Purpose: This paper aims to corroborate the importance of university social responsibility (USR) for universities and to establish a rationale for their investment in a strategically implement socially responsible initiatives and programmes and gain returns from such investments. This purpose can be achieved by examining a complex conceptual model connecting USR with many desired student-related outcomes that leverage the university's competitiveness, long sustainability and contribution to the triple bottom line – “people, planet, and profit”. Design/methodology/approach: The authors conducted a cross-country comparative study using quantitative techniques. Their analysis was guided by a holistic conceptual model constructed and experimentally evaluated using obtained primary data. The robustness of the suggested model was evaluated using structural equation modelling with partial least squares. Findings: The findings validate the hypothesized associations and indicate that adopting USR initiatives increases student satisfaction and alumni loyalty through student-university identification, perceived university image, and service quality. In addition, the cross-country analysis finds no variation in the strength of the connections owing to cultural variations, except for the association between service quality and institution image. Practical implications: Incorporating USR at the centre of university's strategy not only complements its teaching and research goals but also answers the requirements and expectations of stakeholders, increases competitiveness and assures sustainable performance. Originality/value: This cross-cultural USR study uses a mix of methods to show that, even though USR is important, until now, its importance has been overlooked.