Promoting social enterprise in Higher Education

How Higher Education Institutions can contribute to positive social and economic change

More than ever before, graduates are reporting that they need to believe the work they are doing has a social purpose.

In fact, research shows that this is a bigger motivation than starting salary when looking for employment. Students and graduates are increasingly reporting that they seek employment and lifestyles that enable them to contribute to the social, cultural and environmental wellbeing of their communities, society and the world around them, rather than simply thinking of their degree as a route to a highly paid career.

This presents an opportunity for university leaders who chose to put ethics, civic engagement, social and environmental justice and sustainable economic development at the heart of their strategic plans and student experience…

… By becoming an accredited social enterprise with the Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark, universities can better demonstrate their sustainable and ethical business credentials to the next generation of applicants. The accreditation enables universities to demonstrate to students how they also apply in practice the values and knowledge that are taught, and how they too can be part of a social enterprise culture.

We launched a campaign in 2016 to encourage university applicants to be catalysts for social change and the real business revolution by choosing to study at a social enterprise university with a proven commitment to creating benefits for people and planet.

This also provides a tool to help universities use their work with, and as, social enterprises, to support their student recruitment.

This animation was created by Graphic Design undergraduate students at Plymouth College of Art


In 2016, Social Enterprise Mark CIC worked in collaboration with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), on a project to encourage the Higher Education sector to support and promote social enterprise in their institutions.

The aim of the project was to raise awareness of how Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can operate as social enterprises, putting sustainable and ethical business practices at the heart of their strategic direction. To achieve this, a short film (above) was created to promote the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark to HEIs, featuring the four pioneering universities that had been awarded the accreditation at that time, talking about the benefits of being recognised as a guaranteed social enterprise, driven by social objectives.

British CouncilWith the recent publication of a major international study by the British Council, which examined how HEIs around the world can contribute to positive social and economic change, this project is launched at an appropriate time to support HEIs in understanding how they can achieve this.


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Lucy Findlay

“We have seen an increasing interest from the higher education sector over the last 12 months, which is an encouraging development, as it symbolises a commitment to creating social change, for which such institutions have a huge potential scope to achieve.”

Lucy FindlayManaging Director, Social Enterprise Mark CIC

Following Plymouth University becoming the first university to be awarded the Social Enterprise Mark in 2012, there are now ten Higher Education Institutions accredited as genuine social enterprises, proving that they make a positive difference to society and the communities they service.

HEIs with social enterprise accreditation

Educational establishments are under increasing pressure to diversify their income streams and prove they are in business to benefit the communities they serve. The social enterprise business model provides opportunities for educational establishments from Higher, Further and Tertiary sectors to transform the way they are perceived by their stakeholders and position themselves firmly as a business driven by social objectives.

Social Enterprise Mark accreditation raises the profile of social enterprise as being a commitment throughout the university at all levels.  This enhances and highlights it as an attractive and viable career sector for graduates at a time of high graduate unemployment, as well as supporting the local community and other social enterprises.

Professor Joy Carter, Vice Chancellor of The University of Winchester:

“As a values-driven university, all we do is closely aligned to the Social Enterprise Gold Mark priorities. From divesting our fossil fuel linked investments, our pioneering work with care leavers and others who are underrepresented in higher education, through to our world-leading research in peace and reconciliation, we are a university driven by a passion to make a difference.

We believe that big ideas and growing flourishing people and communities make the difference for a better world. So we are delighted to have the Social Enterprise Gold Mark to help us both communicate our unique focus and priorities, as well as to be continuously challenged.