Stacks of coins

The £1 Billion University Challenge was launched by Professor Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor of the University of Northampton, in 2011. The challenge is for universities throughout the UK to deliver social impact through their procurement and external contracting.

Social impact through procurement is all about ‘doing good stuff’ when a university buys something from an external supplier. For example, a university could choose to give a social enterprise employing disabled people, or training and employing the long term unemployed, the contract to operate a catering operation. Doing this means the university can get the catering service it wants and disadvantaged people can have meaningful work. Having social enterprises, businesses that trade in order to deliver a social purpose, as direct suppliers is a great way for Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) to help meet the challenge.

However, many of the 70,000 (approximate) social enterprises operating in the UK today operate in the health and care sectors – not areas that universities spend much money on. HEIs probably cannot meet the challenge just by contracting directly with social enterprises. Therefore, HEIs also need to think about how they work with private sector organisations to deliver social value through their supply chains. For example, the University of Northampton is building a new innovation centre. The main contractor, Kier, and the University are bringing social enterprises and charities providing painting, plastering and cleaning services into the chain of suppliers involved in the construction of the centre.

Universities must be efficient procurers. However, by asking the simple yet fundamental question, ‘how do we do good stuff when we buy ‘X’?, HEIs can make a major difference to the lives of disadvantaged people throughout the UK.

Using purchasing power to help make people’s lives better – that is what The £1 Billion University Challenge is all about.