Is social enterprise education lost in translation?

Written by Inge Hill

Recent policy papers and guidance documentation on enterprise education in the UK (for example QAA Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education guidance 2018), and Europe through the competence framework for entrepreneurship education EntreComp are most helpful for generic enterprise education, answering to calls by the Oslo Agenda for Entrepreneurship Education in Europe (EU Commission, 2006). What is surprisingly missing detail (or is not mentioned), is social enterprise education.

When reviewing existing new venture creation and entrepreneurship textbooks for HE / FE in 2013, to my surprise I found that social enterprise education or starting a new social enterprise was only covered in a separate chapter but not as an integral part of the discussion of starting and growing new ventures. This motivated me to write a new venture creation textbook that in each chapter addresses the differences between a social enterprise and for-profit start-up (Hill, 2015, available here) next to each other, based on my business adviser experience and SFEDI accreditation for social enterprise when running my own business. And still today this integrated approach has not been replicated, and too few students learn about social enterprise.

While UnLtd. ran a programme for Higher Education Institutions focused on supporting academics and students starting social enterprises – I was one of the successful winners of a Build-It grant when at Aston University – the closure of the programme meant at least for academics that the specific focus on starting social enterprises submerged into the general enterprise noise. This meant in many cases that the social enterprise theme became sidelined or forgotten when talking to academics about commercialising their research. While the UnLtd SEED programme for HE continued to run for a while, not much has been actually filtering through to academics in the faculties.

And with the intense staff recruitment leading to the employment of new staff, some with private sector experience who have often a very limited or no understanding of social enterprise, I am concerned that this message is rarely getting out to students – social enterprise is a valid enterprise form to work for and gain a living and to start as a new venture.

While the high survival rate of social enterprises, the age group of those under 30, who starts them most, and the amount of women and ethnic minority leaders (Social Enterprise UK, 2017) is well documented, too few students learn about what a social enterprise is, so that this business form, and its advantages for society and the economy, is at least at the back of their minds for the future.

In a nutshell, insights into societal benefits and social enterprise as a way to earn a living have not yet penetrated society.

At EEUK we regularly talk about it, members run workshops to bring colleagues together, the next one coming up in November 2018. At our annual conference IEEC this year we offer a whole strand of sessions on social innovation and social enterprise where I am pleased to have the role of Track Chair.

My concerns are – what will happen to the place of social enterprise in education once the UK has left the EU due to the likely reduction in funding for projects? And we need more space and time to educate the educators and future policy makers. Join the discussion via EEUK LinkedIn group. Or get in touch with me

Inge Hill, Coventry University, Board Member EEUK