Five examples of collaboration within institutions

Collaboration within universities can lead to more efficient use of equipment and the development of better processes. Ian Powling outlines some case studies showing where this is working.

Here on the Efficiency Exchange, we often get requests for examples of good practice. And my workshop at the AUA South Wales and South West Conference on Tuesday was no exception, at which I was asked about case studies showing collaboration between functions within institutions.

Here are five case studies that demonstrate what can be achieved when colleagues in different parts of a university work towards a shared goal:

1. University of Durham – catering strategy

When the University of Durham embarked on a major review of its catering provision, it was led by a partnership between the catering department and the procurement service.

The partnership, which had worked successfully together since 2009 and achieved a Green Gown Award in 2011, carried out a detailed review over a two year period. During this review, five new contracts were implemented.

There was senior level support for the project and a wish to see contracts evolve and improve. The student and staff experience was central to the project and both have improved as a result of these new contracts.

Not only has the University achieved significant savings, it has also introduced better quality products which are fresher, seasonal and, where possible, locally produced.

2. University of Oxford – sharing equipment with other departments

The University of Oxford has carried out a range of initiatives to increase the intensity of research equipment and facilities use, which has led to scientific advances through cross-disciplinary collaborations.

The project helped to reduce costs and encouraged sharing of scarce resources across departments. The initiative has stimulated new approaches to sharing equipment, which will have benefits in the longer term.

3. Oxford Brookes University – collaborative procurement

With its 150th anniversary approaching, the procurement team at Oxford Brookes University saved individual departments time and money by going through a single supplier to buy merchandise.

Working with departments, procurement staff used the national Promotional Products Framework Agreement to save £24,000 and ensure that branding was consistent across purchases through effective procurement.

Consultation and stakeholder engagement were critical factors that impacting the success of the procurement exercise.

4. London South Bank University – joint development of a procurement strategy

The procurement team at London South Bank University (LSBU) developed a new procurement strategy in partnership with other departments.

The partners in this exercise were able to identify opportunities and assess whether or not contracts are fit for purpose. This process has been encouraged by knowledge transfer and empowerment and by increased transparency of information.

The development of the strategy was guided by a new VfM working group comprising Pro-Deans from each faculty and heads of support departments to capture a university-wide view of VfM at a senior level. The group is jointly chaired by the head of procurement and the director of student services.

Procurement staff have also expanded their support to work with departments on initiatives that are not purely procurement-related but which benefit the university overall – such as reviewing major bids and engaging early on decisions such as business cases.

Cashable savings of £7m have been identified and project delays were considerably reduced.

5. University of Nottingham – professional services sandpit

A diverse group of administrative staff together from the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham were brought together for a two-day residential “sandpit”, which would explore ways of enhancing agility in the professional services at both institution.

The participants sought to tackle bottlenecks through innovative shared approaches and to identify a small number of exciting ideas that could then be taken forward by staff from both universities working together.

Some half a dozen projects were identified during the course of the sandpit, which Nottingham’s registrar Paul Greatrix said led to a change of attitude among staff and the development of a stronger sharing and collaborative culture both within and across the two institutions.

A second sandpit was arranged focusing on process efficiency and ways of removing bureaucracy to free up staff time.

The outcomes of this sandpit included collaborations on the benchmarking of services, space efficiency modelling and procurement opportunities in the areas of IT and Library services.

Do you have any examples of collaborative practices within your university? Contact

Ian Powling is the digital programmes lead at Universities UK

Ian Powling
Senior Education Advisor CCEG