Five procurement lessons from UK higher education

The UK higher education sector is renowned for its significant economic and societal impact, which is produced by academic research, skills and job creation and gross domestic outputs. 

Currently, there are heightened government and student expectations associated with the introduction of teaching, research and knowledge excellence frameworks (TEF, REF, KEF) and student loans. 

These together with the Brexit process have brought about political uncertainty and fiscal pressures that reflect contemporary challenges also being experienced by industries outside the sector. 

To improve procurement effectiveness in today’s dynamic environments, let’s explore five lessons from the UK higher education sector:

1. Understand how market forces are driving the industry

Use market awareness to appreciate organisational priorities and identify opportunities to add value. Understand how forces impact short, medium and long-term strategies, how these translate into key projects and milestones and how these will be measured. Gather and analyse management information to make informed decisions. Review, scope and future proof requirements through output specifications.

2. Collaborate to optimise business opportunities

Identify opportunities to innovate with partners and key suppliers by sharing knowledge and expertise. Communicate and apply lessons learnt from peers and broader industry sectors. Explore the potential of forming strategic alliances, making joint investments and collaborating on research and development initiatives to achieve scale economies and business benefits.

3. Gain balanced perspectives of organisational goals, risks and constraints

Cross-functional, multi-disciplinary collaborative working yields wider appreciation of organisational initiatives and highlights constraints and risks. To gain balanced perspectives, identify and consult with key stakeholders from consumers, front-line and senior management, sector experts and community groups. Focus on what’s important, for whom, why and how risks and constraints may be mitigated or managed. One size does not fit all and a plethora of best practices exist so adapt what’s best to each situation.

4. Empower stakeholder networks towards achieving business efficiencies

Extend and empower stakeholder networks towards fulfilling organisational goals. Cultivate understanding by articulating how procurement can add value and how these translate into business, financial and social benefits. Facilitate awareness by providing training to develop technical skills and professional competencies.

5. Focus on long-term sustainable value to impact strategic decisions

Procurement seeks to positively impact strategic decisions and sustainable value requires achieving commercial outcomes. Resources are finite and stakeholders’ requirements change over time. Devise a SMART procurement strategy by mapping organisational goals and capabilities through costs-benefits analysis. Maintain focus and remain constantly alert to how market forces can shape organisations, their supply chains and ultimately procurement effectiveness.

☛ Tina Yu is procurement manager at University of Chester.

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