Annual Review 2021: Social and economic impact

The University contributes almost £820 million to the UK economy and nearly 9,500 jobs according to its latest social and economic impact assessment. Staff contribute 255,000 hours of pro bono public engagement, and students 27,000 hours of volunteering as part of a profound contribution to social cohesion and community engagement. 

The figures, gathered by Viewforth Consulting, following on from their 2018 report, are even more impressive considering the impact of the pandemic.

Plymouth’s approach has been to de facto abolish the concept of engagement as ‘third’ leg activity altogether and to embed active engagement and knowledge exchange into every part of its work, making it integral to the University’s operations. This is a pioneering approach but one which is generating significant benefit to the University in strengthening its teaching and research portfolio and its reputational standing while at the same time maximising the benefits – both economic and social – to the surrounding community..

Viewforth Consulting

Analysing figures from the 2019–20 academic year, on a national level:

  • the University generated £819 million of output, both directly and through secondary effects and student personal expenditure
  • it generated 9,474 full-time equivalent jobs in the UK as a result of the University’s activities, including through the personal expenditure of students and international visitors
  • in terms of GVA (Gross Value Added or contribution to UK Gross Domestic Production (GDP)), the University made a total contribution to UK GDP of more than £444 million and contributed £52.9 million of export earnings.

At a regional level, the University contributed £772 million in output to the South West economy, created a total of 9,018 jobs (equivalent to 0.3% of the total South West workforce) and contributed £421 million of GVA. One of the standout findings from the report was that “The University has strengthened and extended its broader community ties and is actively embedding the concept of community and civic engagement across all aspects of its teaching and research, as well as in its management and day to day operations”. This civic impact is evidenced in a variety of metrics, including the following:

  • Nearly 5,800 patients were treated at the four centres operated by the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise, across just under 20,000 appointments, with a socially modified economic value of more than £1.1 million, with a quality of life gain estimated at a minimum of £2.9 million. These figures would likely have been 25% higher but for appointments lost owing to the pandemic.
  • Plymouth students devote around 19,000 hours per year to working in the Plymouth Law Clinic – where people can obtain free legal aid in what is an infamous ‘legal aid desert’. This work has an economic value of £708,000 and a socially modified economic value of nearly £1.2 million.
  • The University was among the top five providers of consultancy services to external organisations, and 22nd for provision of those services to SMEs.
  • The University’s public arts programme generated a value of around £517 million.

The G7 in Cornwall

The hosting of the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, prompted significant University activity to showcase its expertise in many key areas of international interest. Through the Plymouth Perspectives campaign, some of our world-leading researchers shared their expert analysis on exactly what the G7 should examine, including the very real global health threat in the form of antimicrobial resistance; sustainable action needed on land and sea to address the climate change crisis; tackling education inequality; and driving global corporation taxes and investment into natural disaster infrastructure. In addition, seven thought leadership pieces were published by The New Statesman, and academics conducted extensive interviews in the international, national and regional media. Starting on World Oceans Day, three days before the summit, the University was a partner in a project that launched seven scientific monitoring devices into the sea – one for each G7 nation – to enhance understanding of how plastic pollution behaves in the marine environment. The University’s expertise in agri-tech and robotics was showcased as part of an exhibition in Falmouth, demonstrating how the South West is driving ingenuity and innovation across the agriculture, robotics and sustainability sectors.

<p>Beaches, St Ives, Carbis Bay, Cornwall.</p>

Funding secured for pioneering National Marine Park

The UK’s first National Marine Park has been awarded £9.5 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to make its vision of a park in the sea a reality. The bid, led by Plymouth City Council, with support from the University and people and organisations across the city and surrounding Plymouth Sound, was successful in its application to the Heritage Horizon Awards. The Marine Park will look to improve the physical and social infrastructure surrounding the Sound and use technology to engage people with it. There will be a two-year development period, before chosen ideas will be taken forward over a five-year delivery plan. Among those ideas being considered are innovation labs, a marine observation post, a ‘hidden treasures of the Sound’ project, and the development of digital park apps.

<p>Plymouth Sound: Ariel view of Plymouth waterfront from the Hoe to the Dockyard and beyond.</p>

For well over a century, the remarkable natural resource of Plymouth Sound has attracted marine scientists from all over the world. What is particularly exciting about this funding is that it will allow us to work together across the city to develop projects that connect the land and sea as a system and convey that sense of wonder to a wider audience, particularly those who live in the city.

Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS, Director of the Marine Institute


The University was granted UN Observer Status for the UN’s Climate Conference, COP26, and sent representatives including the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Judith Petts CBE, Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS and Professor Deborah Greaves OBE FREng. Areas of University expertise, including offshore renewables, soil erosion, marine microplastic pollution and climate change communication, were the focus of exhibition stands in the COP26 Green Zone, and marine scientist Professor Jason Hall-Spencer was a panellist on an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change session. One of the University’s spinout companies, Smart Applications Management, was commissioned to supply every conference delegate with a single card to enable them to use public transport, in a carbon-saving initiative – a UK first.

