Grow Export Attract Support

The university role in driving sustainable economic growth is four-fold. It can be characterised as grow, export, attract and support


The sector grows as an industry in its own right, worth £6.7 billion GVA which makes it larger than food and drink. Universities also grow and spin-out companies of their own and they do this very successfully.


Universities have an important export function through the recruitment of international students and attraction of international research funds. The value of university exports is currently £1.3 billion a year with an ambition to grow further.


Universities have an important role in the attraction of inward investment. This is the new element to the framework. An evaluation of inward investment decisions into Scotland found that the university contribution – whether it is their research, the high-skill graduate base they produce or the cluster-effect that universities are often at the heart of – was cited in as many of 45 per cent of all inward investment projects in Scotland.


Finally, universities support home-grown Scottish businesses. They do this through knowledge exchange. Studies estimate that Scotland’s universities work on innovation with 26,000 companies, the majority of which are Scottish. A survey of Global Competitiveness run by the World Economic Forum ranked Scotland 5.8 out of 7 for university-business collaboration on innovation. This put Scotland ahead of the US, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. When it comes to working with business, small and medium sized companies are a particular focus, given Scotland’s business base. Universities in Scotland have been more effective in engaging with SMEs than their UK peers. Scottish universities are responsible 29 per cent of all university-SME innovation undertaken in the UK despite accounting for only 11 per cent of all UK universities.

Attract: Industries choosing to locate in Scotland explain their reasons for choosing here:

“We chose this location due to the fact that Edinburgh is an attractive marketplace for us and we were keen to make the most of its local skill set and high calibre of employees from universities.”

– Pontus Nore, Director and Co-Founder of Cloud Reach, 2012


“We are operating in a hugely competitive environment and Molnlyke Health Care’s decision to locate in Scotland is testament to the international reputation of our universities, businesses and skill base.”

– Eleanor Mitchell, Director of Commercialisation at Scottish Enterprise, 2012

Key Points:

  • Grow. Universities are an industry in their own right, contributing £6.7 billion GVA to the economy. Universities also create companies; spinning out more than their share as a region of the UK
  • Export. Scotland’s universities generated £1.3 billion of export earnings in 2011/12.
  • Attract. Universities feature as a factor in almost half of all inward investment into Scotland.
  • Support. Universities work with over 26,000 existing companies on innovation. Scotland outranks the US, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and others for the level of university-business collaboration according to a survey on Global Competitiveness

Further Reading


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