Through a Glass Darkly: Assessing the Social Value of Universities

report coverDebates continue to simmer about the social responsibility of universities: how far should the focus of their work be directed by politicians and the wider public? What is the appropriate balance between their contribution to economic growth and to the wider 'public good'? And for the latter, is it possible to find a language to describe what their contribution actually is? Can the impact and value of public engagement be meaningfully 'quantified'?

The NCCPE commissioned this report to try to shed light on this difficult and contested area. We identified three key risks that we hoped that this report could help us address:

• In a time where university funding is being reduced, or re-configured, there is serious risk that the activities generating these wider social benefits are cut back because there is inadequate evidence to make the case for their continuation;

• Longer term, such a re-focusing of effort could damage public support for investment in the sector (whether this comes from philanthropic giving, students, graduates as alumni, businesses or the government);

• Without better insight into the value generated by universities' societal engagement, we miss an important opportunity to achieve more with the limited resources at our disposal, and will struggle to engage in purposeful debate with wider society about the future direction of the sector.

We hope this report will trigger a purposeful debate – inside and outside the HE system. The authors, Ursula Kelly and Iain McNicoll, are acknowledged experts in the field. They have conducted a thorough review of existing practice and policy in the HE sector, and also looked outside it to draw inspiration and insight from how other sectors have navigated these tricky waters. They end the report by outlining an approach which they believe could trigger a significant step forward in how universities describe and report on the full breadth of impacts and benefits that they generate. 

Download the full report: Through a glass darkly: Assessing the social value of universities




80096 NCCPE Social Value Report.pdf1.14 MB