Higher Education Procurement Demystified

Colleges and universities are facing significant challenges. Declining enrollments are forcing educational institutions to take an even closer look at spending and budgets. Many schools are seeing cutbacks and budget constraints they have never seen before.

Understanding the Higher Education Procurement Process

Outside of procurement teams, most people do not understand the difference between procurement vs. purchasing. If you are working in procurement, you know this all too well. Efficient and cost-effective purchasing is the result of diligent and skilled procurement teams that source, vet, negotiate, contract with suppliers, and manage the vendor relationship.

Higher education procurement encompasses a broad range of activities to ensure spending has tight cost controls, aligns with college and university policies, and fulfills an academic institution’s needs — well before any purchase takes place.

The Procurement Process

While it might work slightly differently in your college or university, higher education procurement typically starts with conducting needs assessments across departments to identify needs, specifications and requirements. As budgets are created, funds are allocated, and spending is approved, procurement teams source vendors. This may include matching spending requests with existing contracts, looking for new or additional sources, issuing RFPs/RFQs, and evaluating proposals.

Suppliers are vetted to ensure they align with goals and meet the requirements set by the educational institutions and may include specific risk assessments.

Contracts are then negotiated to agree on prices, terms, conditions, timelines, and performance. Only then can the purchase process take place.

Procurement teams are often tasked with ensuring goods are delivered, services are performed per the contract, and compliance is verified. Then, invoices are processed for payment.

For higher education institutions that spend millions of dollars each year across a wide variety of suppliers and vendors, higher education procurement is a complex job.

Best Practices to Optimize Higher Education Procurement

Centralizing your procurement efforts is oftentimes the most effective strategy. This provides a consistent approach, deploying best practices from procurement professionals across all spending. While purchasing may occur at the department level, procurement needs a firm hand to guarantee compliance.

Take a Data-Driven Approach to Procurement

Analyzing spending data and procurement results against benchmarks is crucial to identify opportunities for improvement. With tighter budgets these days, data can be a powerful tool to uncover ways to streamline higher education procurement.

E&I Cooperative Services® Strategic Spend Assessment (SSA) is a structured analysis of your spending data to identify opportunities to reduce costs, bring more purchasing under contracts, and maximize spend control. SSAs assess:

  • E&I Supplier Reported Contract Spend
  • Contract Portfolio Alignments
  • Consolidation Potential
  • Contract Spend Variance
  • Strategic Roadmap Alignment Opportunities

Consolidate Suppliers

Reducing the number of vendors for common spending categories can streamline the procurement process and lead to better volume discounts. By regularly evaluating contracts and suppliers, you can determine whether there should be further consolidation.

Train Staff on Purchasing Policies

Procurement creates a strategic plan for colleges and universities, but there are typically multiple stakeholders that purchase goods and services. Regular training on procurement policies and procedures can reduce out-of-compliance spending.

Help stakeholders understand the logic behind procurement practices and why it is important to work with preferred vendors. While procurement teams are often seen as gatekeepers, they can reposition themselves as consultants, helping departments meet their budget goals more cost-effectively.

Leverage Cooperative Buying

Cooperative buying can create economies of scale across multiple higher education institutions to aggregate demand. For example, E&I leverages the bulk-buying power of 6,000 member institutions to deliver a broad portfolio of competitively solicited contracts.

Adopt eProcurement

Modern eProcurement systems can help streamline the procurement and purchasing process. A comprehensive platform that brings together contracts, data, and integrated workflows provides an overview for better, more efficient management.

The best eProcurement platforms allow you to centralize policies, view catalogs from approved suppliers, and enable punchouts to supplier sites while maintaining controls. Guided workflows enable oversight and compliance while allowing authorized buyers to find what they need.

Optimize Your Higher Education Procurement

E&I Cooperative Services is a nonprofit, member-owned organization that specializes in procurement for educational institutions. There is no cost to become a member and no obligation. E&I provides significant cost savings with suppliers, allowing members to opt-in to contracts that are competitively solicited and ready to use.

Optimize your higher education procurement process. See how E&I Cooperative Services can help.


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