Study: social enterprise and higher education

Social Enterprise in a Global Context: the role of Higher Education Institutions is the first major international study to examine how universities and other higher education institutions (HEIs) around the world are collaborating and engaging with social enterprises. To download a copy of the report, please click on the link below. 

Conducted by Plymouth University for the British Council, the study covers over 200 higher education institutions (HEIs) across 12 countries spanning four continents.

Key findings

The study has found that 75% of the institutions surveyed are actively involved with at least one social enterprise and over half of these are also engaged in an international social enterprise partnership. Surprisingly perhaps, it discovered that only 2% of HEIs had not previously worked with a social enterprise

This engagement takes 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 social impact.  And it can generate reputational benefit and income for HEIs. 

Collaboration for positive social and economic change

In the publication’s foreword, Dr Jo Beall, the British Council’s Director of Education and Society, said that “Universities are the anchors, shapers and innovators of our communities that help foster cultural, social and economic vitality. And today as never before, they are being called upon to contribute to positive social and economic change both nationally and internationally.” 

Dr Beall added, “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,” and noted that they could play an important contributing role in building stronger, more resilient, and socially engaged nations and in addressing some of the interconnected challenges that underpin the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).   

The engagement between HEIs and social enterprises also conforms with evolving social attitudes and career aspirations of young people. According to a survey of millennials conducted by Deloitte, 50% of young people want to work for a business with ethical practices and 60% choose their workplace based on its purpose.

This study was launched at Going Global, the world’s biggest open conference for leaders of international education, run annually by the British Council.  It will be followed by a series of case studies looking into the collaboration between social enterprise and HEIs in each of the 12 surveyed countries.