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Engines of innovation and economic progress - new report highlights the impact of Russell Group universities

Posted on 28 February 2024

Research-intensive universities generate £2.2billion for Yorkshire and the Humber’s economy through research, innovation and new businesses, new analysis has revealed.

At the city's Guildhall, the University offers support and space to local businesses, start ups, charities and community networks.

The report, assessing the economic impact of Russell Group universities, which includes the universities of York, Leeds and Sheffield, found the impact of research and commercialisation activities equated to £37.6billion overall across the UK in 2021/22.

Professor Charlie Jeffery, Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, said: "This important analysis demonstrates how Russell Group universities are not just institutions of learning; we are engines of innovation and economic progress that contribute to the prosperity of every region in the country. 

 “Through our partnerships across the world, our research is bringing benefits for generations to come. We need to address the most pressing environmental, social and economic challenges facing our rapidly changing world. This is what being a university for public good is all about. 

“As great examples of York commercialisation and spin-out projects, we are developing new treatments and diagnostic tools for medical conditions such as blood cancers and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as pioneering green alternatives to improve industrial processes and reduce waste.”

Spring budget

The report highlighted how Russell Group universities supported over 22,000 jobs across the region through their research and innovation activities, such as the creation of new spin-out companies, wider knowledge exchange and Intellectual Property licensing.

As the Budget approaches, the Russell Group is urging the Government to capitalise on the huge economic potential of university research and commercialisation and calls on the Government and the next to guarantee at least 3% of GDP investment into R&D by 2030.

The Group, which represents 24 leading research universities, notes that such a commitment by current and future Governments would not only bring the UK in line with other top research nations but also deliver further benefits to the UK economy in years to come.


The report, by London Economics, showed that across the UK more than a quarter of a million (254,000) jobs - twice as many as in the chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries combined - were supported by all 24 Russell Group universities together. 

In a letter to the Chancellor ahead of the Spring Budget, the Group asked the Government to use the Budget to deliver on its existing commitment to invest £20bn in R&D by 2024/25.

Future-proof skills

Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: “These findings demonstrate the immense value our universities add in every single corner of the UK. 

“The data clearly shows that investing in R&D and innovation at Russell Group universities reaps huge benefits for local economies and communities, with hundreds of thousands of jobs created and new enterprise supported, thanks to high quality research across a range of disciplines.

“Russell Group breakthroughs are helping accelerate efforts to reach Net Zero responsibly, transforming the way UK companies do business and providing the NHS with new ways to save lives and cut waiting lists. Good choices and sustained investment from government has been crucial to this success.

“Now is the time to build on this success with robust funding to future-proof the skills and talent pipeline that is so vital to the growth of our economy – and to ensure that the research and innovation that originates within universities will continue to make a tangible, positive impact on people’s lives." 

University of York case study:  Cizzle Biotech is developing a blood biomarker test for the early detection of lung cancer, which often goes undiagnosed until too late for curative surgical intervention.  CT scanning for lung cancer is currently the standard of care but is a costly and limited health service resource. It also has a false positive rate of approximately 90%, depending on route of referral, which can lead to unnecessary and invasive investigations and cause significant patient trauma over an extended period.  The simple blood test developed by Cizzle Biotech can detect a new biomarker which is highly associated with lung cancer even in its early stages and offers a way to reduce the time required to reach a formal diagnosis. This will benefit patients who can start treatment at an early stage of their disease progression.  The test that has been developed is based on findings from 15 years of grant funded basic research from the Department of Biology at the University of York into the CIZ1 protein and its relationship with cancer. A variant form, CIZ1B, is produced by lung cancer cells and Cizzle Biotech’s test exploits this to detect lung cancer. 

Further information:

  • RG universities generated £37.6bn of output in 21/22, adding £20.5bn of gross value to the UK economy – 1% of the overall GVA of the UK.
  • This research was commissioned by the Russell Group, the analysis estimates the direct, indirect, and induced economic impacts associated with the research, wider knowledge exchange activities and spin-out companies of Russell Group universities, as well as the wider productivity spillovers from Russell Group research. It does not look at the value add and economic impact of teaching and learning activities, education exports or civic engagement activities.

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