Raising the status of procurement in higher education

HEPA procurment e-learning
A slide from a HEPA e-learning module.
Procurement has the potential to play a major role for universities by maximising investment and supporting the strategic objectives of institutional leaders. Emma Keenan describes how the Higher Education Procurement Academy (HEPA) is helping to raise the status of procurement within universities.

HEPA was set up by the sector in 2012 in response to the Diamond review that urged, amongst other things, for procurement in higher education (HE) to streamline its processes, become more collaborative and improve the quality of its reporting. Funded by the Innovation and Transformation Fund, HEPA was developed to build capacity and raise the status of procurement.

The academy has now come to the end of its project phase and is being directed by a new HEPA board, with members representing the sector’s finance and procurement communities. It currently supports more than 3,700 members of staff across HE procurement, finance, estates, and related areas to improve their individual and institutional capability in this area.

There are many key topics on the procurement agenda, including value for money, sustainability, and risk management and it is vital that procurement professionals and others involved in procurement in their institutions understand and implement best practice. We don’t always see the excellent work being done outside of our own institutions; HEPA collects, shares and actively promotes this good work to enable others to use it for their own advantage.

Focal point

Crucially, HEPA provides a focal point for much sector procurement activity: networking and training opportunities via conferences, courses and working groups; a well-used discussion forum for members to ask questions and share information within the HE community; a website with useful tools and resources; a monthly newsletter covering developments in HE procurement; and a number of other varied projects and events throughout the year.

Throughout the year the Academy ran 22 face-to-face training courses, at locations around the country, on procurement issues ranging from negotiation to sustainability to specification writing. They have provided valuable CPD to delegates, and were complemented in July by the launch of five e-learning modules. More than 40 institutions have currently signed up to the e-learning, making affordable, computer-based and HE-specific procurement learning available to hundreds of procurement professionals, HEI buyers, and members of the procurement consortia.

In March 2014 it launched the competency toolkit, designed to support procurement managers with role management and professional development of themselves and their staff. This was followed in April by the Procurement Journey, an online guide to facilitate best practice and consistency in the procurement process. In addition, the autumn saw the academy launch guides on developing a procurement strategy and on sustainability in procurement.

Since then much work has focused on reviewing and facilitating the collection of Efficiency and Modernisation Model (EMM) data in England, for both 12/13 and 13/14. The data contributes to the overall picture of efficiency in the sector, and demonstrates to regulators and the government that the sector is meeting efficiency targets.

Promising progress

More than 70% of institutions contributed to this exercise, which has shown promising progress with sector-wide savings of £153m through improvements in procurement efficiency in the year 2012/13.

A huge amount of work has been done behind the scenes to build relationships and improve the lines of communication between procurement departments and their institution’s senior management, as well as between the various sector stakeholders, universities, procurement consortia, regulators, suppliers, and beyond. This work culminated in the inaugural HEPA Conference in early October, which involved 150 delegates and speakers.

The Academy wants to see this good work continue in 2015 and for many years to come. If you’d like to explore ways that you or your organisation could engage with HEPA or the wider procurement community, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Emma Keenan is a procurement specialist at HEPA