“£1 billion University Challenge” laid down by University of Northampton’s Vice-Chancellor

UK universities should spend at least £1 billion of the £7 billion per annum they currently spend on procuring goods and services from external suppliers, with social enterprises.


That is the message from Professor Nick Petford, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Northampton, who will unveil his “£1 billion University Challenge” at a Westminster reception on Tuesday 12 June.


The University of Northampton’s strategic positioning, launched 18 months ago, is to be the UK’s leading university for social enterprise by 2015.


Professor Petford said: “The social enterprise sector needs to know it can get high value, long-term contracts, in order to give it the confidence it needs to attract investment and grow. The Higher Education sector is going to be leading the public sector in the way it uses its procurement power to support the social enterprise sector.”


“Buying from social enterprise suppliers means the Higher Education sector gets two things for the price of one – the University gets the product or service it requires, but it also helps deliver social value through the social enterprise. For example, one of our social enterprise partners, Goodwill Solutions, supplies office furniture to the University. Every time we buy a desk from Goodwill, the University gets the product it wants and Goodwill is able to continue to employ ex-offenders, therefore contributing to a reduction in re-offending in the local area. For this country to transform its services through social enterprise the sector must develop and the £1 billion University Challenge is crucial to that.”


Professor Petford’s proposal has already earned the backing of a number of key figures in the Higher Education and social enterprise sectors.


Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE):

“The £1 billion University Challenge is an excellent example of the innovative ways in which universities and colleges are contributing to economic growth. The scheme aims to support local and regional economies, and to bring wider social and community benefits, while helping universities and colleges to develop efficient, sustainable procurement practices which deliver their aims and objectives. HEFCE encourages universities and colleges to consider how they might become involved.”


Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Universities UK (UUK):

“UUK is delighted to endorse the £1 billion University Challenge. It is a great idea that will demonstrate yet again how the Higher Education sector, acting together, can deliver real impact.”


Karel Thomas, Executive Director, British Universities Finance Directors Group (BUFDG):

“The Higher Education sector is facing multiple challenges to manage costs, and alongside the targets for procurement set out in ‘The Diamond report’, the £1 billion University Challenge is an initiative that is ambitious and very worthwhile. The Higher Education sector is striving to be sustainable, in the full sense of the word, and that means universities thinking how best to use their procurement power. BUFDG looks forward to joining other sector groups in support of the Challenge.”


Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive, Social Enterprise UK:

“All organisations – public, private and voluntary – can improve their social impact through getting social enterprises into their supply chains. We are very excited about this initiative from the University of Northampton and are delighted to see them leading the way with real ambition. The Higher Education sector is an excellent place to galvanise commissioners and concentrate spending power on social enterprise. This could change the way generations of business people, civil servants and professionals think and act.”


Professor Petford will unveil his £1 billion University Challenge at a reception at One Great George Street, Westminster, starting at 6pm on Tuesday 12 June. The event will also see the launch of Inspire2Enterprise, a new national support service for the UK’s fast-growing social enterprise sector, by the University of Northampton and business performance specialists Exemplas.