Universities generate £3.6bn - Higher Education Wales

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Media captionUniversities in Wales employ about 16,000 full-time members of staff

New research shows that universities create £3.6bn every year in the Welsh economy.

Of that, £1bn of that is spent by students, according to the report commissioned by Higher Education Wales, the body which represents universities.

But some say closer links are needed between the universities and potential employers.

Universities in Wales employ about 16,000 full-time members of staff.

However, the research shows that altogether nearly 40,000 people are employed directly or indirectly by universities - which is about 3% of the workforce.

There is a move for universities to work with businesses such as View Holographics in St Asaph, which make 3D holograms.

The company has been helped by Glyndwr University, which has provided technical support as well as the use of offices.

Richard Melling, the project director at View Holographics, said the relationship had benefited both sides.

"We've got a complicated, very exciting, technology and it's been great to have the support of the university," he said. "It's been crucial in what we do in terms of taking this technology forward."

This type of collaboration is a recent development, according to Prof Chris Jones, the head of Glyndwr University's Business School.

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Media captionBBC Wales education correspondent Arwyn Jones on the role of higher education

"I think the problem is that over the past generation the business community would be forgiven for actually thinking that university is not relevant to their needs. It's the responsibility of universities to shout louder about what we can do to help."

He added that business schools had to recognise they were businesses in their own right.

"What they need to do is make themselves relevant to the businesses they serve in their community and beyond," he added.

The university is launching a new degree in entrepreneurship and app development.

According to Prof Jones, it is where growth lies: "If you remember about 15 years ago suddenly every business realised they needed a website and the opportunities for students and young people at that time was immense in terms of being able to acquire the techniques and skills to provide people with websites.

Image caption Some students only have a basic grounding in the skills they need in the work place

"The world's moved on and now the appetite is for apps. There are huge gaps in terms of people out there who have the skills to write these apps.

"I think one of the key things that people in Wales should be doing is actually making themselves leaders in that particular area."

Web agency Sequence in Cardiff developed the app used by the British and Irish Lions on tour in Australia, and the company jokes that not only is most of the team Welsh, but so too is the technology.

But chief executive officer Richard Baker said the company is not really getting the right staff with the right skills.

"We're seeing people with basic grounding in the skills we need," he said. "We often have to spend six to nine months re-engineering and developing these skills into something we can use commercially.

"We have to teach them in the work environment which does present us with a problem.

"It means that it takes a good few months before someone is productive and we can use them on live, paying, projects."

John Hughes, the vice-chancellor of Bangor University and the chair of Higher Education Wales, said: "If we train people here in Wales, we'd hope they would stay in Wales.

"But they're only going to stay if the industry is here, if the companies are here to attract them, to keep them.

"It's one of the things that the universities are trying to do.

"In Bangor, for instance, with the new science park development on Anglesey. What we're hoping to do there is create those high-level jobs the students will stay for."

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