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An Elephant in the Room: The hidden economic value of public engagement and knowledge exchange in UK universities
Viewforth Consulting March 2018
We have conducted an analysis of the pro-bono public engagement and voluntary knowledge exchange which is undertaken by many UK university staff. The analysis draws on survey data of staff across different UK universities to estimate the 'hidden' economic value. Results suggest that, for the UK as a whole in 2017, the shadow economic value of this activity was £3.2 billion and the work effort was equivalent to 24,493 FTE jobs, 


Additional comments from the authors:

Ursula Kelly "Due to acknowledged data and resource constraints, we regard the empirical results in this report as providing first-ever order of magnitude estimates of the nature and volume of this hitherto unquantified aspect of UK universities' activities. The results are undoubtedly sufficiently robust to prove that pro bono engagement by university staff going beyond academe itself makes a large and significant, albeit unrecognised, contribution to the UK economy and society as a whole.  In fact the widespread reaction to the report is already realising our main aim in producing it : future discussions about, or evaluations of, UK university activities and value for society will have to include recognition of staff pro bono engagements."

Emeritus Professor Iain McNicoll: " I have spent a considerable number of pro bono hours revisiting the evidence underlying this report to ascertain if anything additional of substance can be taken from it.  I have drawn on: prior personal knowledge of UK HEIs' activities; relevant qualitative and indirect evidence and estimates; targeted simulations using plausible alternative data values. Based on all this, I make the following statements with a high degree of confidence: 

  • The volume of HE pro bono engagement is certainly in the range 4 to 42 million hours with the highest probability true value in the range 30 to 40 million hours.
  • The shadow economic value of staff pro bono engagement is almost certainly in the range £2.7 to £3.7 billion, with a single best estimate approximately equal to the£3.2 billion cited in this report." 

Information note on shadow pricing in the report 

It is important to note that the shadow prices used in the report calculations are based on market consultancy firm charge-out rates, not consultant salaries. Typically, the charge-out rate is derived from a variant of the following formula:

Charge-out rate = gross consultant labour costs + fully allocated company overheads + target company profit margin

For medium/large consultancy firms, the charge-out rates can easily be more than double the actual salaries paid to consultants. Thus, the numerical money estimates cited in the report refer to equivalent company gross revenue or "output" values, not consultant wages/salaries. It is very important to keep this in mind in interpreting the report results and in making comparisons with other activities, firms, or industries.  



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