£2 million boost for universities to support social ventures

03 December 2013

UnLtd, HEFCE, universities and entrepreneurship support organisations across England will build a sustainable system of support for social entrepreneurs.

Students and staff from Oxford Brookes University at a workshop to generate ideas on how to develop a social enterprise. The University recently won the HEFCE/UnLtd Supporting Social Enterprise Award.

HEFCE has today launched a £2 million programme to strengthen and broaden support for social entrepreneurship and social enterprise in universities and higher education colleges across England. The programme, part of the 'UnLtd SEE Change, Social Entrepreneurship in Education' initiative, will be delivered by UnLtd, the leading provider of support to social entrepreneurs in the UK, and will encourage higher education institutions to act as ‘hubs’ to support social entrepreneurs beyond their staff and students, and to take the lead in supporting social inclusion and economic development in their communities.

Universities will set up their own ‘ecosystems’ of support – each with a wide network of potential members such as other universities, further education colleges, local authorities, public sector bodies and private sector companies, plus key agencies working in the higher education (HE) and social enterprise sectors.

Importantly, the programme will establish the structures and capabilities needed by the HE sector to lead this change. This will enable the movement to grow, become embedded within the higher education system, and ensure a vibrant future in which university students and staff can act to transform the world in which they live.

More than 100 people leading the development of social entrepreneurship in higher and further education are today attending the launch of this new initiative at Aston University in Birmingham.

Commenting on the launch of the new programme, UnLtd’s chief executive Cliff Prior, said:

'Social entrepreneurs are becoming ever more central to the social and economic recovery in the UK, innovating for good and enterprising for sustainability.

'We are delighted to be continuing our partnership with HEFCE to help higher education institutions in supporting social entrepreneurs to start up and thrive, building capacity, sharing knowhow, and achieving their full potential as powerhouses of the future.'

David Sweeney, Director of Research, Innovation and Skills at HEFCE, said:

'Higher education institutions play a vital social leadership role in the wider economy and society. Our successful partnership with UnLtd has enabled institutions to develop expertise in finding, funding and supporting social entrepreneurs. This next phase of work will embed social enterprise support across the sector and put universities and colleges at the heart of work to deliver positive social change in their locality.'

The new programme strengthens a highly successful partnership between UnLtd and HEFCE, which started in 2009 when only a handful of pioneer universities provided direct support to social entrepreneurs. Since then hundreds of social ventures have been created by university staff and students. In the 12 months to August this year, more than 750 awards of cash and support were made to social entrepreneurs, with a combined value of over £1.4 million. This investment develops the momentum and impact of the programme towards critical mass by widening collaboration, supporting regional and thematic networks, scaling up support for high growth potential social ventures, and encouraging knowledge exchange through a programme of graduate internships and a 'training the trainer' initiative.

UnLtd and HEFCE believe there has never been a more important time for universities to step up their support for social entrepreneurs.

With public spending constraints, the struggle to emerge from recession, and a series of long-term social challenges, social entrepreneurs are needed more than ever, says Shahed Molvi, Programme Performance and Design Lead at UnLtd:

'Whether it’s large numbers of people acting for community benefit, social capital, cohesion and capacity, or smaller numbers who can give a social venture high social and economic impact, the UK needs social innovation, new social leaders to step up, start up and thrive.

'There isn’t enough resource anywhere to offer professional support to every start-up and growing social entrepreneur who needs it. Part of the solution lies in networks, peer-to-peer relationships and partnerships. Universities have always had a strong social mission to work with and support communities. Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise clearly fit with this mission.'

For further information, see the information on the HEFCE web-site and on the UnLtd web-site.


Background to the UnLtd/HEFCE partnership:

Phase 1

The first partnership between UnLtd and HEFCE, from 2009 to 2011, succeeded in raising awareness of social entrepreneurship within the higher education sector and built momentum for change.

It involved a £1 million investment from HEFCE to provide cash and support to help to start up and grow social ventures created by staff and students. Around 200 new social ventures were created across 70 universities, building on the expertise, skills and insights offered by the HE environment. The potential for social and environmental impact from the ventures supported was large and varied: from student-led self-help services to community-owned and managed forests. The programme demonstrated how social entrepreneurship can add value to higher education. Benefits included:

  • boosting knowledge exchange activity and research impact
  • enhancing teaching and staff development
  • improving student experience
  • increasing student employability.

Phase 2

The second phase took things further by inviting universities to take the lead by developing their own support infrastructure and offers to university-based social entrepreneurs.

The HE Support Programme was launched in 2012 to provide a strategic approach to establishing an effective ecosystem of support for social entrepreneurship and social enterprise activity within the HE sector.

UnLtd partnered directly with 56 universities who were selected to lead on this pioneering initiative to place social entrepreneurship at the heart of their culture and infrastructure. The university partners received funding to use for awards for social venture creation, plus tailored support to establish the systems, tools, methods and processes needed to find, fund and support social entrepreneurs within their institution.

This phased ended successfully in August 2013 with more than 750 awards of cash and support made to social entrepreneurs, including staff, students and recent graduates, with a combined value of over £1.4 million.

Universities developed their own approaches to finding, funding and supporting social entrepreneurs but UnLtd’s values, technical expertise and networks were important enablers and facilitators of this work.

A series of ‘Learning and Development’ training and events was delivered from September 2012 to July 2013, with 1,000 delegates attending from universities. Knowledge exchange and networking were to key to their success.

As a result, the university partners reported making changes in how they supported social entrepreneurs. These included universities strengthening or tailoring their social entrepreneurship offer: some providing specialist, tailored support for the first time, and others increasing awareness of social entrepreneurship and curriculum development.

Phase 3

The third programme will work with universities who want to take social entrepreneurship even further: from that handful of pioneers in 2009 to a fully embedded, sustainable ecosystem of support.

We expect to see an increasing number of collaborations across the higher education sector, along both regional and thematic lines. There will be an increasing focus on developing capacity for this work within institutions and on scaling up activity to meet demand.

The first two phases of the partnership ‘unlocked the potential’ and ‘led the change’ within the HE sector. In the third phase we will champion tomorrow’s social entrepreneurs today with an innovative mixture of funding, support, collaborative partnerships and network expertise.

Page last updated 3 December 2013

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