Modern Trends in Procurement for Higher Education in 2024 and Beyond

Rising prices and shrinking budgets are just part of the landscape, continuing a procurement trend into 2024 that has been ongoing for several years. While overall enrollment may have returned closer to norms, declining enrollment in incoming freshman classes continues to trigger warning bells about further belt-tightening ahead.

Procurement teams have a big job to do and can make a significant impact in higher education institutions, and the process is evolving rapidly. In this guide, we will look at how to address the procurement challenges in higher education, what are modern trends in procurement sourcing for 2024 and beyond, and key strategies higher education procurement leaders are employing to improve sourcing in procurement.

The Main Challenges of Procurement in Higher Education

The past few years have seen significant changes in procurement. Teams are being asked to do more than ever—often with smaller budgets and increasing compliance requirements.

What Were the Procurement Challenges of 2023?

A survey of Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs) said their top three challenges in 2023 were budgetary constraints amid inflationary pricing and a higher cost of capital, managing supplier performance, and assuring cost-efficient quality.

Those surveyed said they expected these areas to be continuing concerns as procurement trends in 2024.

What were the changes in procurement in 2023?

Procurement teams in 2023 had to adapt to meet these challenges. Given the economic conditions, 2024 procurement trends are likely to expand on these priorities by focusing on three key areas:

  • Cost reduction
  • Supply chain resilience
  • Sustainability

Cost Reduction

Procurement teams are looking for ways to trim expenses across all categories. Here are some of the ways higher education procurement leaders are approaching these challenges in 2024 and beyond.

Strategic Sourcing and Purchasing

Strategic sourcing and procurement utilize a data-driven approach that goes beyond just negotiating lower prices to take a systematic, collaborative approach to improvement.

Some keys to strategic procurement sourcing include:

  • Focusing on total cost of ownership rather than just price points
  • Obtaining the best overall value (not just the cheapest option)
  • A collaborative process vs. ad-hoc purchasing
  • Aligning with supplier goals for mutually beneficial outcomes
  • Making data-driven decisions based on market intelligence

Conducting Strategic Spend Assessments

Regular strategic spend assessments (SSAs) are one effective strategy. By analyzing spending across the institution, you can identify top categories by volume, spending levels, and cost increases. This surfaces priority areas needing further research into:

  • Alternate supplier sources
  • New suppliers
  • Pricing benchmarks
  • Market and industry trends

This helps set better pricing targets and uncover alternate suppliers. The key is taking a holistic, data-driven approach to systematically optimize procurement from end to end.

E&I Cooperative Services® members can get a no-cost Strategic Spend Assessment to compare current contracts and pricing to identify immediate savings opportunities, consolidation potential, and ways to streamline the process.

Deeper Data Analysis

Data can also be leveraged in other ways, including:

  • Invoice and payment analytics to improve working capital
  • Purchase order analytics to monitor coverage, maverick spend, and cycle times
  • Payment term analytics to enhance cash flow
  • Supplier analytics for performance, sustainability, and diversity monitoring
  • Contract analytics to optimize terms and conditions

Leveraging data, analytics, and market intelligence produces key insights to enable procurement teams to make more strategic, better-informed sourcing decisions. This empowers teams to move from reactive purchasing to proactive supply chain optimization.

Market Research

By understanding the competitive landscape through market research, you get optimal pricing and contract terms from suppliers. Benchmarking purchase prices against the market is an effective tactic.

E&I members have access to more than 150 competitively bid contracts with pre-negotiated pricing and terms against which higher education buyers can leverage and compare.

Contract Negotiations

With a solid fact base and supplier relationships in place, procurement teams can negotiate optimal contracts by:

  • Setting pricing targets based on spend data, market research, and benchmarking
  • Being upfront about non-negotiable terms dictated by institutional policies
  • Clarifying where there is flexibility to work jointly with suppliers
  • Crafting mutually beneficial agreements to build partnerships

E&I contracts are designed specifically for higher education’s unique needs. Key benefits include:

  • Leveraging the bulk buying power of 6,000+ members for exceptional pricing
  • Exclusive incentives and rebates by utilizing E&I contracts
  • Favorable terms and conditions tailored to academic institutions, based on deep expertise

The combination of data, supplier collaboration, and leveraging competitively solicited contracts gives procurement teams significant advantages in contract negotiations. This strategic, collaborative approach allows procurement to deliver greater value.

Supply Chain Resilience

While supply chains have settled down, risks remain due to economic uncertainty and global unrest. Teams need strategies to maintain resilience amid this instability.

Managing Supplier Risk

A key part of strategic procurement is identifying and mitigating potential supply chain risks. We have seen the disruptions supply chain instability can cause, from the pandemic to ongoing inflationary pressures.

In addition to evaluating spend, procurement teams should conduct regular risk assessments. Proactively evaluating vulnerabilities helps uncover risks that could disrupt the flow of goods and services. Once risks are identified, redundancy can be built into the supply chain through strategies including:

  • Sourcing additional providers as backups for primary vendors
  • Monitoring inventory levels closely to maintain safety stock buffers against disruptions
  • Keeping tabs on the financial health of vendors through credit checks and performance monitoring
  • Structuring contracts with exit clauses and renegotiation windows if vendors underperform

Ongoing risk assessments allow procurement teams to get ahead of potential disruptions through proactive planning.

Diversifying Supplier Options

Procurement teams are expanding their supplier pools in several key ways:

Supplier Diversification

Identifying secondary and tertiary suppliers in critical spend categories provides backup options should primary vendors underperform or be unable to deliver. This reduces overdependency risk.

