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Aerial shot of Birmingham city centre with a beautiful sunset flaring on the horizon
Credit: Ross Jukes

Government should harness the jobs, skills and investment universities bring to the community as they look to recover from Covid-19, leading universities in the West Midlands have said.  

The Vice Chancellors of the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick believe the track record of universities in attracting investment, creating new jobs and providing local employers with skilled workers means they have the experience and capability to drive a rapid recovery as the region looks to bounce back from Covid.  

As members of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, they are among the UK’s top universities and bring a range of benefits to the local area. Research-intensive universities in the region have been at the heart of innovation clusters based around emerging technologies, bringing high-skilled jobs and investment to the area.  

Between 2014 and 2020, almost 4,300 new jobs were created by spinouts linked to Russell Group universities in the West Midlands. Those 1,288 active companies had a combined turnover of £249m and brought £209m of investment to the region. 

In addition to the high value jobs created by their business spin-out activities, Russell Group universities in the West Midlands currently employ around 16,000 staff, an increase of 20.9% over the last 5 years. 

As the Government looks ahead to its Comprehensive Spending Review in the Autumn, the Russell Group is calling on it to boost funding to nurture existing and scale-up developing regional innovation clusters that bring together research-intensive organisations, highly skilled researchers and academics, businesses of all sizes, and other key local players to exploit regional pockets of research and innovation excellence.  

The group has also proposed a series of other measures, many of which are low cost, to supercharge university-business collaboration, boost local economies and create job, including tweaks to taxation facing businesses engaging in collaborative R&D, as well as the tax faced by universities when building new facilities which will be used for research collaborations with businesses.  

The University of Birmingham is England’s first civic university and from our inception, we have sought to support the growth and development of both Birmingham and the wider West Midlands. We are proud of our record of creating jobs and drawing investment into the region. The University of Birmingham is already supporting local employers in the West Midlands by directly supporting and providing research that helps understand the key skills gaps in the region. We can and will do more as we aim to contribute to more investment and provide more jobs to local employers with our skilled graduates as the region looks to bounce back from Covid.

Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham

Research England's inaugural Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) ranked the University of Birmingham's contribution to the regional economy between August 2016 and July 2019 as first amongst all UK universities for local growth and regeneration. Income generation for the region accounted for 21% of total sector income which totalled over £41m – more than four times that of the next institution.

Professor Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor, University of Warwick, said:

“At the University of Warwick we’re proud to be part of West Midlands and its recovery from Covid-19 as a key partner in major initiatives for our region in the year ahead and beyond, including Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

 “Through our new partnership with University College Birmingham we will continue to help ensure our region has the vital skills to support new generations to access and work in emerging industries, and with the Warwick Institute of Engagement and our schools outreach programme we work in partnership with our local communities to expand access to education and share knowledge.

 “Warwick is also proud to help grow and promote our region’s reputation on an international stage. As the home of the National Automotive Innovation Centre, we play a leading role in the global automotive sector - reaffirming our region’s reputation as a centre of engineering and manufacturing excellence. Thanks to the expanding EUTOPIA alliance of universities, of which we are a founding institution, we will provide access for our students to experience education across our continent and build new research links to seek solutions to the challenges of today.

“As a university, we look forward to building on the role we play in bringing jobs, skills and investment to our region and in demonstrating the value we bring to our communities.”

Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: 

“By supporting innovation clusters around emerging technologies that have huge commercial potential and/or the ability to tackle some of the key issues facing UK and the world, the Government can help to unlock the potential of the UK’s regions.”