The value of Universities is not money

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The press release below is the sort of misguided, instrumentationalist rhetoric that leads to the devaluing of education, the humanities, and the social goods for which universities and research primarily exist. When education is valued merely as a producer of money, it also becomes debased from one of fostering creativity and critical thinking to one of mere job training. While it may be worthwhile to note there are also beneficial economic ramifications to higher education, its real value to society far exceeds even liberal estimates of fiscal dividends. A throw-away line of “may have other impacts on society” adds fuel to the overly economically minded in governments and the voting public. This is because it makes it hypothetical and in contrast to “real” monetary numbers. The universities should be resisting this sort of rhetoric, not abetting it:

THE ECONOMIC CONTRIBUTION OF UNIVERSITIES IN FINLAND IS 14.2 BILLION EUROS

Published 13.06.2017 11:32,  Universities Finland UNIFI

The impact of Finnish universities on the Finnish economy has been evaluated. According to BiGGAR Economics, Finnish universities produce 14.2 billion gross added value for the Finnish economy, and their activities support around 136 000 jobs. This corresponds to 6.6% of Finnish economic output, and 5.5% of total employment in Finland. A euro invested in the Finnish universities produces, on average, 5.26 euros in return for the Finnish economy. Figures here include both the direct and the indirect effects. These are lower-bound estimates, thus the real impact is likely larger.

The main sources of impact are the core activities of the universities, the students’ activities, the business and innovation support that the universities provide, and the graduate premium. Other sources include the health benefits and tourism. In addition, through their staff and students, universities have many other impacts on society, such as renewing the Finnish cultural heritage, which are not measurable in euros.

Part of the study considered how the economic contribution might be affected if the public funding of universities was altered. According to the evaluation, funding cuts might produce a disproportional influence on the economic impact, and short-term funding cuts could diminish the economic impact to the extent that it nullifies the original savings.

The study was conducted by Scottish BiGGAR Economics Ltd, a company that has done similar evaluations previously in United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. The project was a joint project between The Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland (Akava), Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK), The Association of Finnish Independent Education Employers (AFIEE), National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL), and Universities Finland UNIFI. All universities mentioned in the Universities Act participated in the evaluation which took place during Spring 2017. The report is available at: http://www.unifi.fi/taloudellisetvaikutukset .

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