Like its support for G7, the University produced a significant array of thought leadership content for policymakers and the media. This was headed by the Vice- Chancellor, who played a lead role in developing a new set of climate commitments, endorsed by 140 UK universities, through her role as Chair of the Universities UK (UUK) Climate Task and Finish Group. Published by UUK, the commitments support government aims to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and include a pledge to champion the UN Sustainable Development Goals Accord. It called on the government to match-fund a series of COP26 scholarships and recognise and safeguard the role of universities in climate action. As part of the communication of these commitments, the Vice-Chancellor wrote an opinion piece that was published nationally. COP26 was also used as the launchpad for the University’s campaign on ‘systems thinking’, which included five thought leadership pieces, advertorial in national newspapers and advertising at Glasgow Airport.

There is no simple solution to the climate crisis, with every sector of the economy facing a different set of challenges. Universities are some of the most effective weapons in the UK’s climate and environmental armoury. Our research and expertise are behind the deep understanding of climate change as well as the technological advances driving decarbonisation and building resilience. We are also equipping graduates with the skills and determination we need to respond to the climate crisis, generating the leaders of tomorrow to deliver public and environmental good.

Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor

The Brain Research & Imaging Centre

A new centre that transforms the University’s ability to conduct research in the fields of neuroscience and cognition commenced operation in 2021. The Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC) is the most advanced multi-modal brain imaging facility in the region, with seven cutting-edge human research laboratories, including an MRI suite with the most advanced 3 Tesla scanner available. The project was delivered in partnership with University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and DDRC Healthcare, and will see patients provided with access to the MRI scanner to improve care.

<p>Staff using brain imaging equipment on young female patient in the Brain Research &amp; Imaging Centre (BRIC)<br></p>

A diverse range of internationally excellent researchers in the field of neuroscience underpins the University’s strong track record in brain research. We ask important questions that draw upon expertise from the single molecule to the whole human, explore the basic mechanisms of cognition and behaviour, and apply advanced computational methods to improve our understanding of the brain in health and disease.

Stephen Hall, Professor of Human Neuroimaging, and Director of the Brain Research & Imaging Centre

Health in coastal communities

Researchers contributed to the Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report highlighting the many and varied health challenges facing the UK’s coastal communities. Professor of Health Policy Sheena Asthana and Senior Research Fellow Dr Alex Gibson analysed the burden of disease and health service data at a granular level to present compelling evidence that coastal communities experience a significantly higher burden of disease than their non-coastal counterparts. Professor Sir Chris Whitty’s flagship report calls for a cross-government national strategy to improve the health and wellbeing of coastal communities. Cementing its reputation in this field, the University also launched its interdisciplinary Centre for Coastal Communities, bringing together research expertise from across health, government, crime, tourism and sustainability.

Coastal communities have received little attention in the health literature, perhaps because our mental maps tend to associate socioeconomic deprivation and health inequalities with inner cities. Our research shows that coastal communities experience a significantly higher burden of disease than their non-coastal counterparts, with particularly worrying trends in public health-related outcomes for children and young people.

Professor Sheena Asthana, Director of the Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research, and Co-Lead for the Centre for Coastal Communities.

Reducing COVID-19 anxiety for school pupils

Dental students have helped young people with additional needs to practise self-care and coping strategies to deal with anxiety around COVID-19. Delivering breathing exercises and a special workbook, students on the BDS Dental Surgery course worked with year 8 children at Brook Green Centre for Learning in Plymouth as part of their interprofessional engagement module. The module, run every year in conjunction with Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise (PDSE), sees second-year students on the BDS Dental Surgery and BSc (Hons) Dental Therapy and Hygiene courses work with organisations across Plymouth to deliver oral health interventions. It was run online for the first time this year on account of the pandemic.

<p>Mother and son (adult and child) wearing medical masks looking out a window.</p>

The past 12 months have been a difficult time for all and have created new challenges in the way in which we live. This in turn has created new anxieties and barriers to healthcare and for some has made day-to-day living a scary and strange place. The students wanted to help address some of these new issues in a class of children with a range of complex and additional needs but also give a general health and wellbeing message with a dental twist.

