Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6246

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Vol cxlii No 11

pp. 214–263

Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academical year 2010–11

1. Introduction

1.1 The General Board present this Annual Report on their work for the academical year 2010–11.

1.2 The year’s business was dominated by the Government’s announcements of changes in the national landscape for higher education and research: cuts in public funding and the new arrangements for funding undergraduates and undergraduate education; the evolution of the Research Excellence Framework (the REF); revised national arrangements for quality assurance; and uncertainty about the future role of HEFCE in the proposed new regulatory framework. In a different domain, the implications of the Government’s new immigration policy, together with frequent, ill-considered changes of the operational arrangements, continue to pose a great threat to the University’s ability to attract the brightest and best students, researchers, and academic staff from across the world. Much time was spent making representations to the highest levels and responses to consultations about immigration. The Board have sought to ensure that the Schools, Faculties, and Departments are well placed, notwithstanding the uncertainties inherent in the new arrangements and pace of change, to continue to perform at the highest level. Planning for the University’s submission for the REF, now confirmed for 2013, underpins much of that consideration (see section 8.4), as does making sure that the case for supporting sustained excellence in teaching and research is recognized.

1.3 Looking internally, the Board concluded the review of teaching and research in the Social Sciences by the publication of the following Reports: Report of the General Board on the establishment of a Faculty of Human, Social and Political Science (Reporter, 2010–11, p. 600); and the Report of the General Board on the introduction of new Triposes in Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, and in Human, Social, and Political Sciences (Reporter, 2010–11, p. 958). The Board consider these developments are in the best long-term interest of the health of the Social Sciences in Cambridge, and are grateful to Professor Brown, as Head of School, and Dr Good, as Chairman of the informal management committee for the new Tripos, for their persistence and patience in bringing this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

2. University Finance and Planning

2.1 The Board discussed proposals for responding to the Government’s plans for changing the basis of funding for Home/EU undergraduates, including the significant difference between anticipated fee income (based on a £9,000 fee) and real teaching costs. They discussed how to respond to the request for a new OFFA Access Agreement, noting that much of the debate was being set by the Government’s policies and timetables regarding undergraduates. The Board were concerned that in considering the future size and composition of the student body, financial exigency alone should not determine academic policy; the balance between Arts and Science students, for example, should not only be considered in a resources context.

2.2 The general financial outlook for the University has not changed significantly from last year, albeit there was now greater clarity about the government funding regime. The projected cumulative deficit over the next four years is consistent with the guidelines set by the Council, but a return to a balanced budget will only be achieved by following a tight planning regime encompassing cost reduction and income generation. The Working Groups set up by the Planning and Resources Committee (PRC) on organizational and financial efficiency have led to a range of actions, including Reviews of the Unified Administrative Service (UAS) and of IT infrastructure support. Further work will be undertaken on cost recovery of sponsored research, as sponsors continued to exert downward pressure on potential cost reimbursement.

2.3 The continued vitality of the University depends on a programme of capital expenditure, including both large items of equipment and building projects. As funding for both from public sources (HEFCE and the Research Councils) is under serious downward pressure, the Board supported the creation within the framework of the Budget Report of a Capital Fund, which will enable the University to maintain, and plan, a level of recurrent spend, to be supplemented by grants and donations wherever feasible. The Board have also welcomed the development of a Capital Plan, which is intended to enable the redevelopment, initially, of the New Museums Site and consequent development opportunities, which will be the subject of future Reports of the Council. The preliminary proposals involve the relocation of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology to West Cambridge, redevelopment of the New Museums Site, and certain projects on the Sidgwick Avenue Site, Madingley Rise, and the Old Schools. The Board also noted that the PRC planned to initiate a review of room management processes and systems. Low room utilization rates could be partially addressed with an effective IT system for room management but significant improvement will also require a major shift in the approach of Faculties and Departments to the timetabling of lectures and classes.

3. Academic standards and Quality Assurance and Enhancement

3.1 The Board have, through the Education Committee, responded to an unusually large number of national consultations concerning academic standards, quality assurance arrangements, and public information about the sector’s educational provision. These have included Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) consultations on the future arrangements for quality assurance in England and Northern Ireland (by means of institutional review (replacing the previous system of institutional audit)) and on the QAA’s ‘Academic Infrastructure’. Our responses regularly emphasized: the inappropriateness of attempts to set sector-wide academic standards across all institutions and disciplines; the need to reduce the regulatory burden on institutions; the desirability of a proportionate and risk-based approach; and the need to avoid yet more resources being diverted towards compliance with national requirements. The final report arising from the review of external examining arrangements, commissioned by Universities UK (UUK), has been considered. While its recommendations reflect, in the main, the Board’s current Guidelines to External Examiners, the Board have satisfied themselves that there are good reasons where Cambridge’s arrangements differ from those recommended by the review. Following consultation by HEFCE, UUK, and GuildHE on information published by institutions, all Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) will be required to publish (initially in September 2012 for 2013–14 undergraduate entrants) ‘Key Information Sets’ (KIS) for each undergraduate course and for each year of that course, in a standard sector-wide format. Whilst KIS data will partly be drawn from data already supplied for other purposes, each HEI will be responsible for also providing data relating to study (including the proportions of time spent in various learning and teaching activities, and the mix of assessment methods) and costs (fee and bursary information, and residential costs). Whilst the Board are not fully persuaded of the value of KISs, their introduction will be a time-consuming exercise. Responses made on the Board’s behalf to consultations of this kind are now being placed on the Education Section’s website (

