August was an important month in the world of university procurement. It saw the Higher Education Procurement Academy (HEPA) website go live
, the first step towards the development of a dedicated centre of excellence for the sector.
There’s no doubt HEPA has a key role to play in meeting the challenges set out in 2011’s Diamond report on efficiency and effectiveness in higher education
. It will in time help to build the skills and knowledge required for university procurement to become far more strategic than seen to date – absolutely vital given the current climate. Budget cuts and austerity measures will continue post-2015 until the end of the decade. So there’s still going to be a need to keep an eye on the pounds, shillings and pence.
In the past we just got on with the job as a function. Procurement needs to come out of its shell and be recognised for what it can be – a strategic process whereby universities use their purchasing intelligence in ways that they haven’t done previously.
HEPA will complement the work already being carried out by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education
, regional purchasing consortia and Procurement UK. But their efforts will only bear fruit if university leaders take a proactive stance and empower their procurement staff. I would like to see procurement being taken far more seriously by senior leadership in universities and at board level. They need a better appreciation of procurement’s potential role. At the moment that understanding isn’t there. It’s still a bit of a Cinderella activity.
If you think about where the procurement function sits within universities – it’s a small group of people who report to the finance director. It’s very difficult to have a voice; in some cases they don’t want to have one. How do we make them more aware of their potential and what they can offer universities? That has to come from higher up. We need to empower them.
☛ Professor Nick Petford is vice chancellor of the University of Northampton and chairman of Procurement UK. He will be a keynote speaker at the Conference on University Purchasing on 10 September.