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19 July 2011 | Adam Leach
Academics who book their own travel prevent universities from bringing total spend in the category under control, according to a report.
A degree of control, which was conducted by Public Sector Travel and supported by Portman Travel, found that universities commonly delegate responsibility for managing travel budgets and logistics to department heads, which damages the quality of data collected and produces wide-ranging and inconsistent policies.
The report claims “academics’ desire to be independent is creating a culture of fragmented buying”. This, in turn, is stopping the sector from significantly reducing the £250 million it spends on travel every year.
Tony Newjem, chief procurement officer at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, told SM that using a travel management company had enabled the university to manage the area better: “[It] saves time, especially with complicated overseas itineraries, and lets the academics get on with their research and teaching activities.”
A buyer from another university, who did not want to be named, agreed the main benefit was the value gained from better data. “Let's say there's an outbreak of bird flu in Brazil, you want to know who's out there and who's been recently so you can take steps to look after people. Unless you go through a travel management company, you probably don't know that sort of information,” he said.
Tom McAra, head of procurement for Glasgow University, said selling the benefits of this approach to academics is the biggest challenge.
“Their heart is in the right place, they believe – and in many cases they are probably correct – that they are stretching their budget further. The volatility of air seat prices, which I often liken to the stock market shares, doesn’t help because it’s impossible to verify whether a fare is actually cheaper because time, supply and demand change the price – as those of us who decide to book an EasyJet flight later on often find to our cost.”
But he conceded: “They are a resilient lot. They would survive [a centralised plan], but complain a lot.”
You can search the data from the report here.