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October 11, 2010
Coventry was once the home of the British Motor industry with famous names like Daimler,Humber, Rover and Jaguar. Of all those great names, the only one surviving is Jaguar which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Indian company Tata Motors Ltd. You can see some of the amazing cars at the Coventry Transport Museum.
Tata has been able to turnaround Jaguar Landrover and they now back in the the black. However, the greatest foreign exchange earner for Coventry is not the car industry or the various small IT companies in various technology parks but a sector which has been largely ignored by a lot of people including the British Government - the Education sector. In fact it would not be wrong to say that the education sector is the largest earning sector in the entire West Midlands. This is of special significance in Coventry which is the home to two universities - Coventry University and Warwick University. Many people (as I once did) wrongly assume that the latter is in Warwick but in fact, this top ranked Russell group University is in fact in Coventry. They are among the largest employers in Coventry and according to a report in 2008, together they employ around 7,000 people.
According to Mark Harrison, a Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick, the combined corporate revenues of these two Universities come to around £500 million a year. It should be mentioned here that these two universities are not the only educational institutions around - there are several local colleges offering diplomas and degrees in a number of courses including Henley College and City College Coventry. The significance of these Universities and local colleges towards the local and national economy is with regards to the money the students bring in, especially the foreign students in particular.
The Coventry University website says that they have over 3,000 students from more than 100 countries whereas, Warwick had 7,080 students (approximately 25% of the total number of students) in 2008/2009. The non-EC students are a top income earner for all Universities in the UK, due to the fact that have to pay approximately three times to what the local and European students. However, the fees they have to pay is not the only contribution. The students spend annually on an average £9427.50 for undergraduates and £12,412.50 for postgraduates (according to the International office University of Warwick). It is definitely higher for foreign students with families. This has virtually led to the growth of various supporting services - students need places to live in and in fact a number of landlords in Coventry earn a steady income from students living in rented accommodation. Places like Earlsdon, Foleshill, Tile Hill, Canley and of course, Lemington Spa has become places with sizable student populations. The city has also benefited from a ready supply of skilled graduates, many of which have settled down here contributing to the local economy as well as other fields.
I met a lady one day who was complaining that there were too many students in Lemington and as I listened quietly, I was thinking to myself that Lemington would be ghost town if it were not for the students. In fact most of the businesses there would go bankrupt in a couple of weeks if students were not there. That why I sometimes get fed up with the ignorance and the bigotry of some people here.
I also sometimes feel that Coventry has not taken enough advantage of the unique opportunities presented.
Student accommodation is still a problem. A lot of students are getting ripped off by unscrupulous landlords. There is a huge potential for managed and reasonably priced yet good quality accommodation.
Other sectors that can benefit from the unique opportunities presented includes electronics and gadgets, used cars, cycle repairs and accessories, printing services, fashion, etc.
I also wonder why local companies are reluctant to take advantage of the cheap skilled labour at their doorsteps, which they can make use of (I don't want to use the term exploit).
Of course, there are some companies that have benefited because of their unique products and branding, location or pure luck. One such example is Ikea Coventry. They have benefited from the students which love their modern designs and affordable prices. Their affordable food is another selling point and food outlets in the campus could probably learn a thing or two from them. Others are Tesco Cannon Park and Costa Coffee. They have benefited from their unique location but seem to have done almost nothing to take advantage of their unique situation.