The nine universities in Yorkshire and Humberside are among the region's biggest employers, creating 24,000 jobs and spending Pounds 417 million on wages, according to a new survey by locally-based social scientists.
The survey was commissioned by the Yorkshire and Humberside Universities Association, set up in 1993, and shows that three institutions - York, Huddersfield and Sheffield - are each among the top three employers in their cities.
All the others - Bradford, Hull, Humberside, Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan and Sheffield Hallam - are in the top ten for their city.
The universities have a combined income of Pounds 728 million, with research grants and contracts income totalling Pounds 76 million and income from European sources amounting to Pounds 15 million.
The figures - following the recent publication of a regional study of the four universities of Greater Manchester which spend over Pounds 450 million, employ 12,500 people, and educate 46,000 full-time-equivalent students - appear at a time when there is real concern that universities are not doing enough to promote themselves as engines of urban regeneration.
Brian Robson, pro-vice chancellor of Manchester University and co-author of the Greater Manchester study, told the The THES-sponsored "Cities of Learning" conference at Lancaster University last week that there are "vast trenches of scepticism and ignorance" about universities' local economic importance.
Gareth Hughes, director of Liverpool's City of Learning project, said: "If you went to the University of Liverpool and asked the first 20 people 'have you heard of the City of Learning project'? My guess is that 15 wouldn't have."
Professor Robson warned that the problem was not simply one of advertising.
He pointed out that the much vaunted ability of universities to transfer technology was "a vexed and as yet relatively unsuccessful enterprise".
He said that universities are jacks-of-all-trades: "The argument that universities can do a thousand things is one that is difficult to rebut."
He said that, as well as persuading the local community, universities must seek "a culture shift" among their own academic staff.
"There is still a dilemma about blue sky research versus hands-on consultancy work. There is still a feeling that money derived from research councils has a higher status than money derived from elsewhere," he added.