Whether Universities are in or out of the public procurement regime is a continuing source of debate ... if the views of delegates at an education sector conference last week are anything to go by. So what's the fuss all about?
In 2011, we asked whether the increase in the proportion of university funding coming from the Student Loans Company would mean universities were no longer subject to the public procurement regime under the Public Contracts Regulations (here's our blog link).
At the time (and with a loud sigh of disappointment from many university procurement officers!), the answer was that the Regulations would continue to apply as before. The Student Loans Company is a public body, and so the change was essentially swapping one public body funder (HEFCE) for another (the SLC). The change from grant to loan simply means its indirect public financing (rather than direct) but its public financing all the same.
However, we included one important caveat (with our future gazing hats on): "...in the event that the Student Loans Company is privatised...this may have an impact on the above analysis".
Then in June this year, in a speech about the Government's infrastructure plan, Danny Alexander confirmed the intention to sell off at least part of the student loan book with the promise of more to follow. So it seems that privatisation may well come to pass.
Details remain sketchy at the moment, but depending on how it is structured, privatisation of SLC (or sale of the student loan book, particularly relating to tuition fees) could mean that universities step out of the public procurement regime. But don't rip up those OJEU notices just yet. Watch this space...