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An outsourcing era: UK university procurement notices reveal demand for services

With the majority of universities in the UK classed as public institutions, they are subject to open procurement procedures to ensure fair competition. What this means is a lot of details are shared publicly about the objectives of a university via specific outsourcing projects and plans.

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Procurement values included edtech support for online learning up to £50 million investment

The result is a fascinating glimpse into where the pressure points might be, and a scope on what the outsourcing budget might be for at-need services that are best delivered via a third party.

The PIE has been sifting through the tender process to find out exactly what universities are seeking external help and support for – and how much they are allocating for this in terms of investment.

While this may not be news to some, it will certainly help signpost many in the sector to the bigger deals happening on the ground. We often report on public-private sector partnerships once the deal has been done, however public notices provide an interesting source of extra information including the estimated procurement value, contract length and number of tenders received or considered.

As Tim O’Brien, a senior director at INTO observes, “The very rapid increase in student demand from South Asia specifically has stretched traditional processing and engagement models to their limits.”

INTO is one of many global education companies that partner with universities on joint initiatives that might span academic delivery as well as outsourced student recruitment. Its most recent partnership announced is with UMass Amherst, announced in September.

“Rising demand seems to have inspired a fundamental rethink”

O’Brien continues, “[Rising demand] seems to have inspired a fundamental rethink of how best to serve student demand in emerging markets around the world. The flurry of external tenders for backend admission processing and student engagement appears to reflect those dynamics.”

Contracts Finder is the UK government’s single platform for providing access to public procurement related information and documentation free of charge. There are several other sites that list public contracts such as sell2wales.com, stotles.com, Public Contracts Scotland and bidstats.uk.

A quick search revealed the wide spectrum of procurement happening in the international student recruitment sector – from establishing an Indian in-country office operation to seeking outsourced admissions support in international offer-making. Procurement values included edtech support for online learning up to £50 million investment.

Check out the list below of tender invitations from the last few months to see some of the contract briefs we found.

University of Leeds

Title: Digital education service framework for online learning design, development, technical and project management services
Deadline: September 28, 2022
Procurement value: £800,000
Description: The University of Leeds digital education service seeks to establish strong relationships with suppliers of online learning design, development, technical and project management services for project-based working.

Sheffield Hallam University

Title: Online programme management service
Deadline: October 10,  2022
Procurement value: £50 million
Description: Sheffield Hallam University is seeking a commercial partnership to develop, scale and grow our online portfolio and extend our brand nationally and globally, in an operationally and financially sustainable way.

University of Worcester

Title: Admissions support in international offer-making
Deadline: October 12, 2022
Procurement value: Unknown
Description: The University of Worcester is looking to appoint a supplier who can support the University’s admissions team in processing applications from international applicants. This will include evaluating applications and issuing conditional offers.

University of Birmingham

Title: Digital marketing services
Deadline: October 31, 2022
Procurement value: £400,000
Description: The University of Birmingham invites tenders for the supply of digital marketing services including media buying and planning (UK and International) amongst three other lots.

University of Bath

Title: Postgraduate taught – offer conversion services
Deadline: November 2, 2022
Procurement value: £100,000
Description: The University of Bath is looking to appoint and work with a specialist provider of student conversion and engagement services to enhance postgraduate taught offer conversion and maximise enrolments across a number of University Faculty programmes

Coventry University

Title: Salesforce UK Ltd License
Deadline: Open listing, no deadline given
Procurement value: Unknown
Description: Coventry University needs to procure Salesforce licensing and this can only be done directly through Salesforce. The contract between Coventry and Salesforce has some sensitivity in its nature, as some R&D and IP has been developed for Coventry on Salesforce platform for SEP.

Goldsmiths College, University of London

Title: International Recruitment Services for India Office
Deadline: Closed September 5, 2022
Procurement value: Unknown
Description: This tender sought the provision of managed services for Goldsmiths, University of London, for an India Office in the category of business services: law, marketing, consulting, recruitment, printing and security.

University of Greenwich

Title: Online learning programme
Deadline: Closed September 15, 2022
Procurement value: £10 million
Description: The University of Greenwich has procured a strategic partner, with which to develop a range of online learning (OL) provision, which may include building the platform, creating the modules and the recruitment of students.

Queen’s University Belfast

Title: Global student recruitment – lead management services
Deadline: Closed October 3, 2022
Procurement value: £700,000
Description: The global student recruitment team at Queen’s University Belfast has identified the need for a supplier to provide a service to manage the increasing number of leads for UG and PGT programmes across key international markets (MENA/Sub Saharan Africa/Pakistan) and support and nurture the market leads through to the application stage.

Royal Holloway and Bedford New College

Title: Marketing, recruitment and admissions solution to international students
Outcome: Awarded to Study Group
Procurement value: £25 million
Description: The exclusive third-party provider of the marketing, recruitment and admissions solution to International Students on behalf of the University recruited through the agent channel with the exclusion of Australia, New Zealand, North America and Western Europe has been awarded to Study Group Limited with a procurement value of £25 million.

University of Westminster

Title: Media planning and buying services
Outcome: Awarded to Hunterlodge Advertising
Procurement value: Approx. £200,000 – £350,000
Description: The University appointed a strategic partner marketing agency that will help to deliver effective and targeted UK and international marketing campaigns. This will include media buying and planning services, using a combination of digital (including, but not limited to Search Engine Marketing, Social Media Marketing and display) and offline channels (including Out of Home) to achieve campaign and brand objectives.

De Montfort University 

Title: London campus
Outcome: Awarded to Oxford International Education Group
Procurement value: £236 million
Description: De Montfort University (DMU) has strategic objectives to connect to the infrastructure of the capital, operating a campus in London to raise the profile of the university and capitalise on student recruitment growth potential. The aim of this procurement exercise is to appoint a high quality, commercially minded partner with a demonstrable and successful track record in partnership working, student recruitment and providing a consistently excellent student experience.

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