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

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is today (3 December) launching 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.org.uk, the leading provider of support to social entrepreneurs in the UK. It 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 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," he said.

"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 more information visit www.unltd.org.uk/HESupport or email HESupport@UnLtd.org.uk

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