Procurement differences between Britain’s top universities and those further down the rankings are revealed in a new study into spending habits within higher education.
Leading universities are far more likely to spend their procurement budgets on construction of new facilities and research services, according to the analysis by Tenderlake, a tender information service, released this month.
It looked at public contract award notifications from UK universities. These are typically issued when a university makes a purchase above a certain threshold, which is currently around £118,000 for services and supplies and about £4.5m for construction works.
This data was looked at in tandem with the annual university league tables published in The Guardian.
The analysis showed “clear patterns of what those universities who perform differently in the rankings, spent their money on,” according to Tenderlake.
The clearest difference between the top 20 universities in the overall ranking and the rest was that the higher ranked institutions were more than three times likely to invest in construction of new buildings.
The top 20 also invested more in search and development services and related consulting services such as research laboratory services and design and execution of research development services than those further down the rankings.
However, universities outside the top 20 spent more of their funds on operational areas such as energy and electricity, building cleaning, pest-control, refuse and paper collecting and transport services, as well as banking, insurance and pension services.
“The pattern here is that the top 20 universities spent more in areas that are very tangible to students, whereas those outside the top 20 spent disproportionally more on operational issues required to keep the universities running,” the research stated.
Tenderlake also analysed spending patterns among universities which improved their overall ranking from 2018 to 2019 and found that they tended to invest more in goods or services which would improve life for their students.
Universities that improved their ranking were four times more likely to invest in surveillance and security systems and devices such as security cameras and other security equipment. This indicates an investment in the safety of students and staff, the research said.
Such universities were also more than three times more likely to invest in installing services such as radio, television, sound and video equipment; laboratory equipment; as well as laundry washing, dry-cleaning and drying machines.
These universities were almost three times as likely to invest in cafeteria services like meal-preparation, canteen and beverage-serving services.
“It is not entirely surprising that those universities who invested in areas of more visible impact on students’ daily life did well (in the rankings),” the research stated.
“Investing in new buildings while providing students with excellent café and cafeteria services, keeping them safe, healthy and counselled has paid off.”