As per usual, the start of another Michaelmas term has seen the British media’s coverage of the University of Oxford dominated by controversy and scandal, whether this is disagreements over stalls at the Freshers fair or further ructions about the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College. However, the publication of recent figures showing that the university contributes a hefty annual sum to the British economy suggests that in light of the benefits brought to the country by our institution, the British media could be slightly more optimistic (or at least nuanced) in their coverage of our university.
An assessment by the specialist policy consultancy London Economics has found that Oxford contributes around £15bn to the British economy each year. A break-down of this momentous figure highlights the positive financial effects of Oxford’s innovation and research. The largest area, making up over 50% of the final figure, was research and knowledge work which contributed £7.9bn to the UK economy in the 2018-19 financial year. Given the manpower and resources dedicated to research across the university, most notably exemplified by the round-the-clock work to create the Covid-19 vaccine, this amount is perhaps unsurprising. What is slightly more surprising is the contributions of the university to other areas of life. The assessment found that £452million a year was contributed to the distribution, transport, hotel and restaurant sector, no doubt a by-product of the 7 million tourists a year who visit the city.
The assessment also found that Oxford is attracting ‘many international students.’ Given that another report found that international students contribute as much as £28.8bn a year to the British economy, the figure that 45% of Oxford students are international augurs well for university finances and our cultural prestige abroad. The report by HEPI and Kaplan earlier this month that 71% of international students plan on staying in the UK to work after their degrees is even more encouraging. The report also pointed to the social and outreach aspects of this staggering figure, referring to it as ‘tradable activity with imports and exports like any other tradable sector.’ Given that records show that Oxford has contributed a lot to educational efforts in the British regions, such as £110million to the North West and £106million to the Midlands, it is clear that careful and socially-conscious planning is going into our university’s allocation of its spending.
In light of this assessment, the report in The Guardian on 9th October on Magdalen College’s recent financial windfall must be placed in a different context. The paper’s wealth correspondent Rupert Neate saw that this development ‘underline[d] the growing gulf between the haves and have-nots in the world of academia.’ Whilst scrutiny of university finances is always welcome and it was refreshing to see two Oxford undergraduates contributing intelligent and nuanced perspectives to the article, the assessment shows that even if our university’s focus on profit and finances has the capacity to cause controversy, the money is being well-spent on education and contributing to British society and the economy.