Jemma Facenfield, PDSE dentist

Creative and cultural leadership in the South West

The University, through its Knowledge Exchange initiative, The Bridge, has launched two programmes aimed at fostering collaboration across the creative and cultural sector and supporting the development of future leaders within them. In Cornwall, the Cultivator Creative and Cultural Leadership Development Programme, delivered by Golant Innovation in partnership with Mandy Berry and funded by the European Structural and Investment Fund and Arts Council England, is pitched at creative and cultural freelancers, SMEs and organisations, who are funded to attend an 8- to 12-month programme of workshops, peer-led activity, coaching and mentoring, and action research. The second programme, the Plymouth-based iLEAD, is being delivered by Nous Group in partnership with Plymouth’s iMayflower team and is funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Skills and Arts Council England. A key aspect of iLEAD are the challenge projects, which task the cohort with collaborating in groups to explore, develop and test an idea that responds to one of three strategic themes: creative placemaking, immersive futures, and sustainability.

The investment in these concurrent programmes is a fantastic reflection of the ambition surrounding leadership development in the creative economy of the South West and the ability to collaborate across sectors to maximise strengths and opportunities.

Professor Chris Bennewith, Interim Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business

Managing post-covid symptoms through nutrition

A partnership between the University and the British Dietetics Association has resulted in a new ‘one stop shop’ being launched to help people manage post- COVID symptoms through nutritional care. The Nutrition and COVID-19 recovery knowledge hub is aimed at health professionals and the general public alike, enabling people with ongoing difficulties to find evidence-based nutritional resources, advice on symptoms and answers to common questions online. The only resource of its kind in the country, the hub asks people about their current diet, offers assistance on understanding evidence, and signposts to relevant, reliable and research-informed content to help. The project was also supported by Bournemouth University, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and Imperial College London.

Eating the right diet is crucial to keep well physically and mentally, and a key part of recovery from COVID-19 is to make sure your diet is healthy. This hub will guide the general public, and health professionals caring for those with post-COVID symptoms, on what might help them to manage their condition.

Mary Hickson, Professor in Dietetics

Ignite Festival of Creativity

A joint project between the University and Plymouth College of Art transformed the city into a giant gallery to showcase the work of its graduating students. From buses to buildings to big screens, the IGNITE Festival of Creativity radically reimagined the traditional graduate arts degree show, using locations around the city to celebrate the work of painters, film makers, sculptors, designers and craft-makers, among many other disciplines. With the support of major organisations, including Plymouth Citybus, the City Centre Company, Drake Circus and the Real Ideas Organisation, the festival ran for more than six weeks and was seen by tens of thousands of people. It also featured an online portal – IGNITE Futures – designed to bring together more than 400 registered students with businesses and community groups. Thanks to the portal, a number of commercial opportunities were created and several graduate jobs filled, and its impact was recognised by Times Higher Education, which shortlisted the project in the 2021 THE Awards for Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year.

To be shortlisted by the THE Awards is outstanding recognition of the innovative and collaborative spirit that has driven the creation of the IGNITE Futures platform. It has transformed the very nature of the traditional arts degree show and created an interactive portal that connects our creative industries with new and emerging talent.

Professor Chris Bennewith, Interim Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business.

<p>Blonde curly haired student looking at art work in an art studio.</p>

Home-school science lessons

A science education expert earned widespread recognition – and parental praise – after launching a series of online science lessons for home-schoolers. Kelly Davis worked with technicians Nico Bray and Richard Ralls to film a series of 5- to 10-minute videos, and uploaded them to YouTube under the banner of Kelly’s Kitchen Science. She produced extra resources for parents to help them to extend the learning, and even produced a bespoke experiment that was broadcast on regional BBC Radio and online.

Schools have done a remarkable job to support pupils during lockdown. In many cases, however, that did mean that children had to increase their amount of screen time and undertake more worksheet-based exercises. Through these videos, I wanted to help people to step away from that for a short time and have some fun with their children.

Kelly Davis, Lecturer in Science Education and Programme Lead in Primary-level initial teacher training within the University’s Plymouth Institute of Education

<p>Kelly Davis wearing googles next with a model skeleton wearing a straw hat.</p>

Socioeconomic regeneration

A £7.6 million immersive technology hub launched in Plymouth with the input of researchers at the University has placed the city and the region 'firmly on the cultural and technological map', according to the chair of Arts Council England. Sir Nicholas Serota said the 'world class space' would have 'local people at its heart' as it prepared to welcome its first visitors. Developed by the Real Ideas Organisation, in partnership with Plymouth City Council and the University’s Institute of Digital Art and Technology (i-DAT), the Market Hall in Devonport creates new space for digital and technology experts, and contains an immersive dome designed to show 360-degree films.

The Market Hall will be transformative for Plymouth and its status as an emerging hub for immersive and creative digital technology. The University can reflect with a genuine pride that this landmark, and beautiful, development builds upon more than a decade of work at the Immersive Vision Theatre on campus, and our co-founding of the Fulldome UK, which supports artists and researchers working in the field of immersive dome environments.

Professor Mike Phillips, Director of Research at i-DAT