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Students are choosing social enterprise – business with a heart

Lucy Findlay

Managing Director
Social Enterprise Mark CIC

'Employability' skills are, quite rightly, one of the main things students say they are looking to get from their university course. But many students also now say that making a difference to the world around them – not just making money – is a key driver in their search for a career.

This is where social enterprise – an alternative business model, putting the interests of people and planet before shareholder gain – comes in.

Embedding social enterprise in universities provides excellent opportunities for students to develop their employability skills: not only teaching crucial business skills, but also in demonstrating to the next generation of business people how businesses can care for more than just a financial bottom line. Social enterprises and the people who run and work in them can contribute positively to people and planet – it's business with a heart. 

The Social Enterprise Mark is a sign that a university not only teaches the ethos of social enterprise, but actually embeds the values of good business at its heart. The Social Enterprise Gold Mark goes even further in showing that a university has achieved a Mark of Excellence. 

This is why the Higher Education Funding Council for England has supported the idea of universities becoming accredited as Social Enterprise Mark holders, as well as supporting a campaign aimed at prospective university applicants, encouraging them to consider applying to universities holding the Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark, and to develop these enterprise skills as students.

Social enterprise boosts students' employability skills

A number of Universities UK members have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark for carrying out trailblazing, award-winning enterprise activity that has directly helped students gain employment. Just three examples:

  • University of Salford
    Over the last five years the University of Salford has invested £1 million into student and graduate entrepreneurship, including investment in start-up grants and incubation services. It also hosts the Enterprise Futures conference, which aims to inspire entrepreneurship and encourage postgraduates to turn their research ideas into venture creation.
  • Plymouth University
    Plymouth University's Inspiring Futures project gives students the opportunity undertake a real consultancy project for an organisation. Students can also enter competitions to work with organisations on a real business challenge. In doing so they gain invaluable business and employability skills including commercial awareness, networking, project management, presentation, ideas generation, and professional communication.
  • Coventry University
    Coventry University Social Enterprise champions the social enterprise capacity of all students, staff and alumni. Via its dedicated Enterprise Hub, the university provides an enabling environment for developing and nurturing entrepreneurship and new business models.

Putting civic engagement at the heart of university strategy

At a time when students and graduates are saying they want careers and lifestyles that enable them to contribute to the social, cultural and environmental wellbeing of their communities, society and the world around them, universities have an opportunity to put ethics, civic engagement, social and environmental justice and sustainable economic development at the heart of what they do, and the experience they offer their students.


Social Enterprise Mark CIC is the accreditation body responsible for assessing applications for the internationally recognised Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark. It ensures the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial through accreditation. There are around 200 organisations that currently hold Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark accreditation.

Social enterprise is an increasingly important element of universities' overall work on skills development; if you would like to highlight or discuss your work in this area, please respond to the call for evidence published as part of the UUK Review of Skills. The deadline is Monday 31 October.

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