More Search
We help universities engage with the public

Social Enterprise Module

< Back to all case studies


Who: Post-graduate students from the School of Management at the University of Southampton, working with social enterprises

What: A Social Enterprise placement as part of an assessed piece of coursework for a core MSc course on Entrepreneurship

Why: Using voluntary work with social enterprises as an innovative means of meeting learning outcomes and providing opportunities for students to engage with the community

Where: Students took placements within seven social enterprises across Southampton

When: The course was piloted in 2009, as part of the vinspired students programme but has since been embedded as a core part of course delivery

Project description

Through community placements, undergraduate and MSc students studying entrepreneurship at the University of Southampton were given the chance to work with social enterprises as part of their assessed coursework. This marked a new step in how learning was offered and accredited within the degree programmes of the School of Management taking a more ‘hands on’ approach to a subject which is more behavioural than theoretical by nature.

The brief for the students was to apply their entrepreneurial skills to help the social enterprise achieve its objectives. Activities ranged from generating ideas for revenue and developing a business plan for Southampton Scrap store, to helping with the marketing efforts of a workers co-op that provides work for marginalised immigrant women making underwear. This provided both valuable help and skills to the social enterprises, as well as giving students a chance to apply their knowledge and contribute to society at the same time.

For many of the students, involvement in this placement has provided a positive insight into organisations that are structured around social and community issues, and has encouraged many students to continue this engagement through voluntary work.


  • To raise students’ awareness of social entrepreneurship and develop their skills and knowledge in this domain through practical work placements with social enterprises
  • To achieve educational objectives of the academic units in an innovative way
  • To overcome student barriers to giving time and support to the local community by making it part of the coursework for optional units. To disseminate this project through the university and communit.

Results and outcomes

What worked well

Social enterprise placements allowed the entrepreneurship students to have contact with a work culture and people who are quite different to the stereotype of business managers as ruthless. The opportunity to work with social entrepreneurs and other staff at social enterprises, who tend to be highly motivated individuals who have chosen to work in an environment that prioritises ethical and social factors therefore provides both a positive social learning opportunity for business students who may not have been exposed to such an ethically focused culture before, as well as positive role models in the form of the social entrepreneurs themselves.

"I would encourage lecturers to take a chance and give this kind of activity a go, on a ‘learn by doing’ basis as the students got so much out of the placements." Academic Tutor

A prevalent comment from the students was that they had learned more from the placement than they could have done from theory. This implies that the social enterprise placements were more effective in enhancing students’ appreciation of the positive contribution enterprise can make to society than any amount of lecturing could have achieved.

"It’s a lovely change from having to write essays for your coursework. It’s excellent to actually be involved in an enterprise and particularly excellent to be involved in one that is so supportive of marginalised women in the community." Student Volunteer, Whomadeyourpants

This project had many benefits to the social entrepreneurs, who gained in particular, exposure to an entrepreneurial mindset which the students bought to the placements. For example, Scrapstore had a culture of grant dependency which was not sustainable and benefited greatly from the students’ ideas regarding possible income streams, and also the students’ attitude that it was OK to make money. Some gained from the particular work that the students did for them e.g. Whomadeyourpants gained a PA, who was still volunteering there months after the course ended. 

"I’ve never had a PA before and she has been teaching me how to work with somebody and it’s brilliant!" Social Entrepreneur

What didn't work well

The main challenge is finding the placements. We received some support from Community Volunteering Department, but in many cases lecturers were dependent on existing contacts and networks as well as brokering new ones.

Due to time pressures we were only able to secure verbal partnership agreements with social enterprises; however this is something we would develop in the future.

Resources required

  • Connections to the volunteering services are highly beneficial. They are able to offer help in sourcing and supporting placement opportunities
  • Investment of time in the development of an accredited module and the related course materials By limiting the numbers enrolled in the module it allowed the opportunity to assess the module in action

Top Tips

  1. Start planning early, to ensure time to organise placements and consider the time it takes to go through an accreditation process.

  2. Think about how the placements develop learning for the students’ course of study in a number of ways and ensure these explicit. 

  3. It is important to manage the expectations of the students. Students were told that this was an ‘entrepreneurial’ option in that it required pro-activity and initiative as the social entrepreneurs involved were busy people with many more important things to do than just to look after the students, and might well not be as available to help as desired.

  4.  It is important to make the placement organisations aware of the skills and abilities of the students.

Top quotes

“It’s been quite a steep learning curve so far. I’ve not worked with a community organisation before now, so learning about running an organisation like this is very, very different to the commercial sector.” Student

"Everything that I am learning at the [social enterprise] at the moment is going to be useful when I am looking to set up my own business." Student 

“It was a lot of work done out of an intrinsic desire to make the course more relevant and interesting and develop our links with the wider community. However, my experience is that initiatives like this tend to have unexpected rewards, as increased networks and media interest can generate new ideas for research or academic papers, which are of personal benefit.” Academic, course provider