Is procurement stifling innovation within HE?

Alistair Sergeant
Alistair Sergeant

The higher education sector is facing more challenges now than they ever have before. With many businesses investing in digital initiatives to stay relevant and attract their digitally orientated target audiences, HE institutions are no exception, and they must keep up, too.

With so many HE institutions falling behind because digital initiatives are put on the back burner, the need to change and drive innovation is at a critical level. And this critical level is exacerbated by Covid-19 and the rapid shift to doing things online.

There are plenty of opportunities for HE to be different, but in reality, procurement holds back the ability to innovate at the same pace as the wider commercial sector. Procurement ‘best practices’ that are in place often just create clumsy barriers to realising potential.

Don’t get me wrong – procurement is absolutely crucial given the nature of how HE is funded and the pressure around fees and refunds for distance-based learning. However, what I’m saying is, procurement needs to be more agile to support innovation, and it must not hinder important business initiatives that have the aim improving the future of the institution.

To give you an example and to give context to my point, I recently had one institute that had a £3,000 limit on any spend before a full tender had to go out…


I mean, in reality, where is £3000 going to get a huge institute? And this is why I question whether procurement is stifling innovation within HE.

In my opinion, it is.

Yes, we certainly need strong governance, but we need commercial thinking to remove the red tape and budget constraints for realising money. If we don’t, some HE institutions with such rigorous procurement processes will slowly but surely suffer the consequences.

As with any business, innovation budgets should be assigned for all institutions and allow for the organisation to come forward and draw down on this. Without the budget, you can’t react to changes and you won’t discover new opportunities. Two aspects for any kind of business to realise their competitive edge.

So, to drive innovation forward, business cases are an absolute must to support the decisions. They don’t need to be overcomplicated. They need to be explicit in communicating the far-reaching value such innovation initiatives would bring.

At the end of the day, digital is everywhere you look and we as people naturally adopt digital and use it on a daily basis.



To enhance our lives. To make things easier, quicker, more efficient.

So why wouldn’t a business want to adopt digital? Why does this take a back seat in HE?

It seems somewhat counterintuitive.

People are becoming more and more tech savvy, and this is not only true for students but for HE staff across the board.

And it’s for this reason we see bags of frustration within the institutions with regards to lack of change. Lack of innovation.

And procurement is just part of that challenge.

With the average transformation project taking anywhere between 2 and 5 years, any further delays run the risk of the universities becoming outdated, irrelevant and not competitive in the market. Or, even more so than some already are.

Now is time to invest for higher education institutions.

As they say, there is no better time than the present.

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More about the author

Alistair Sergeant
Alistair Sergeant CEO

As CEO of Equantiis, his main focus is on strategic leadership and growth within the business whilst working through new opportunities that support this. Alistair manages client relationships so that they can benefit from his experience and knowledge. He thrives on leading a disruptive business that works with business leaders to identify and overcome complex business challenges, with cost certainty and transformative outcomes. Alistair is passionate about anything outdoors. Including running, camping and travelling with the family.

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