01/10/2013 08:02 BST | Updated 30/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Students Benefit Us All - It's Time to Recognise That

A report published last week suggests that students are worth more than £80 billion to the British economy - an enormous figure that's considerably higher than the GDP of many of the world's countries. And with the report also making the case that students' spending supports over 830,000 UK jobs, it's clear that the higher education sectors absolutely critical to the overall health of the UK economy.

As Freshers' Weeks get underway across the country, it's all too often a negative picture that's portrayed of young people who seem keener on partying than they are on knuckling down to study. This is a reputation that's outdated and unfair; today's students have so much to offer the country at large and the local communities in which they live.

At UNITE Group, the UK's leading provider of student accommodation, we've conducted our own research into the benefits that students bring to the communities they live in. We found that UNITE's London residents alone contribute more than £107 million to the city's annual economy, and 59% of respondents to our study said that they travel less than half a mile for essential shopping, preferring to spend in the local area.

But it goes deeper than that, because students' worth doesn't just lie in their monetary contribution. They add enormously to the diversity and culture of the areas in which they live, which in itself can bring about urban regeneration by attracting new skilled workers and creating a more open business environment, according to US academic Richard Florida.

They're also enthusiastic and willing to get out into their local community by volunteering: 53% of UNITE's London residents are looking for opportunities to volunteer, and 31% have done so in the past. Forward-thinking universities encourage and support student volunteers because everyone benefits - local charities, the communities they're working in, as well as the students who pick up valuable experience that gives them an edge in the job market. It also has an impact on the universities themselves, who can boost their graduate employment statistics, a factor taken into consideration by applicants choosing a university.

It's time to challenge the outdated perception of students and recognise them for the valuable part they play in our communities. Students can - and do - make a positive contribution, not just economically, but socially as well.