Universities' Wide Role in the Community Should Be Celebrated; AUNIVERSITYVIEW

Article excerpt

THE role of universities as part of society, community and economy has long been debated, and is now a higher profile issue than it has been for many years.

It has been a while since the fus nding for and impact of universities and higher education has been so prominent in headlines and as part of budget announcements nationally.

The debate between the role of education for self-betterment and learning for its own sake is inextricably linked to the debate regarding vocationalism, employability and contribution to economy.

But they need not be mutually exclusive or at polar ends of the spectrum of the debate. The developmental effect of education and the contribution of universities in support of all aspects of economic, social, and cultural well-being are clearly referenced in global education policy and research. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and World Bank statistics and publications investigate and establish the link between investment in education and prosperity, productivity and well-being.

University-level participation and outcomes are commonly referenced as critical for economic and social development and as leading indicators of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and for the potential growth of GDP.

A number of reports in the UK reference the impact of the university sector on the economy and the most recent report from Universities UK (reporting for 2007-08) illustrates the substantial return on the total public funding in the sector: through direct and secondary or multiplier effects the higher education sector generates pounds 59bn of output and 668,500 full-time equivalent jobs throughout the UK economy.

Part of this impact is due to universities attracting talented students from overseas into the UK, enhancing cultural diversity on campus and in region and boosting the UK economy to the tune of pounds 2.3bn of personal off-campus expenditure in 2007-08 - the equivalent of 14% of all receipts from overseas visitors.

Universities are also key components of regeneration of their communities.

One can see the development of towns and cities clearly linked to the development of their universities and the relationship is one of mutual benefit. …