Previous research has
examined SNM and SI in the context of complementary currencies (Seyfang and
Longhurst, 2013b), energy (Hielscher et al., 2013), food (Hargreaves et al.,
2013), and eco-housing (Avelino and Kunze, 2009).  These studies have found that for
participants, it is often the symbolic and shared practice of deep values which
brings the principal benefits, rather than any tangible economic or material
impacts. For example, local currency activists feel empowered by creating and
using money which values people’s labour equally; food activists highly value
their ability to bypass supermarkets, even for relatively small proportions of
their provisioning (Seyfang, 2009). These initiatives form ‘pockets’ of shared
values different to mainstream norms, and communities of interest coalesce
around them, in mutually supporting (hence, protective) spaces (Seyfang et al.,
2014). Some of the challenges they face are: they are situated in local
contexts, while facing pressure to scale up and become mobile/transferable;
they need to fit into situations they wish to transform; and they attempt to
address structural problems with project-based solutions (Smith et al., 2013).
Often, initiatives fail to thrive because of an absence of long-term resourcing
and institutional support. In addition, the radical values which often catalyse
and inspire niche formation can clash with commercial and policy priorities,
making the translation of innovative practices challenging, even with dedicated
intermediaries. The importance of a robust analysis of these initiatives is
clear, then, both to assist practitioners in growing their projects, and to
enable policymakers to harness the innovative energies of community groups
working for sustainability. In turning to SNM to understand social innovation
in HE, we reframe university led SI initiatives as innovative niches, and seek
insight into how these might be supported to overcome the challenges they face,
and diffuse more widely. To test the utility of SNM in this new setting,
therefore, an empirical exploration of an emerging sector is required.

A major debate about the HE
role concerns how universities contribute to society providing three
knowledge-intensive services: research, education and social interaction
(McKelvey and Zaring, 2017). Whilst universities clearly have a role to play in
creating new collective social systems, in the last 30 years, they have been
modernised through individual processes including marketisation and privatisation,
leaving them increasingly competitive rather than collaborative institutions (Benneworth
and Cunha, 2013). Additionally, the marketisation
in HEIs is demonstrated, as the modern reforms influencing the operation of
universities and their programmes of study are presented as an element of their
modernisation, according to the demands of the market (Middleton, 2000). Researchers have also dealt with the
internationalisation of universities and the changes to the institutions in corresponding
to the demands of a particular type of educational service for students,
confronting them as customers-consumers (Stier & Börjesson, 2010).

Yet, in the last years, we
have also observed a number of universities with a growing interest in
supporting bottom-up initiatives and SI related projects in a variety of ways,
for example, by providing placements and work opportunities for students in
existing SI projects, university staff and researchers procuring or providing
SI related services, or even students setting up their own initiatives (see
Figure 2 for further details) (Calvo, 2015). While some universities have taken
a ‘top-down’ approach by incorporating SI explicitly into their core strategic
goals and embedding it across everything they do (for example, Northampton
University in the United Kingdom), others have provided tailored modules and
support for students and graduates as part of a wider objective to support
enterprise and enhance employability (Calvo, 2015). These initiatives have been
managed and/or supported by numerous student enterprise societies such as
Student Hubs and incubators (for example, the Pontifical Catholic University of
Chile).

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(Insert Figure
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Several studies have suggested that promoting
and supporting SI in HEIs stimulate and sustain such practices, enhancing diversity,
social inclusion, citizenship, and local learning communities and partnerships,
which is central to economic growth and regeneration, and that it is therefore
important to re-connect the social dimension of education with the economic (Matheson,
2008; British Council, 2016). For example, a recent book publication authored
by Brundenius et al. (2017) shows the importance of inclusive development and
innovation on economic growth and demonstrates the ways in which universities
around the world are pioneers in this area through initiatives in social
responsibility and social innovation. The research included in this book brings
case studies from Latin America, Northern and Eastern Europe, and Sub-Saharan
Africa, providing an insight into actions that are taken by universities on inclusive
development and social innovation, and overall regional economic and social
development.

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