Universities are earning record amounts of money from business through consultancy and selling other commercial services, according to the latest figures.
Analysis of figures supplied by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that the amount universities made through consultancy and other non-research contracts with UK industrial, commercial and public corporations has grown by a third in the past five years, standing at more than £163 million in total in 2003-04. And, looking back ten years, the same income stream has grown by nearly 90 per cent.
Eight institutions lead the pack, each having earned more than £20 million between 1999-2000 and 2003-04 - the most recent year for which Hesa has figures.
In many cases, the bulk of the income earned in this area is accounted for by consultancy work undertaken by universities on behalf of companies.
Contracts held by universities to supply bespoke teaching and training for industries is another big earner.
Michael Arthur, vice-chancellor of Leeds University, said that consultancy was being pursued by the university and that it accounted for about a quarter of its £37.8 million earnings over the past five years.
Conferences and a range of other services were responsible for generating the rest of the income.
Professor Arthur said that University of Leeds Consulting Ltd was set up in 2003-04 to help academics engage with businesses. Academics can do consultancy and other work privately and the university allows 30 days a year for such activity. About two thirds of academics engaged in consultancy operate through the company.
Jonathan Ray, director of public affairs at Nottingham University, which earned more than £18 million from commercial services over the period, said that much of the institution's consultancy focused on areas such as management, information systems and marketing. Nottingham academics are allowed 50 days a year to carry out their own consultancy and commercial work.
The highest earner, Robert Gordon University, put much of its success down to the company RGIT Montrose, which supplies training to the North Sea oil industry. The company was bought out by management in 2003-04.
Total income 1999-2000 to 2003-04 for non-research services rendered to industrial and commercial companies and public corporations operating in the UK
Robert Gordon £42.2m
Scot Agric Col £35.4m
Source: Times Higher analysis of Hesa figures.