University College London generates £10bn a year for UK, says report

UCL’s research, knowledge and support for business startups provides boost ‘equal to holding Olympics every year’

University College London has boasted its financial contribution to the British economy is the equivalent of hosting the Olympics every year – in part because of how it encourages graduates to create jobs and investment around the country.

An independent report commissioned by UCL estimates that the university generates close to £10bn a year in economic activity from its spending of £1.67bn. According to the consultancy London Economics, that figure “is comparable to the boost in international trade and inward investment delivered by the 2012 London Olympics”.

While much of the £10bn is generated by the spread of UCL’s research and knowledge, some comes from nurturing company spinoffs and startups such as that cofounded by Rachael Twumasi-Corson, whose company Afrocenchix is now selling its haircare products in Superdrug and Whole Foods as well as exporting to more than 50 countries.

Afrocenchix’s 14 employees are dwarfed by the 19,000 full-time jobs the report estimates are supported by UCL’s activities, but Twumasi-Corson credits UCL for crucial funding and support to help get Afrocenchix off the ground – thanks to a lecture she attended while studying medical anthropology.

Twumasi-Corson attended a lecture run by UCL’s enterprise operation – which aims to help students with “entrepreneurial activities” including businesses with their roots outside UCL – and decided to put Afrocenchix in for a “bright ideas” competition run by UCL.

“I didn’t think we would end up winning, but we did. So it was great to win and to have that validation from UCL; it went a long way to helping us get the business properly established,” she said.

The prize was £5,000 in funding, along with office space in central London and business advice from UCL’s enterprise unit, which Twumasi-Corson said was just as important.

“There was a really cool person working at UCL … from a Caribbean background and it was actually the first time I had ever interacted with a university entrepreneurship department that had a black woman there,” she said.

“She understood a lot of the issues with my hair that had led to making the product range, which was really great.”

UCL returned the favour by employing Twumasi-Corson on its business advisory team: “I worked three days a week helping students with their businesses, and then the rest of the week I was working on mine,” she said.

“It put me on the trajectory to be able to have a sustainable business with employees. I have been full time now for about three years. And I have got a team of 12 people, 14 including contractors. That UCL support really helped, I learned a huge amount.”

Afrocenchix was just one of the 234 graduate startups that were launched or operating in one year, 2018-19, along with 83 spinout companies, generating £110m in turnover, attracting £639m external investment and employing 2,950 staff.

The London Economics report found that UCL’s research and knowledge exchange activities were worth more than £4bn in 2018-19, and estimated that “productivity spillovers” meant that every £1m invested in research at UCL results in an extra £6m economic output across the UK.

While the university does most of its spending and employment in the London area, the report found the total impact of its own spending generates £3bn for the UK economy – with just over a third of that taking place outside the capital. Of the 19,000 jobs supported by UCL’s spending, more than 7,000 are located outside London.

The report comes as the government is highly critical about the value of degrees taught at English universities, including its complaints about “low value” qualifications.

Michael Spence, UCL’s provost, said: “This study demonstrates for the first time the far-reaching extent to which UCL in particular is improving health and prosperity right across the UK, through its work to expand knowledge, translate that into new technologies, techniques, activities and therapies, and nurture the talent of future generations to do the same.”

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Richard Adams Education editor

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