Coronavirus has had an massive impact in Scotland in so many ways – both physical and mental health, changing the way of life and behaviour of individuals day to day, changing people’s employment, and denting the economy as a whole. However, it has also brought to light the importance of universities to the Scottish economy, specifically the University of St Andrews.
The uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 in funding universities, with a £2.5bn national funding “black hole” and a shocking 313,000 fewer home and international students has led to a rush by economists to evaluate the impacts of universities on the wider economy. A recent study by Midlothian-based Biggar Economics suggested that the University of St Andrews contributes quite significantly to the Scottish economy with over £473 million per year in terms of GDP, supporting 6990 jobs. Looking more locally, it contributes around £298.3 million throughout the Fife economy supporting 4830 jobs. This goes to show the influence our university has on the wider economy. More importantly, as put by research economist Mr Graeme Blackett, “compared to others, St Andrews University has a lot of assets and is one of the Scottish universities that is least reliant on income from the Scottish Funding Council”. Being more self sufficient is good when the economy and the student base is thriving, but when student numbers fall, the income drop is not necessary balanced by the cost falling, leading to struggles in university finances. St Andrews’ status attracts quite a proportionally high international student base, but the lack of it this year has caused a loss of about 25% of the income.
Our principal Professor Sally Mapstone warned that there was a £25 million black hole financially, leading to the requirement of a “range of efficiencies” being introduced, such as the furloughing of up to 500 university staff, cancelling of academic promotions, but through all this an equally positive promise, committing to not seeking compulsory redundancies or salary cuts from current staff. This shortage will have an impact on the Scottish economy, but by how much is all dependant on the management and support of the finances of the University. Outside of general economy, St Andrews is also a lead research university and an exemplar model of an innovator, looking at Eden Campus as an example of world-leading innovative ambition in the clean energy sector. This also has a long term effect on the economy, locally and globally with developments in green technology becoming an increasingly important driving force in growth, bringing countries closer to help support climate change.
Though education and research doesn’t strictly have a profit making motive, it is a substantial social investment and its decline would lead to a lot of socio-economic problems — declining education standards, less demand for jobs, falling living standards and quality of life, and the list goes on. Therefore, I hope that we can all appreciate the importance of St Andrews University as an establishment and the role it plays in the Scottish economy and therefore, continue to behave and conduct ourselves in a way that best supports the recovery of the University and the economy in this challenging time.