Universities tend to have a reputation amongst the masses of being a drain on public and taxpayer's money, with any reaction to cuts or increases in student fees being met with incredulity at a privileged few whining about not having it as easy.
This is usually a knee-jerk reaction however and one that fails to properly take in to account the economic and social impact that universities create in their local environ. It is not simply providing an elite with further education but is also providing local employment, money in to the local economy, investors to the area and an educated workforce.
Often a university can be one of the main employers within a town or city, providing welfare for the city's inhabitants. This can be direct employment for the universities itself, and at all levels of seniority from academic through to clerical. In addition to professor and lecturer's jobs there will be librarians, administrative staff, security and catering staff, amongst others. This means that it is not just privileged academics that benefit from it but many of the working-classes from the city. It will also increase employment opportunities beyond the university as there are that many more people to cater for.
The influx of students to the general population also results in an injection of cash that benefits the local economy and local businesses. Students will spend money on accommodation, transport, food, drink, entertainment and clothes. Just by virtue of being a university city, tourism can increase, as well as attracting other young adults to visit and spend money in a city they're not studying in, because of a vibrant night scene or number of other young adults.
Due to this disparity between the perception and the likely true value of a university to a city, in 2010 St Andrew's University created a study looking in to exactly how much income, directly and indirectly, they generated for the Scottish economy versus how much they took out. The results were startling - for every £1.00 spent on them from the system they returned £7.50. They were also responsible for supporting 9000 full-time jobs, in comparison to their 7400 yearly student intake. The total revenue per annum to the Scottish economy was a whopping £300 million.
As well as supporting the economy in this way the effect of the student population itself needs to be taken in to account; each year thousands of educated young adults leave further education with one thing on their mind: work. Not all will return to their family home or move to other cities but a substantial figure will remain in their university city and enter full-time employment there, taking their knowledge with them. Because of this, commercial and public sector organisations will often base themselves in or near a university town in order to maximise this knowledge pool, thereby resulting in even greater financial dividends for the city.