. It also provides irreplaceable networks and frameworks which enable our researchers to have a genuine impact on society by pursuing breakthroughs, discoveries and inventions which improve our lives."

Jo Johnson MP said:

"Our membership of the EU plays a big part in supporting our success as a knowledge economy, not only in terms of funding, but also in terms of valuable academic collaborations and access to shared research facilities. Britain is an innovation powerhouse and we must do everything we can to maintain that position. As this new data shows, the EU helps to facilitate ground-breaking research, create jobs and strengthen our position as a global innovation leader."

Some of the vital research projects underway at UK universities are being showcased at an event on Thursday 9 June hosted by Universities UK, with support from ResPublica and Scientists for EU.

Professor Anne Rosser at the University of Cardiff, who is speaking at the event and whose research into tackling degenerative diseases includes a €6 million contribution from the European Commission, said:

"I know first-hand of the importance of the EU to the development of cures and treatments for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's. A lot of the debate has been about the money we get from the EU, but for us here on the Repair-HD project this is not the whole story. For us, it is the collaboration that matters. Outside the EU we wouldn't have the same access to the networks and partnership opportunities that we do now. These are global issues and to tackle them most effectively we must work with partners across Europe and beyond, pooling resources to make a difference to people's lives."

Phillip Blond, CEO of ResPublica, said:

"The benefits of the EU to UK universities and the knock on benefits for the rest of the UK cannot be underestimated. Not only does EU funding help boost economic growth and create employment in and outside the sector, the cross-border partnerships the EU enables leads to bigger, better and more impactful research and discoveries."  

Case studies: European collaboration 

University of Cambridge – BOADICEA female cancer

Basic and applied research at the Centre for Cancer Genetic Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge has received three multi-million pound project grants to collaborate with partners across Europe and beyond to characterise susceptibility to breast and other cancers, using rich data drawn from many countries. Among other things, this research culminated in BOADICEA, which predicts a woman's likelihood of carrying mutations in breast and ovarian cancer genes and their risk of cancer. It is already being used by genetic counsellors, oncologists and general practitioners to identify high risk individuals. They can then refer these patients for counselling or regular screening, and provide advice about ways to lower their risk. The web-interface of BOADICEA has more than 5000 registered users from the UK and 103 other countries. 

University of Essex – Intelligent wheelchairs

The University of Essex received more than €2 million to work with seven partners across the EU to harness international expertise in order to develop intelligent wheelchairs, responding to an aging population and increased incidence of people with disabilities. Researchers developed a variety of hands-free control methods for elderly and disabled wheelchair-users (who find it challenging to use manually controlled levers) which are low-cost and easy to use on different types of wheelchair. These included control methods based on head movements, hand gestures, voice, and facial expressions, supported by a laser scanner to avoid obstacles, enhancing disabled people's independence affordably. 

University of Aberdeen – Fast Field-Cycling (FFC) MRI scanners

The University of Aberdeen is working with nine teams from universities, research centres and high-tech companies in six countries to develop the next-generation of MRI scanners to identify key diseases earlier. Collaborating at European level enables the project to harness a broad range of expertise, not available in any single country.

Standard MRI machines work at just one magnetic field, but Fast Field-Cycling (FFC) MRI scanners will allow patients to be passed through thousands of possible variations in field while they are inside the machine, producing more detailed diagnostic information about diseases including osteoarthritis, cancer and dementia.

University of Leicester – AirPROM

The AirPROM project at the University of Leicester aims to help doctors treating patients affected by airway diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to determine which treatment will be most effective for each individual. By bringing together academic and industry specialists from across the EU, AirPROM has enabled scientists to develop digital models of the lungs and use them to test new treatments to see how different people's airways respond to each treatment. Ultimately the project will help improve quality of life for the 500 million people across the world affected by airway diseases.

University of Newcastle upon Tyne – RD-Connect

The University of Newcastle upon Tyne is working with international partners on a project that links up databases, registries, bio-banks and clinical bio-informatics data used in rare disease research into a central resource for researchers worldwide. Although individually uncommon, rare diseases have become numerous that they collectively affect as many as one in every 17 people in Europe, but many patients lack timely and accurate diagnosis, or tailored treatments. By pooling data and existing research, this project is making it easier for scientists across the world to achieve breakthroughs in disease diagnosis and treatment. This has the potential to drastically improve diagnosis and treatment for those affected.


 

Notes

  1. The report – Economic impact on the UK of EU research funding to UK universities – was produced for Universities UK by Ursula Kelly, Viewforth Consulting Ltd

  2. This is a summary report of a study modelling the impact on the UK economy of EU research funding of UK universities during the academic and financial year 2014/15. This was the most recent year for which data were available. The study was carried out in May 2016 for Universities UK.  

  3. The study used the same higher education impact modelling system as has been used previously by the authors for UK and regional reports of higher education impact. The modelling system comprises a UK input-output model with 12 extensions covering the nine English Regions together with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The full model specification can be found in the Universities UK 2014 report: The impact of universities on the UK economy.  

  4. The primary input data source for EU Research Funding was Higher Education Statistics Agency data (2016): The Finances of UK Higher Education Providers and Staff in Higher Education 2014/15. HESA records the research grant and contract income to UK universities from a range of sources, separately identifying EU-sourced research funding. This includes all income from competitively won research grants and contracts proceeding from government bodies, charities, companies and corporations operating in the EU, excluding bodies in the UK. 

  5. The majority of the EU research grants and contacts came from EU government bodies, defined as "all research grants and contracts income from all government bodies operating in the EU, which includes the European Commission, but excludes bodies in the UK". 

  6. Universities UK is the representative organisation for the UK's universities. Founded in 1918, its mission is to be the definitive voice for all universities in the UK, providing high quality leadership and support to its members to promote a successful and diverse higher education sector. With 133 members and offices in London, Cardiff (Universities Wales) and Edinburgh (Universities Scotland), it promotes the strength and success of UK universities nationally and internationally. Visit www.universitiesuk.ac.uk

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