When you think of social enterprise, it might be fair to say you don’t immediately think of universities. But their power to shape social good has been recognised with the certification of CQUniversity as Australia’s first social enterprise university.

CQUniversity received the certification from social procurement non-profit Social Traders in May this year. The announcement was a continuation of CQUniversity’s mission, which began when CQUniversity became Australia’s first Changemaker university in 2017.

And becoming Australia’s first social enterprise university was no accident, according to CQUniversity’s vice-chancellor Professor Nick Klomp. “We’ve actually been working on this for five or six years now,” he said.

“Of course, lots of universities give back to the community. But we have designed our curriculum and our research around being a leader, particularly in inclusive and accessible delivery of higher education and tertiary education.”

In 2017, CQUniversity began offering short courses in social innovation. Since then, about 10,000 students have completed the course, which teaches students what they can do in their everyday lives that has a social impact or advantage.

At the same time, the university has been gradually adapting its curriculum so that now, close to 80 per cent of its formal courses include social innovation projects and principles.

Klomp said the university expects this to be 100 per cent by next year.

“So every single one of our graduates — and that’s thousands and thousands every year — will be exposed to the opportunities and the ideas and the principles of social innovation,” he said.

The Social Traders certification was made on the basis of this impact, he added.

The university also integrates itself into the communities in which it operates and gets to know local community groups and businesses to help place students in work-integrated learning with other social impact-aligned organisations.

“That’s something that is good for us [because] we create new knowledge, good for the students [because] they’re getting some experience and learning, but really good for the community as well. It’s a win all around,” Klomp said.

Regional Areas As Centres For Innovation

Much of CQUniversity’s social impact comes from its focus on supporting regional education.

“Our mission is very clear, to provide access to research, new knowledge and tertiary education to all those that aspire to it – regardless of background and postcode and previous opportunities,” Klomp said.

All staff and students who join the university are exposed to this vision in the organisation’s curriculum, values and research.

Many of the university’s research projects are designed with social innovation in mind and the work-integrated learning opportunities in the curriculum allow students to give back to community groups and social trading organisations.

Now, word is spreading about CQUniversity’s work. In recent weeks, sector leader Dr Graeme Innes was announced as the university’s new chancellor.

When asked by the CQ team why he had expressed interest in the role, Klomp said Innes’ response was around the university’s approach to social innovation and its commitment to community.

“A lot of people look for employment and study opportunities … [and] want to feel as though they’re making a difference to the community as well. We wear our values on our sleeve and we attract the very people that we want to attract, who are keen on this area as well,” Klomp said.

Creating A Network Of Good Through Social Enterprise

Klomp said he believes social enterprise shouldn’t be thought of as a standalone business. Instead, he explained, it’s something that contributes to continued social good elsewhere.

He said around 20 new regional social enterprises had been launched off the back of training that students have received at CQUniversity.

“I would say social enterprise is more than just starting up a business. It’s how you conduct yourself and how you as a worker within, or maybe even a leader within that organisation, conduct your business,” he said, citing practices that help marginalised community groups or that conduct business with a greater focus on its impact on the community.

“It’s not necessarily a charity … but you’re actually giving back to the community in all sorts of ways,” he said.

He believes that CQUniversity’s trailblazing certification will encourage more students and staff through its doors.

“I think more and more, with younger generations coming through, they want to be associated with organisations that they’re proud of, that are giving back to the community, that are aware of social issues.”

And he would welcome other universities taking the same social steps too.

“It’s not a competition; the more, the better,” Klomp said.

“It certainly isn’t anything I would jealously guard. I’d love all public universities in Australia to be pursuing similar sorts of goals, because how good would that be for the community generally?”