News and Insights

Promoting the societal impact of higher education in times of economic difficulty

November 10, 2023

UK universities have faced many challenges in 2023 and the current economic and political backdrop signals more potential hardship ahead for the higher education sector.

From whether tuition fees should be increased to lecturers striking over pay and the legal class action by more than 100,000 students seeking compensation over the disruption to teaching due to strikes and the Covid-19 lockdowns, universities are battling a number of critical issues at once.

This is all amid a cost-of-living crisis and fears that the UK may dip into a recession which could see the class of 2023/24 graduating into a sluggish jobs market. This picture looks much worse when considering The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that one in five students – or around 70,000 students every year – would be better off financially had they not gone to university.

Many experts believe the sector may be barrelling towards a crisis. As such, attracting young adults to apply to university in this climate could become ever more challenging.

Highlighting education’s value

In the face of all this adversity, university leaders must emphasise the many factors that demonstrate why the UK’s higher education sector is still highly valuable for individuals, the wider economy, and communities. According to the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2023, the UK boasts three institutions among the top 10 in the world (University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and Imperial College London) and 11 in the top 100.

Although there may be a small proportion of people who are not financially better off from doing a degree, going to university is still a very good investment for the overwhelming majority. Recent survey data by Universities UK found that 73% of UK graduates credited going to university with enabling them to find the job they wanted in under a year. Further to this, 71% of ‘first in their family’ graduates said that going to university opened doors to companies for them.

Indeed, universities are still ideal institutions for improving social mobility, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The University of Bradford is one great example of this, as it topped the English Higher Education Social Mobility Index for the third year in a row. Aston University in Birmingham came in second and City, University of London, third.

Improving communications around societal impact

According to University World News, Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) at THE, believes there is now a reckoning in store for the higher education landscape, with politicians – particularly in the US and the UK – querying what universities do for society.

THE is in the process of turning its rankings towards measuring the social and economic impacts of higher education and research on society, and perhaps universities can be doing more to promote these benefits themselves as well.

For example, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is one organisation that regularly champions its belief in equitable access to high-quality business education. Most recently, AACSB responded to the US Supreme Court’s ruling to defund diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) programs within select states, by distributing an open letter that wrote: “The role of education is to seek greater understanding of the world through research, knowledge, and open sharing of diverse perspectives, which requires the representation of many voices. Greater diversity enables strength and innovation among communities, organizations, and global society.”

The societal impact of education will be a focal issue and an important value to keep stressing for UK universities if they are to continue to be considered a worthy venture by many – and to encourage future students to apply in these times of great economic uncertainty.

How FINN Partners can help

Spanning 20 offices across three continents and backed by 30 years of experience, we know the education landscape well. Our team understands the unique needs of faculty, staff, and students, as well as the critical issues affecting the sector – e.g., affordability, racial and social equity, access to resources and tech, and the ever-increasing pressure of funding challenges and policy changes.

Please do get in touch if you have any questions or would like to discuss how the team can support your institution with corporate communications.


Terri Bloore, Senior Partner, London Office

Jaskiran Shergill, Associate Vice President, London Office

TAGS: Education

POSTED BY: Jaskiran Shergill

Jaskiran Shergill