Oxford benefits from a diverse sector profile, shaped both by the city’s universities and its century old association with vehicle manufacturing.

Oxford is home to 4,580 businesses providing around 113,900 jobs and is part of the UK’s ‘Golden Triangle’. This area is defined by the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and universities based in London. The universities within the ‘Golden Triangle’ together have a combined annual research income of over £1.4bn. Powered by cutting-edge research and highly qualified labour, Oxford and Oxfordshire has developed biomedical, medical and technology clusters of global significance.

In employment terms, education accounts for 28.5% of total employment (30,321 jobs) and health for 18.5% (19,715 jobs). Professional, scientific and technical services also account for 7,784 jobs, 7.3% of the total. Finance, IT and business and professional services account for a further 21,835 people which represents an additional 19.7%.

Location Quotients (LQs) are the relative sector concentrations quantified by employment ratio to the national average. In Oxford, the sectors with the highest LQs are education (3.06), information and communication (1.63), and health (1.46).

More detail about Oxford’s notable sectors is below. Invest in Oxfordshire provides more information about the county’s key growth clusters.


The success of Oxford’s economy is shaped by the presence of its two growing universities; University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University.

The University of Oxford is world renowned and ranked second in the Times Higher Education latest global league table.

Oxford Brookes University is regularly ranked as the best new university in the country, and has earned recognition for the quality of a number of its teaching areas, including: architecture, real estate and hotel management, automotive engineering and computer science. Oxford Brookes is one of the leading institutes for publishing education in the world.

In 2014, around 43,600 students (graduate and postgraduate) attended the two Universities. The two universities have a significant economic impact on the city. Higher education in Oxford accounts for approximately 21,800 jobs, or 19.6% of total employment. The indirect economic impact is greater still.

Health and bio-technology

Oxford is a major centre for teaching hospitals and home to a cluster of acute and specialist medical organisations which together employ around 14,400 people, or 13% of the total workforce, supporting a further 2,700 jobs. These assets link closely with healthcare research undertaken at the universities. Oxford University’s plans to expand medical and clinical research will create more opportunity for discovery and growth.

The health sector is a catalyst for the region’s biotechnology sector. According to the Oxford Biotechnology Network’s (OBN) Biocluster Report 2011, the Oxfordshire biotechnology cluster comprises 163 companies, of which 49 are based in Oxford. During the financial crisis, the cluster continued to grow.

Oxford has numerous strengths in particular biotechnology subsectors, including drug discovery and development, diagnostics, medical technology and imaging. There are approximately 7,200 jobs in biotechnology sub-sectors in Oxfordshire, with significant growth projected.

Key companies in Oxford include Oxford Nanopore (130 employees), Oxford Biomedica (95 employees) Genzyme (129 employees) and Sharpe Europe (105 employees). The role of Big Data innovation in health will be significantly boosted by the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery as well as the Big Data Institute, which will analyse large datasets to improve the understanding and treatment of human disease. This is one of the first examples of this type of innovative research in the world and the Centre will house over 600 scientists.

Digital, creative and publishing

There are an estimated 22,000 people employed in digital related sectors in Oxfordshire. The larger companies in this sector include Sharp Laboratories of Europe, Oxford Instruments, Sophos and Nominet. There are around 3,000 creative and digital sector businesses in Oxfordshire generating some £1.4bn annually. Notable sub-sectors include cyber security, big data/high performance computing, digital publishing and the digital gaming industry. Of Oxford’s top 100 employers alone, there are 5 publishers and 3 media and or communications businesses.

Amongst the leading gaming companies in Oxford are Natural Motion and Rebellion. Natural Motion was founded as a spin-out from the University of Oxford receiving support from Isis Innovation. The company has recently been acquired by social network gaming company Zynga for $527m and now employs 300 people, of which 150 are based in Oxford. Rebellion is one of Europe’s largest independent game developers.

Oxford is the largest centre of publishing in the UK outside of London. The city houses more than 100 publishing businesses providing over 3,500 jobs.

There are a number of other significant firms working in both academic and mainstream publishing in a variety of sectors. Oxford University Press (employs 6,000 employees worldwide of which 1,800 are based in Oxford), the university’s official printer, is a global leader in academic and research publishing. Other significant firms include Pearson Education, Wiley, Blackwell Macmillan, Elsevier, Osprey Hart, Lion Hudson and the regional headquarters for Newsquest.

Reflecting the importance of this sector, Oxford Brookes University has developed a focus on publishing, housing the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies and has research expertise in digital gaming and testing of computer systems.

Vehicle manufacturing

Oxford sits at the centre of a £6bn automotive cluster, which has been dubbed ‘Motorsport Valley’. BMW Mini are a major industrial employer and Plant Oxford accounts for nearly half of citywide industrial space. According to BMW, 80% of Minis are exported, playing an important role in the UK’s balance of trade.

Since production of new MINI started in 2001, more than 2.5 million cars have been made at Plant Oxford. The plant's heritage spans 100 years of automotive manufacturing history, and the Cowley site has become a landmark in the city. BMW, have invested over £1.5 billion in the car plant in Oxford over the past ten years.

Three Formula 1 teams are also based in the county. This cutting edge expertise is supported by 4,000 high performance engineering companies in the wider area, providing a range of specialist offerings that enable those engaged in motorsport to compete effectively on the world stage.

The University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University provide around 2,000 1st and Higher Degree qualifiers in science and technology based subjects. Oxford Brookes University delivers a range of degrees in automotive and motorsport technologies in a £9 million purpose-built Engineering Centre. 

Professional services

In a city with such a diverse business base, it can be overlooked that Oxford has significant potential as a professional service headquarters location; located centrally to the UK market, close to national road connections, and benefitting from significant investment in rail locally. Oxford Business Park includes a number of professional service companies. The recent consolidation of Centrica in Oxford is one practical example.

The following activities employ over 10,200 people in the city:

  • consultancy
  • financial
  • insurance
  • real estate
  • legal
  • advertising
  • administrative and information services

Moreover, these firms contribute more widely to the success of the local economy by providing competitive and locally available skills to other businesses.

The major professional firms, such as legal and accountancy, are positioned to provide a lower cost base than London practices as well as compete for local business. Oxford is also home to large companies in specialist sectors including market research firms SPA Future Thinking and A.C. Nielsen. 

Visitor economy

Oxford is the seventh most visited city in the UK by international visitors and is the tourism gateway to the rest of Oxfordshire. It is estimated that Oxford welcomed nearly 7 million domestic and overseas visitors in 2014, who contributed to the local economy with a total trip expenditure of £597 million, and a total turnover of £782m.

Of the total number of overnight overseas trips in Oxfordshire, an estimated three-quarters (469,000) of those trips were in Oxford. Tourism spending supported 12.7% of the workforce, with over 13,000 jobs, an increase of 530 jobs from 2013.

Oxford is famed for its university heritage, and has numerous other attractions (many of which are linked to the university), including the Ashmolean Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum, University Museum of Natural History, University Botanic Gardens, Sheldonian Theatre, and Holywell Music Rooms. The £500m Westgate Centre, attracts 100 retailers and creates 3,400 jobs.

Oxford is gateway to a wider county offering including attractions such as Henley‐on‐Thames – home to the Henley Festival, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Blenheim Palace, and Bicester Village. Experience Oxfordshire - the visitor promotion and destination management organisation for the city and county can provide a wealth of services and additional insight for the Visitor Economy Sector.

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