Skip to main content

Commercial Operations

In the context of higher education, commercial operations encompass: campus services and facilities - provided to support students and staff attending or working at the institution; Commercial services for private clients - utilises the knowledge, expertise and facilities available from the institution; and International student recruitment and development.


Campus services typically included catering and student accommodation. They may be run by the institution or 'contracted out' and provided by a third party. For example, commercial bus companies are contracted by a number of institutions to operate bus services to enable students and staff to travel to the institution. As a general rule, campus services and facilities will be run to cover their costs, rather than with the aim of making a profit.

Commercial services for private clients include:

  1. research or consultancy services for a private client
  2. often linked to use of the institution's specialist facilities and equipment
  3. bespoke training or short courses

Commercial activities may be undertaken for profit, or as part of publicly supported research or knowledge transfer (KT).

KT involves the transfer of knowledge and expertise from the institution to private, public or non-for-profit organisations. Institutions may receive funding from government to engage in KT activities. The aim of public funding is normally to help the development of a knowledge-based economy. This is an economy where advanced knowledge forms the basis of competitive success, and in turn leads to increased employment and economic growth. These outcomes lead to public as well as private benefits.

Governors should be aware that commercial operations, especially when working with private clients, may have a very different risk-return profile when compared to those activities traditionally associated with higher education institutions.

Additional resources

Briefing note 6: Commercial operations

Commercial operations typically include the operation of campus-based services and facilities, including student accommodation; applied research, consultancy and training for private clients; and international recruitment. The purpose and operation of these activities varies. Each however impacts the successful operation of the provider.
Download the briefing note

Find out about other areas of Governor responsibilities

Governor responsibilities