Scottish leaders have hailed the results of a study by BiGGAR Economics which found that the University of Edinburgh adds £2 billion annually to the Scottish economy.
In interviews with The Student, a number of politicians welcomed BiGGAR Economics’s findings.
For every £1 invested in the University by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the University generates £9.53 for the Scottish economy, according to the economic impact study.
The study also found that the University generated £3.3 billion gross value added (GVA) for the UK economy and £4.9 billion GVA for the world economy in 2013/14.
Speaking to The Student, Ian Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South and Shadow Scottish Secretary, welcomed the study’s findings.
He said: “Investing in our education system, from nursery onwards, is and always has been a Labour Party priority, and I am delighted that this study recognises the huge contribution the university makes to our city and to the wider Scottish economy.
“Universities and colleges across Scotland make similar contributions, and my Scottish Labour colleagues and I are determined to ensure that both the Higher and Further education sectors receive far funding settlements that recognise the wide variety of ways in which they tend to our social, educational, and cultural enrichment.”
In remarks to The Student, Alison Johnstone, Scottish Green MSP for Lothian, also lauded the results of the economic impact study, and repeated her call for the University of Edinburgh to divest completely from fossil fuels and armaments.
She said: “These figures are evidence that investing in further and higher education pays off. Colleges in particular have struggled with a lack of resources in recent years, and the Scottish government must work hard to promote parity of esteem within the two sectors as recommended by The Wood Commission.
“While the economic impact achieved by Edinburgh University is very good news, we must also remember that with public funding, comes social responsibility. I’m glad to see the University has finally listened to its students, and has committed to withdrawing funding from the worst fossil fuels and arms companies.
“There is no reason why it couldn’t go even further by divesting from all armaments and dirty fuels, and focusing its research on clean, ethical industries of the future.”
Marco Biagi, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central, called the University of Edinburgh “an asset that the city and country can be proud of”.
Speaking to The Student, he said: “Scotland’s economic strategy already recognises our universities as part of our national priorities. They rank alongside oil and gas, tourism and whisky as multibillion pound contributors to Scotland. Scotland invests a bigger share of our GDP in university research and development than the UK as a whole, and almost any other country in the OECD.”
Sarah Boyack, Labour MSP for Lothian, told The Student: “We need a stronger focus on how we convert the work being carried out in our universities to support developments in manufacturing, in sustainable energy and in innovation across our economy. For example, I’d be interested in seeing Edinburgh’s investment in sustainable heat networks replicated and developed by other universities.”
Despite their other political divergences, the leaders agreed on the need to widen access to the benefits of Scottish higher education.
Biagi told The Student: “We also need to make sure everyone with the potential can take advantage of studying in a world-class environment like the University of Edinburgh. I’m proud of our record on funding students as well as the universities they study at, having met a series of calls from NUS to find more upfront support to help students with their living costs over the past four year – even amidst Westminster’s austerity.”
Johnstone echoed Biagi’s sentiments, saying: “We also shouldn’t lose sight of the core purpose of our educational institutions – to open up high quality learning opportunities for students. This is not just down to Government funding, but also the actions of universities.
“Our publicly funded institutions have a responsibility to provide the same chances to young people with the desire and ability to learn, and Edinburgh University too could do more to reach out to students from deprived backgrounds.”
Ian Murray took aim at the Scottish government for failing to bridge the learning gap between socioeconomic levels.
Speaking to The Student, Murray said: “Widening access is a Labour priority: no person’s origins should determine their outcomes in life. We are committed to increasing the opportunities available to Scotland’s young people, and we want to keep higher education affordable, with free tuition that is accessible to all.
“Currently, however, school leavers from the most prosperous 20 per cent in society are twice as likely to go on to higher education as those from the poorest 20 per cent, and there is little sign of that gap closing.
“My Scottish Labour colleagues and I believe this to be unfair, unnecessary and thoroughly unacceptable, and we await with interest the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s Commission on Widening Access, which has been tasked with developing plans to help more students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Scotland to enter and succeed in higher education.
“As someone who went to Edinburgh University through the LEAPS initiative I absolutely know how important access is to further and higher education to improve life chances.”
Murray’s Hollyrood counterpart Sarah Boyack, was also critical of the SNP government.
She told The Student: “Strong university leadership and partnerships with key players in the regional economy such as our local councils and leading businesses is crucial. Access to our universities and the burden of student debt have yet to be addressed effectively by the Scottish Government.
“If we are to see more talented young people access further and higher education then we need a much stronger focus on educational attainment in our schools and increased financial support targeted to capable students who would otherwise miss out on our colleges and universities.”