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Higher Education and the Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 19th April 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development 2:30 pm, 19th April 2007

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, chief executive of Universities UK, for securing this important debate. Yesterday, when I looked at the very distinguished list of speakers for this debate, including a former principal of King's College, London, the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, I could not imagine which would be a more daunting task—to either follow the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, or to be placed before the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, one of the most respected figures in higher education. Alas, I see that the House has managed to sandwich me between both the former and the latter.

There can be no doubt that Britain's universities make major contributions to the economy and the society of the country. I would like to use King's as an example of the major positive impact made by the higher education institutions of the UK. In doing so, I declare an interest as Chairman of Council of King's College, London.

The contribution made by King's to the economy is substantial. It is a major university institution in the heart of London with a turnover of more than £387 million in 2005-06. It employs more than 5,000 staff. The positive economic impact of such substantial employment speaks for itself. We have nearly 20,000 students in a wide range of fields stretching from humanities, law and the social and physical sciences to virtually every kind of health discipline. More than a fifth of these students are from other countries. The presence of so many home and overseas students contributes economically, socially and culturally, not only to this capital city, but also to the country more generally. Those of our graduates who make their careers in the UK will be, through their qualifications and achievements, our important wealth creators for the economy; those who choose to work overseas will be major customers for Britain due to their persisting positive ties to this country.

The intellectual capital generated by universities also benefits our society. Much of this benefit derives from wealth creation. During the academic year which ended last July, King's College, London, generated research income in excess of £110 million—the sixth largest in England. King's is within the forefront of income generation too, through knowledge transfer, spin-out companies, consultancy and partnerships in areas such as biotechnology and the creative and cultural industries. For example, early in the academic session 2005-06, King's won the national award for Business Initiative of the Year for its spin-out company, Proximagen, which supplies therapeutic products based on first-rate academic research into Parkinson's disease.

As well as the financial impact of a large, multi-faculty university located on several sites north and south of the River Thames, the traditional artery of the capital city, there is the cultural impact. King's has highly productive associations with many of our major arts institutions in London, all of which contribute greatly to income from visitors and tourists.

In these various ways, King's and other universities are major engines of dynamic economic growth and cultural and social benefit. Especially in the age of the knowledge economy, this is a major rationale for adequate public funding for our higher education institutions. Such funding provides the base on which all these achievements rests.