Do you work for an Anchor Institution? If you work in a university or college then the answer is – you should be.

If your institution is based in Lancashire you may have already been part of the Preston Model of collaborative procurement, you will know that commissioning and procurement officers in anchor institutions in the region made big changes to their purchasing and commissioning methodology and were central to “realigning” ( to use Mrs May’s favourite new word) the local economy.

A community wealth building strategy channeled over £74 million of public spending into the Preston economy and almost £200 million extra redirected into the Lancashire economy.

This policy scaled across the UK that would reallocate over £7 billion of procurement into local economies.

Why does this matter for the higher education sector?

First because universities and colleges somehow did not connect enough with their local and regional communities before the Brexit referendum, when millions of people surrounded by growing universities and vibrant colleges who were pumping millions of pounds into their local economy did not see how it added value to them. That in turn has opened up the Pandora’s box of tuition fees.

Second, unless your Vice Chancellor, Principal or CEO is already on top of this you are likely to get a call soon from one of the new council leaders or elected Mayors around the UK convening a discussion on commissioning and procurement for growth.

Understanding how much of an anchor role your institution currently plays and how the mechanisms incorporated into the Social Value Act can change your status to that of a local and regional anchor institution is about to move centre stage in the your institution’s strategy and planning.

If you don’t know the economic answer to your institution’s added social value, economic sustainability, inclusion or social impact there’s work being done in HEFCE and in the NHS Federation to help you understand how to measure it and increase social value and social impact.

All universities will have people working frantically on research impact but this is only part of this growing story.

Expressing your local social impact and regional financial footprint is the start. You will have a reports somewhere about how many people you employ and what revenues you bring to your region. You will have flagship projects with local impact. But it is all about to go up 10 gears. How can you add social value and economic growth with your spending power and collaborate with other anchor institutions for maximum impact?

While universities are currently being assailed politically from all sides, embracing social value and anchor institution status gives beleaguered institutions an opportunity to change the narrative. In doing so they will forge local alliances and partnerships that they can call on for support – support that was missing in 2016 and is missing now on tuition fees – support from their local communities.

Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham warned universities in this week’s Sunday Times:

The Sector has been too insular for too long. University leaders have spent too much time talking to each other and not enough time talking to their local communities……

That does not mean more press conferences, it mean meeting with councils, colleges, NHS trusts, police authorities and leading local businesses to discuss collaborative procurement, community wealth building and place making strategies to add social value and economic growth to the local economy.

As we found with the Preston Model the big money was found in combined commissioning and procurement by local anchor institutions. Bill Rammell, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire will be speaking on how higher education institutions can meet this challenge later in March at the Commissioning and Procurement for Growth Conference, accompanied by experts from across commissioning and procurement.

Neil Stewart
Editorial Director, The Education Studio