Universities in the UK occupy property that is seven times bigger than the total estate of Tesco's shops, according to a report from university estate directors.
The 2011-12 income from this university estate - including student accommodation and tuition fees - was £27bn, says the report.
It means that every square metre yields an income worth £1,600 per year.
The population of this combined university estate is 2.3 million.
The report from Association of University Directors of Estate (AUDE) shows the scale of universities within the UK economy.
Many universities are now among the biggest local employers - and the population on their total property, mostly students, is about the same as Birmingham, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich, Dudley, Walsall and Solihull combined, says the report.
Universities spend almost £2bn per year to run their property, such as utility bills, maintenance costs and cleaning.
Competition for students, particularly since the increase in tuition fees, has seen a wave of new buildings on university campuses, with this analysis for 2011-12 showing capital spending of £2.2bn - £1.8bn on academic buildings and £400m on residential.
The measurement of university income is based on a range of ways that the space is used - such as research, rented accommodation and rooms for teaching and studying.
Much of this money, directly or indirectly, will come from student tuition fees and the student finance system.
"What it shows is the huge size of the university sector and the enormous contribution it makes to the economy in general and to the property market in particular," says George Griffith from property consultants CBRE, which helped to write the report.
A well-managed university estate is core to the "academic mission" and to the experience of students, says AUDE chairman Mark Swindlehurst.