18 September 2003 | David Arminas
More collaboration and data sharing among purchasers are the goals of the sector's first strategic five-year procurement plan.
Vincent John, chairman of the Association of University Purchasing Officers, told the 260 delegates at the Conference on University Purchasing (COUP) in Exeter that purchasing must change to be more effective.
"We must change our culture and our methods of delivery, with an emphasis on collaboration and not suspicion," he said.
The 2003-08 plan, completed by the new Procurement Strategy Implementation Group (Proc-HE) - which was created last month as the sector's main purchasing advisory body - sets out eight strategic objectives. Each lists outcomes, targets and time-scales, with lead responsibility groups spelled out, as well as key risks and obstacles to overcome.
John, also chairman of Proc-HE and director of procurement and business services at the University of Greenwich, told SM: "It should get purchasing thinking about sharing information and working in collaboration, to be more visibly involved. This document is the first time higher education purchasing has shown it is capable of planning ahead."
The objectives include the creation of a culture for sharing knowledge and skills, effective use of information management and performance measurement, as well as reviews for commodities and services for contracts.
"There is a lot of interaction now between purchasers at different universities and consortia," said John.
"But it's slightly haphazard, ad hoc and not clear to the rest of the community about who is doing what."
Susan Wright, regional purchasing co-ordinator for the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium, which organised the conference, told SM: "Consortia have been working more closely together and the new strategy is a great opportunity to enhance our collaborative efforts."
The plan calls for the engagement of "champions" at universities who will support purchasing's place as a strategic player in helping academic improvement.
Malcolm Cook, senior deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, said the plan should raise the status of purchasers among academics who fail to understand the importance of purchasing.
"If academics knew what good procurement can do for them, they might have more sympathy for using the contracts and agreements set up by purchasing staff," he said.