ALMOST 18,000 jobs depend on Southampton’s two universities, which generate more than £1billion a year for the city’s economy.

Those are the findings of research published today after the academic year ended amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis.

The University of Southampton and Solent University employ 6,800 people – with another 10,950 jobs supported through their supply chain and spending by staff and students, according to analysis by Hatch Regeneris for the University and College Union (UCU).

The research found the two institutions are worth £1.1bn in gross value added (GVA), making them among the biggest contributors to the local economy.

Ross McNally, chief executive of Hampshire Chamber, said: “This study underlines the vital importance of our universities to economic activity in our region.

“Their contribution includes staff and student spending, income for supply chain companies, the provision of business services and the commercialisation of university research. Investment by both universities helps small and medium-sized businesses working in all kinds of sectors such as life sciences, marine and maritime, advanced engineering and the creative industries.

“This support has helped to put Southampton and the Solent well above the national average for creating high-growth firms.”

Recent polling for the union by YouGov found two-thirds of the public feared a negative impact on the local economy if student numbers dropped as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Three quarters feared a negative impact if a university went bust.

A third of those in work said their local university was important to their own job.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “This review shows how significant Southampton’s universities are to the local economy. Universities are vitally important to our society, but their important role in the local economy is often overlooked. This study shows that they have a huge impact in creating local jobs, supporting local businesses, and attracting people and organisations to the area.”

A report by the UCU in April warned of a £2.5bn loss in income for universities from a drop in student numbers. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reported earlier this month that the pandemic would leave some universities struggling to survive.

The research found Southampton University employs 5,670 people and supports another 14,020 jobs, while Solent University employs 1,30 and supports 3,730.

A University of Southampton spokesperson said: “Those of us working in the university sector are very proud of the positive impact of our institutions and the fundamental contributions we make to the regional and national economies.

“The University of Southampton’s impact reaches beyond the staff we employ and the talented students we educate.

“Through our education, research, enterprise and cultural activities, we also contribute to improvements in health and quality of life for people in the region, as well as more widely nationally and internationally.

“Whilst the full effects of the pandemic are still being realised, financially and otherwise, the response of universities like ours to the challenges presented by COVID-19 has further underlined the importance of our regional role in providing real world solutions of benefit to the community and wider society – from our development of the PeRSo personal respirator in support of frontline medical staff and the pioneering use of an aerial drone to create a potential lifeline for emergency medical supplies between mainland Britain and the Isle of Wight to partnering Oxford with its world-leading vaccine trial and playing a leading role in delivering and evaluating the Southampton saliva test pilot which could pave the way for wider, regular testing to help stop the further spread of the virus.”

Professor Karen Stanton, vice-chancellor of Solent University, said: “As a city centre university, we are hugely proud of educational, community and economic benefits we bring to the local area. We recognise the key role we play in promoting and supporting the region’s economy through the educational opportunities we provide and the support we give to local businesses.

“We will continue to provide opportunities for those wishing to further their education and develop their skills, through our wide-range of degrees, apprenticeships and short courses. Our recently launched Business Response Commitment will also help us to support businesses large and small, local and national, to survive and thrive in these difficult times.”