Exploring New Suppliers

Researching new vendors entering the market uncovers innovative solutions and capabilities not offered by incumbent suppliers.

Widening Geographic Reach

Tapping into a wider global supplier base mitigates regional impacts and provides access to new supply markets, increasing resiliency.

Leveraging Group Purchasing

Group purchasing organizations like E&I provide pre-negotiated contracts with numerous suppliers, enabling faster onboarding of backups if needed.

Enhancing Supplier Selection

Adjusting supplier selection criteria to emphasize stability, capacity, continuity planning, and financial health builds resilience from the start.

By taking a proactive approach to expanding and diversifying supplier ecosystems, procurement teams can quickly adapt to disruptions and maintain operational continuity.

Building Strategic Partnerships

For higher education procurement teams, building strategic partnerships with key suppliers is another effective way to build supply chain resilience.

Collaborating directly with suppliers can unlock innovative solutions not uncovered through traditional RFP processes. Suppliers bring strategic insights from working across diverse sectors, which sparks new ways of thinking. By partnering closely, they can apply this broader perspective to tailor more effective approaches for your specific institutional needs.

Some examples of the benefits of supplier collaboration include:

  • Brainstorming creative solutions to pressing challenges
  • Co-developing customized products and services
  • Testing new ideas in an agile, iterative fashion
  • Implementing cutting-edge innovations not yet commonplace

Identifying the Right Strategic Partners

When assessing potential suppliers for strategic partnerships, look for shared values, complementary capabilities, and interdependence. Suppliers who understand the higher education landscape can add greater value.

Prioritize suppliers that are willing to collaborate to meet evolving needs and are interested in long-term relationships.

Creating Mutual Value

Effective strategic partnerships are mutually beneficial. The supplier gains stability and volume while the institution benefits from discounts, service levels, and expertise. Deeper relationships incentivize vendors to provide greater value.

Building Trust and Communication

Partnerships only succeed with trust, transparency, and accountability. Both parties must be willing to share information to drive mutual success.

Sustaining Partnerships Over Time

To sustain partnerships long-term, regular engagement and performance evaluations are key. Procurement needs to develop relationships and go beyond just identifying preferred providers.


As environmental and social responsibility become increasingly important,  procurement teams face the challenge of making their supply chains more ethical and sustainable while still meeting budget goals. Building a green supply chain that aligns with institutional values is crucial, but it can be difficult to do cost-effectively. Creative solutions are needed.

Some options procurement teams can explore include:

  • Prioritizing suppliers with certifications for environmental practices or fair labor standards, even if they are slightly more expensive.
  • Negotiating with existing suppliers to switch to greener raw materials or production methods.
  • Partnering with cross-functional teams to analyze total life cycle costs rather than just unit prices, which can demonstrate the long-term savings of sustainability.
  • Seeking out innovations like recyclable packaging materials to allow progress without premium pricing.

The key is for procurement personnel, sustainability leaders, finance, and other internal stakeholders to be aligned on common goals for an ethical supply chain. With collaboration, it is possible to make meaningful progress on supply chain responsibility while still meeting budgetary constraints. But it requires strategic thinking, supplier engagement, and looking beyond short-term unit costs.

Types of Procurement Methods for Higher Education

In 2024 and beyond, the different types of procurement methods for higher education generally fall into these categories:

  • Competitive bidding: Initiating an open tender process where suppliers engage by submitting bids and pricing for goods and services.
  • Request for proposals (RFP): Encouraging suppliers to participate in a process where proposals for providing a solution or service are submitted and evaluated on both performance and price.
  • Request for quotations (RFQ): Seeking quotes from suppliers in a process designed for small purchases, with evaluation based on pricing.
  • Direct negotiation: Engaging in direct negotiations with one or more selected suppliers, often for unique items or those requiring customization.
  • National cooperative contracts: Utilizing pre-negotiated contracts through purchasing consortiums to achieve efficiency and pricing leverage.
  • eProcurement: Implementing online procurement systems to enhance efficiency, compliance, and cost-savings through competition and automation.
  • Purchasing cards: Facilitating convenience and efficiency for high-volume, low-dollar purchases from pre-approved suppliers, while still requiring oversight.
  • Strategic supplier partnerships: Cultivating partnerships with fewer suppliers for complex, high-value categories to drive innovation and long-term value.
  • Cooperative contracts: Leveraging pre-negotiated contracts through purchasing consortiums like E&I provides efficiency and pricing leverage.

How Can Higher Education Benefit From eProcurement Tools and Techniques?

eProcurement tools can streamline processes and provide significant benefits. Besides helping address the emerging procurement trends in 2024, the right platform can help procurement teams in a variety of ways.

Enhanced Efficiency and Time Savings

By automating various procurement processes, these tools reduce the need for manual intervention, streamlining workflows across departments. Electronic systems facilitate seamless collaboration between stakeholders-and suppliers-resulting in faster and more efficient procurement cycles.

Cost Savings Through Strategic Management

eProcurement improves negotiation with suppliers, leading to more favorable terms and reduced costs. These tools provide the detailed analytics you need for more strategic sourcing and purchasing. Procurement teams have ready access to the data they need for more informed decision-making.

Transparency and Compliance Monitoring

You get a heightened level of transparency and compliance with real-time visibility into spending patterns for effective tracking and management of expenditures. You can also limit spending to preferred providers and enforce compliance with institutional policies.

As procurement sourcing and purchasing continue to evolve, E&I can help you meet the challenges in 2024 and beyond. Discover the full benefits of becoming an E&I Cooperative Services member today.


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