The discipline of quantifying the contribution of universities in terms of their economic and social ‘good’ is no easy task. This shouldn’t be simply a justification – but more a recognition of the netpositive effect universities can have – and not just socially and economically, but environmentally too. The Universities That Count project and the work of Net Positive Futures and the Stockholm Environment Institute are notable examples doing similar things:
The report published today (http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/newsarchive/2014/news86932.html) presents new analysis of the return on the public investment in knowledge exchange through Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF). For every £1 of HEFCE knowledge exchange funding over the period from 2003 to 2012, £6.30 has been earned in gross additional income, and the report acknowledges that the total benefits to the economy and society are likely to be greater.
Successful universities are also building strong, sustainable and positive relationships with the private sector – looking to future challenges and providing, together, innovative research, knowledge transfer, teaching and learning. Boeing, GSK, Rolls Royce, are prominent in this field and Universities like Nottingham are putting in the infrastructure to work with them: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/servicesforbusiness/services/index.aspx
But in addition to this useful report, we should also consider how universities interact with our natural resources, by understanding the positive and negative effects they have on local and global resources. Balancing all three metrics would show how universities can be truly sustainable.