“UK universities have always embraced working with business and supported their students to develop entrepreneurial skills. Social enterprises give us a fantastic opportunity to work with existing businesses for economic and social benefit whilst also developing students’ enterprise skills. Social enterprise experience can give students a taste of an alternative career path in a growing sector, a chance to develop the skills that all businesses look for, and even inspire them to start their own business. This is a valuable, developing relationship that benefits social enterprise businesses, students and communities.”
Prof. Dame Julia King, Chair of Universities UK Employability, Business and Industry Policy Network and Vice-Chancellor, Aston University
Recent research on the educational practices for social entrepreneurship int he in the UK highlights the importance to explore issues such as: What role do universities have in supporting social enterprise?; Is the social enterprise sector aware of the support universities may be able to offer?; What are the benefits and opportunities for engagement between universities and social enterprises?; How can universities and social enterprises work together in the context of government policies on social innovation? As well as What challenges do universities and social enterprises face in building relationships?
Higher education is at the forefront of innovation, so it is no surprise the profile of social enterprises is raising. In 2016, Social Enterprise Mark CIC worked in collaboration with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), on a project to encourage the Higher Education sector to support and promote social enterprise in their institutions. The aim of the project was to raise awareness of how Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can operate as social enterprises, putting sustainable and ethical business practices at the heart of their strategic direction.
To achieve this, a short film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJeh_2zL3Bw&feature=youtu.be) was created to promote the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark to HEIs, featuring the four pioneering universities that had been awarded the accreditation at that time, talking about the benefits of being recognised as a guaranteed social enterprise, driven by social objectives.
With the recent publication of a major international study by the British Council (https://www.britishcouncil.org/society/social-enterprise/news-events/news-social-enterprise-and-higher-education) , which examined how HEIs around the world can contribute to positive social and economic change, this project is launched at an appropriate time to support HEIs in understanding how they can achieve this.
The study offers the HEIs to take engagement under many forms, including:
· providing placements for students in social enterprises;
· creating opportunities for students and faculty to develop their own social enterprises;
· offering accredited courses in social entrepreneurship;
· providing incubation spaces, dedicated support services, or research expertise to social enterprises; and,
· inviting social entrepreneurs to serve as student mentors.
The study found that such engagement allows HEIs 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 assets. This study was launched at Going Global, the world’s biggest open conference for leaders of international education, run annually by the British Council.
In 2013 for a Guardian article (https://www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2013/jul/26/higher-education-social-enterprise-innovation), Karl Belizaire points out that British Universities begin to unlock the potential of social enterprise.