Less than a third of English higher education institutions produced good reports on their public benefit for 2009/10, according to research from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Of the 130 higher education institutions in England, 111 are exempt charities: this means they must demonstrate that they provide a public benefit, but submit a report on this to Hefce rather than the Charity Commission.
Of the remaining 19, 18 are registered with the Charity Commission and one is not a charity.
An email sent to universities by Hefce, seen by Third Sector, says it has carried out a review of the 2009/10 public benefit reports submitted by higher education institutions.
The email says the review "suggests that less than a third of the sector clearly addressed all or most of the elements of good public benefit reporting".
It offers a list of tips on public benefit reporting. These include mentioning bursaries and measures being taken to address barriers to access or support for those with disabilities.
It says higher education institutions’ public benefit reports should also discuss any harm or detriment covered by their work, such as the use of animals in research, and any private benefit such as commercial research or staff interest in intellectual property.
The guidance also warns that public benefit reports should not state that the educational public benefit of an institution’s work is "self evident". It says: "That presumption was expressly removed by the Charities Act 2006."
A Hefce spokesman said the new guidance had been published to help higher education institutions to prepare their 2010/11 public benefit reports.
He said the guidance applied to all higher education institutions, but was particularly relevant to those that were exempt charities.
In July, Third Sector reported that Charity Commission research showed nearly nine out of 10 charity annual reports did not comply fully with the law on public benefit reporting.