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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  2015  /  September 2015  /  Are London’s universities economically underperforming?

Are London’s universities economically underperforming?

Peter Wood - there’s more to innovation than technology

Are London’s universities economically underperforming?

In a recently published essay, Professor Peter Wood, with Professor Helen Lawton Smith (Birkbeck), argues that the scale and diversity of higher education establishments in London create a unique environment for the external impact of all forms of research. The simple comparisons that have been made with technology-focused higher education ‘performance’ in smaller UK regions, in which average research incomes per higher education institution (HEI) in London appear low, are thus highly misleading.

London supports one of the most diverse and open regional economies in Europe. It also includes around 40 HEIs and, compared with other regions, their staff numbers are especially focused, not just in Russell Group research-intensive HEIs and specialist medical research institutes, but also in vocationally oriented ‘post 1992’ HEIs, and especially in nationally important arts institutes (e.g. in drama, music, dance, visual arts). The scale and diversity of London’s universities thus overshadow those of every other UK region, while incidentally also attracting more outside research income than Oxford and Cambridge Universities combined.

In this context, London’s metropolitan economy offers wide potential for commercial and other HEI outreach. This arises not just through scientific, technological and biomedical applications, but also the development of architectural, artistic, media, design, and other professional expertise. Much of the innovation derived from such activities has been described as ‘hidden’, since it is difficult to measure with conventional technology-based indices. They are nevertheless of special significance in assessing the outreach contribution of HEIs in London

While such processes may be distinctive of London as a global capital city, they also hint at the wider complexity of assessing the multiple contributions of HEIs in all regions.


Peter Wood and Helen Lawton Smith, (2015) ‘Universities in a metropolitan environment: the case of London’, in Audretsch, D., Lehman, E., Vismara, S and Meoli, M (Eds) University evolution, entrepreneurial activity and regional competitiveness. International Studies in Entrepreneurship, 32, Springer, Chapter 13, pp. 287-302.


Regional HEIs, 2009-10

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