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Links between HE and social enterprise growing fast, study finds

Three quarters of universities across the world are engaging with social enterprise companies to address social problems, according to British Council research.

The fast growing links between universities and social enterprise are providing new opportunities for staff, students and local communities, says a report on the findings. Helping to address social problems, providing workplace experience and entrepreneurship skills for students, and opportunities for academic staff to apply their research, were seen as the most important benefits.

The in-depth study, conducted by researchers at the University of Plymouth for the British Council, is the first of its kind into collaboration between higher education and companies driven by a social purpose that reinvest their profits.

It found that universities in some countries are much further down the road than others with engagement with social enterprises -- ranging from 100 per cent to less than half. All universities surveyed in Hong Kong and Kenya have links with social enterprises.  Institutions in the UK are the third most engaged, at 89 per cent, followed by Mexico with 88 per cent.  At the other end of the scale, only 45 per cent of universities in Pakistan say they work with social enterprise organisations, compared with 50 per cent in Slovenia, 58 per cent in South Africa, and 62 per cent in the USA.

The report, Social Enterprise in a Global Context, published at Going Global 2016, the British Council’s annual international HE conference being held in Cape Town from May 3 to 5, says more than half the universities engaged with social enterprises included an international partnership.

“Surprisingly, only two per cent of universities surveyed over four continents had not previously worked with a social enterprise,” it says. 

“This engagement takes many forms, including providing placements for students, 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,” it adds.

Across all universities, the most commonly cited reasons for the engagement were to develop a specific community, to create employment opportunities, to contribute to international development goals, and to improve health and wellbeing.  Barriers were seen as lack of knowledge of how to work with social enterprises, an absence of funding to work with or set up enterprises, not being part of the university’s mission, and lack of social enterprises in the local area.

Today, as never before, universities are being called upon to contribute to positive social and economic change, both nationally and internationally, says Jo Beall, the British Council’s Director of Education and Society.

“Going Global is being held this year for the first time in Africa where stark inequalities and conflicts persist.  The conference will seek answers to questions such as: How do you build stronger, more resilient, socially active and engaged nations?  Part of the answer, we believe, will be to foster continued engagement between higher education and social enterprise.”


Follow Going Global news and events on Twitter @HEGoingGlobal #GoingGlobal2016




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