Research reveals 75% of HEIs are involved with social enterprise

Across 12 countries, 75% of higher education institutions (HEIs) are actively involved with at least one social enterprise and more than half are also engaged in an international social enterprise partnership.

These were the findings of the first major international study looking at how universities engage with the social enterprise sector published by the British Council. More than 200 HEIs spanning four continents took part in the study, which also revealed that only 2% of HEIs had not previously worked with a social enterprise.

Allice Hocking is one of the lead authors of Social Enterprise in a Global Context: the role of Higher Education Institutions and is head of SERIO at Plymouth University. She told Pioneers Post: “We saw different models – some where social enterprise forms a key part of the business faculty and courses on social entrepreneurship were offered. Then in other universities they were trying to embed social enterprise across all of their curriculum. So even if you’re doing maths or biology, you would still have a module on social enterprise.”

Further forms of engagement listed in the report include; coordinating placements for students in social enterprises, providing incubation spaces and dedicated support services in the university for social enterprises and inviting social entrepreneurs to serve as student mentors.

Engaging with social enterprise gives HEIs an opportunity to interact closely with local businesses and communities

Hocking explained that in newer institutions it was easier to embed elements of social enterprise more widely. For example, Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya, which was established in 1961, has integrated social enterprise modules across its entire business school and is working to do the same in other curriculums and departments. “Their view is that it’s essential curriculum for everybody. However, we know this is quite hard to achieve, particularly in established universities,” said Hocking.

According to the report, all of the HEIs studied in Hong Kong and Kenya report to be working with social enterprise in some way. For those based in the UK it was 89%, India 70% and Pakistan 45%. The most common reasons HEIs gave for having not worked with social enterprises included; that they were not clear how to, that there was an absence of funding to support this work and that social enterprise did not feature in the HEIs mission or strategy.

In the foreword to the report, director of education and society at the British Council Jo Beall stated: “Engaging with social enterprise gives HEIs an opportunity to interact closely with local businesses and communities to create inclusive and financially sustainable solutions to pressing local and international issues. It also allows them to provide students with experiential learning opportunities and entrepreneurship skills that enhance their employability. Furthermore, it can support academic staff to develop enterprise solutions arising from their academic research and translate the latter into tangible social impact. And it can generate reputational benefit and income for universities.”

Hocking explained that there were two prominent drivers for university engagement with social enterprise: “One of the strongest drivers was whether the university had a senior mandate – whether the head of the university or another senior member of staff really supported social enterprise.

“The other driver is around student employability… Social enterprise skills are very closely connected to employability. And we know that social enterprise excites students – they like it.”

Crucial to the development of stronger and more wide reaching relationships between HEIs and the social enterprise sector globally is collaboration, concluded Hocking. “More dialogue and sharing of experience. That really is the key,” she said.

To read the Social Enterprise in a Global Context: the role of Higher Education Institutions report in full, click here.