Universities have always had a strong social mission to work with and support their local communities. Now more than ever, universities are demonstrating how they add economic and social value – to their local communities and beyond – as well as ensuring that their graduates have the necessary skills to move into employment. Working with social enterprise is one way in which universities are doing both these things.
Social enterprise within universities has grown quite organically. Different universities are taking very different approaches to how they incorporate it into their offer. For example the University of Northampton is integrating social enterprise across teaching, research, business and local community collaborations, even procurement. Others, such as the University of Sheffield, offer specific modules on social enterprise to all students or offer support through extra-curricular activities including the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) programme.
So, from a university’s perspective, what are the benefits to working with social enterprise? For one, it is a growing sector, and in an age where universities must have employment skills at the forefront of their student offer, social enterprise can help enormously. Social Enterprise UK’s The State of Social Enterprise Survey 2011 indicates that the sector has great potential for growth when compared to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): in 2010-11 58% of social enterprises grew compared to 28% of SMEs and 57% of social enterprises were predicting growth, in comparison to 41% of SMEs. This growth clearly points to opportunities for students to work with social enterprises to build their enterprise skills, as well as to develop potential graduate career routes.
There are also benefits for social enterprises who work with universities, including ready access to talented and committed students (and potential future employees), as well as the expertise and insight of university staff, to name just two.
So there is much potential for working together. In that spirit, Universities UK is hosting a round table next week to look further at how universities and social enterprises can work together and what is already happening within institutions. We will draw together vice-chancellors, graduates, social enterprise businesses and support organisations to discuss their experiences of social enterprise and universities working together, what can be done differently and what the future could hold.
We will be tweeting live from the round table on Monday 21 May 2012 10.00 to 14:00 Join the conversation at #UnisAndSocEnt and let us know what you think: what is the role for universities and social enterprise?