As part of its work to support knowledge exchange, HEFCE invested approximately £5 million between 2009 and 2015 in programmes to encourage social entrepreneurship in the English higher education sector. This project, by Flourish CIC, itself a social enterprise, evaluates the capacity of the English higher education system to support social entrepreneurs. Evidence was collected between May and September 2017 through a variety of methods, including desk-based research, surveys, one-to-one interviews and focus groups involving feedback from over 70 research participants.
The report identifies a number of areas of strength in the higher education sector’s support for social enterprise, including: outreach capabilities to build the pipeline of new social entrepreneurs; ideation and start-up stage support; a cadre of staff with specialist social enterprise knowledge; and expertise in building partnerships and collaboration. Several areas which require further development were also identified, including: support for social enterprises scaling beyond universities; investment strategies to sustain activities; access to specialist mentors and consultants; social value measurement support; support to gain strategic buy-in; and communication support to raise awareness and profile. Looking ahead, the evaluation identified four areas of potential growth: social value in procurement; curriculum development; internationalisation; and social innovation.
The findings broadly determine that capacity has been built in the sector to continue to support social entrepreneurship currently and in the future. However, the extent of that support varies greatly across the sector, and within individual higher education institutions, apart from a small number of committed institutions where support has become deeply embedded across the whole institution. The report states that:
‘The higher education sector has started to develop significant capacity to support social entrepreneurs and where support, quality and resources have consistency, what institutions have to offer is comparable with some of the most recognised and well respected social enterprise start-up support agencies and programmes available.’