Julie Barker, previous chair of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO), has used her extensive foodservice experience to start her own consultancy, alongside her role as non-executive director of the College and University Business Officers association (CUBO). She talks to Lisa Jenkins
In layman’s terms what does CUBO do?
CUBO is a member association that represents the commercial leadership on higher education sites across all campus services, such as catering, accommodation, hotels, conferencing, facilities management, leisure, sport, nurseries, security and retail.
Members are responsible for ensuring high-quality services are available to students, staff and visitors. In a recent snap poll, 25 CUBO members reported catering income of £101.5m, equating to an average of £4m of revenue across the group.
What is your role within the association?
I am on the CUBO board as a non-executive director, working closely with CUBO’s chief executive Jan Capper.
How would you suggest the industry uses CUBO to benefit their businesses?
CUBO is a forum to share knowledge, support managers’ and senior leaders’ development, and for teams to work together across what will be a challenging few years as we see the impact of Brexit.
We are also seeing the benefits of working collaboratively with strategic partners in driving innovation around technological advances, developing new products and progressive services.
Universities are at the forefront of learning and research partnerships, and are great places to develop, nurture and showcase products and services. It’s a sector that embraces innovation.
One of the decisions around university catering is whether to outsource. What are the benefits?
Increasingly we are seeing a blend of mixed economies that deliver the best of both worlds. There are now few universities that don’t have an outsourced, high street retail-branded partner, such as Starbucks, Subway, Greggs, Costa or Pret. We need to be mindful of student expectations – they have grown up with some of these brands and expect to see them. This is all about ensuring the right student experience and fuses high-street lifestyle and coffee culture on campus.
Insourcing enables greater control of managed services and the teams on-site; it can be perceived as more ‘caring’ of results, with 100% ownership/buy-in to institutional ethos when responsibility falls to that university. Sites can also take advantage of TUCO national frameworks that allow for good buying practices and prices.
The downsides of keeping it in-house are high staffing costs, public sector bureaucracy, constraints on being ‘fleet of foot’ and a potential lack of investment.
Both have their benefits; there is no right or wrong answer. Either way, the overarching leadership (by CUBO members) is vital to the success of campus services – whatever the university chooses to do.