The promises programme – becoming a ‘no hidden extras’ university

Michael Duffy, procurement manager at Coventry University
Coventry University has sought to become a “no hidden extras” university by providing core textbooks to undergraduates. Michael Duffy explains how the university’s procurement team rose to the challenge of giving students more for their investment.

Universities have been under significant pressure to deliver value for money to students.  In 2012, Coventry University launched a campaign aimed at delivering on the promise that students would get more for their tuition fees.

One of the most challenging projects under the campaign was to distribute 20,000 textbooks to 3,000 first-year students – a considerable task led by the procurement team, but requiring the cooperation of several university departments.

Prior to September 2012, a number of universities, including Coventry, had some experience of delivering free textbooks to students. However, such initiatives were fairly limited in scope and were usually run within faculties. Never before had Coventry University attempted to offer free textbooks to students on such a large scale.


Coventry’s procurement team conducted a considerable amount of research looking into retailers and wholesalers, and met with several suppliers to assess capability and to stimulate interest in the project.  Following a thorough examination of the market, the team tendered under the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium’s joint consortia book agreement. The framework suppliers’ proven track record within the higher education sector was one of the key reasons for choosing the framework.

Coventry University conducted a thorough further competition, giving all potential bidders the opportunity to suggest innovative ways to deliver. Ingram Coutts Ltd was appointed as the preferred supplier, having best met the evaluation criteria.  Coutts were extremely competitive, enabling the university to reinvest funds and further increase the student experience. Coutts also provided additional services such as free delivery and staff to assist with the distribution of books to students.

Coventry worked closely with Coutts to implement the proposed solution.  Innovative ideas like a customised barcoding and distribution system helped contribute towards the success of the project.  Coventry University couldn’t accommodate delivery of all of the textbooks at once, so it was agreed that Coutts would schedule delivery days by faculty.

Coutts packed all the books by course before they were delivered, allowing for the packs to be handed straight to the students rather than picking books on the spot. This reduced waiting times for students when collecting their textbooks. The supplier bar-coding on each pack also made sure the right students received the right books the first time around, reducing errors.


A further challenge for the Coventry team was to keep a firm hold on the distribution numbers.  As anyone who works within a university knows, student numbers and class registrations fluctuate up until the first day of term.  This presented a significant problem and to manage this as best as possible, the team constantly reviewed and assessed the needs of faculties.  The university also agreed free returns with Coutts, allowing for plenty of stock and reducing the risk of running out of textbooks.

As classes got underway, Coventry University saw the successful distribution of free textbooks to its first-year students.  By week two of term more than 90% of textbooks had been placed correctly. This ensured that most students were able to begin with their textbooks, allowing them to make a fast start to their study and enhancing their chances of successfully completing the first year of their degree.

As our university lecturers could be confident that the students already had their textbooks, the lecturers were able to tailor their plans and set work knowing the students had the material to complete this.

The university conducted surveys with the students involved to monitor the students’ experience of the distribution. The results were very positive with a 97.2% approval rating.

The project was such a success, Coventry extended their free textbook scheme to second-year students in September 2013 and the scheme now covers all undergraduates at the university. The introduction of the Promises project can also be aligned and seen as a contributor to the University’s rise in the National Student Satisfaction Survey from 86% in 2012 to 91% in 2014.

Michael Duffy is the procurement manager at Coventry University. In the second part of our Coventry procurement focus, his colleague Mike Hanson explains how investing in procurement can produce the cost efficiencies that allow programmes like this to be delivered.