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Universities’ impact on the UK economy and society: five reasons why European Union membership matters

1. EU membership is key to the global success of British universities and their contribution to the UK economy and society.
UK universities’ global success depends on sharing knowledge within the EU, and with the rest of the world. The EU is the largest knowledge economy in the world, with over £400 billion in high-tech exports in 2012 alone compared to £95 billion for the United States.
Being part of the EU enables the UK to enhance its visibility, influence and attractiveness in the increasingly competitive global marketplace for research contracts, international students and staff.

The graphene research project at the University of Manchester received EU start-up funding in 2007. The researchers subsequently won a Nobel Prize in 2010 and secured further funding for graphene research and development from the UK government. It is estimated that graphene’s global market will be worth more than £256m by 2024.


2. EU partnerships enhance the impact and competitiveness of the UK’s world-leading research.

The EU allows British universities’ researchers to achieve more through combining their resources, talent, infrastructure and data in large-scale transnational research projects.
Through its networks and ready-made frameworks, the EU makes it quicker and easier for European researchers to connect and work together.
Internationally co-authored work has greater impact than work done in a single country or by one university alone, and 65% of the UK’s top 20 research partners are other EU countries.


16 countries, including 11 from the EU and the universities of Oxford, Stirling and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, participated in the EU-funded Ebola+ research programme. It is part of the Innovative Medicines Initiative to tackle diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and obesity. The Initiative was funded by the EU, with £1.93bn from the FP7 and Horizon 2020 programmes since 2008.


3. Free movement of students and staff within the EU benefits the UK economy and universities.

In 2012–13 there were 125,290 EU students studying in the UK – 6% of all students studying at UK universities – generating £2.27 billion for the UK economy and 19,000 jobs. After they graduate, many will go on to positions of power in their home countries, with positive effects for the UK’s soft power and trading relationships.
The Erasmus exchange programme is the single largest source of support for UK students wishing to study or work abroad. Erasmus students do better academically, are more likely to start their own companies and are 50% less likely to experience long-term unemployment than those who have not studied or trained abroad.
The EU also enables the internationalisation of the higher education workforce. 14% of academic staff in UK universities are from the EU, contributing to the talent pool and cultural diversity of UK education.

The EU’s £11 billion Erasmus+ programme promotes student and staff exchange in Europe and beyond as well as the development of joint programmes, joint research, university-business cooperation and international capacity building.

The European Research Council awarded Cardiff University and experts from Australia, France, Belgium and Germany a Starting Grant of £1.2m to develop RealTCut, an innovative medical simulator. RealTCut accurately reproduces the effects of surgical cutting in real time, laying the foundations for a new generation of simulators that could greatly reduce risk to patients.

4. The EU enables life-changing research, discoveries and inventions.

Scientific breakthroughs, from life-saving medicines and new materials to clean energy solutions and improving children’s nutrition, were all made possible through European collaboration and funding.
UK universities accessed over £1 billion in research funding in 2013 alone. EU funding enables research across disciplines, including in critical areas like life sciences, information technologies and energy.
European Structural and Investment Funding (ESIF) gained by UK universities has risen steadily over the last five years, surpassing £100 million in 2012–13 alone. It promotes local economic growth, reduces inequalities between regions, helps small businesses to create innovative products and provides the training needed to create a highly skilled workforce.

£2.6m of European Structural Funds have been invested in the Graduate Employability Support Programme led by the University of Cumbria, which helps graduates in the north west of England improve their job prospects through internships, networking and other initiatives. Other UK university partners: Bolton, Central Lancashire, Chester, Lancaster, Liverpool John Moores, Manchester Metropolitan, Salford.

5. EU membership creates British jobs.

EU research and innovation funding from 2007 to 2013 had an enormous impact on stimulating employment and growth across Europe. The long-term impact was estimated at 900,000 additional jobs and a growth in GDP of nearly 1%.
EU membership supports trade that drives British economic growth. The UK economy depends on trade and investment to help it grow – and 47% of foreign direct investment comes from EU countries. The scale of the European Single Market encourages investment from further afield, benefiting all people and regions of the UK.
Outside the EU, the UK would have less power to influence the rules of trade, investment and programmes that the country would probably need to comply with anyway.


The European Regional Development Fund has invested £20m in the Low Carbon Innovation Fund, which with the help of the University of East Anglia supports SMEs in the East of England to develop low carbon products and create new jobs in the region.
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