3.2 A Full Review of the Faculty of English, chaired by the Provost of King’s and including external members, was undertaken. Particular recommendations included: content and delivery of the Tripos; College Teaching Officer (CTO) related matters; the Faculty’s governance; and its research performance (including its prospects in the REF). A Steering Committee, led by the Head of the School of Arts and Humanities, is working with the Faculty to progress the Review’s recommendations. The following institutions were the subject of the Board’s regular programme of Teaching and Learning Reviews: the Faculties of History and of Mathematics; the Departments of Materials Science and Metallurgy, Pathology, Pharmacology, and Physics; and the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership. A Review of the Department of Genetics was also conducted, covering, as well as the areas usually covered in Teaching and Learning Reviews, the Department’s organization and research. Arising from the recommendations of an earlier review the Department of Linguistics and the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics were merged to form a Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages (Reporter, 2010–11, p. 357). Responses to reviews of the following institutions were considered and recom­mendations arising from them taken forward: the Faculties of Music and of Philosophy; the Department of History and Philosophy of Science; and Development Studies. The Board have agreed that, in future, Teaching and Learning Reviews should include a student member on each committee, and that review reports and formal comments on their findings should be published internally on the Education Section’s website.

3.3 The response rate by Cambridge students for the 2010 National Student Survey was 52%, slightly down on the 55% achieved in 2009. Overall satisfaction remained at 91%, compared with 93% at Oxford, but ahead of other Russell Group institutions and significantly greater than the sector average. The Education Committee reviewed the results at Tripos level, and data were distributed to Faculties and Departments and all were asked to comment on the results. Particular attention was paid to the responses of the institutions responsible for the four Triposes which scored below 80% for overall satisfaction.

3.4 Cambridge students also participated in the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) in 2010, scoring their experiences above the national average in two-thirds of the topics covered, and above the Russell Group average. The topics that were viewed less positively by Cambridge students were predominantly in the areas of ‘skills and personal development’, ‘career and professional development’, ‘assessment and feedback’ and ‘organisation and management’. The results of the survey have been disseminated to Schools for action.

3.5 The Education Committee endorsed a pilot scheme for on-line voting in the election of students to Faculty Boards in November 2010. The pilot was successful both in reducing the administrative load and in increasing turnout; the Board approved changes to the regulations for voting to permit on-line voting to be offered in all Faculty Board student elections with effect from 2011.

3.6 The Board set up a Teaching and Learning Support Services Steering Group under the chairmanship of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education). The Group is charged with keeping under review, and promoting good practice in, the use of digital/electronic materials in teaching programmes. The Group has begun its work by reviewing the University’s use of ‘Virtual Learning Environments’. The Language Centre was brought within the School of Arts and Humanities with effect from 1 August 2011 (Reporter, 2010–11, p. 907).

3.7 The Board have set up, under the chairmanship of Professor Ian White, a Board of Executive and Professional Education (BEPE) which will promote, and monitor, these increasingly important types of activity across the University. That Board, which includes representatives of the Colleges, have begun their work in identifying how best to promote Cambridge’s expertise, in the development of a website, and in agreeing means of endorsing current or proposed provision. That Board’s work should be beneficial in assessing the benefits of the University’s overseas activities in these areas.

3.8 The Education Committee has given attention to a range of equality and diversity issues relating to teaching, learning, and assessment. Recommendations arising from a Gender Working Group, established by that Committee, are to be implemented. Work has begun on establishing University and intercollegiate policies on ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled students. The Committee has established a sub-committee to advise it and the Board on these matters.

3.9 A number of teaching programmes were subject to scrutiny by professional, statutory, and regulatory bodies. The Board received positive reports on: the British Psychological Society’s accreditation of relevant parts of the Politics, Psychology, and Sociology Tripos; the Geological Society’s accreditation of the M.Sci. in Natural Sciences (Part II and Part III in Geological Sciences); the Royal Society of Chemistry’s accreditation of the M.Sci. in Natural Sciences (Part II and Part III in Chemistry); the Institution of Chemical Engineers’ accreditation of the M.Eng. (Chemical Engineering); and OfSTED’s evaluation of the P.G.C.E. programme in the Faculty of Education, which was commended for its excellence.

4. Degrees, courses, and examinations

4.1 The Board, jointly with the Council, published Reports on (i) the future of Ordinary Examinations and the Ordinary B.A. Degree (Reporter, 2010–11, p. 208) and (ii) the introduction of the Degree of Master of Corporate Law (Reporter, 2010–11, p. 189). The first of these provided that allowances towards the Ordinary B.A. Degree be no longer awarded, and set the criteria under which students might be entitled to the Ordinary B.A. Degree or be declared to have deserved that degree by the Council’s Applications Committee. The Board have also reported on the introduction of a Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Tripos and of a Human, Social, and Political Sciences Tripos (Reporter, 2010–11, p. 958), to be offered from 2013. The proposed Triposes, which were subject to extensive consultation with the institutions concerned and with the Colleges, are expected to make major contributions to Cambridge’s undergraduate provision in the social sciences. Other educational developments in the year included: approval of significant reform of the Geographical and Music Triposes; the development of ECTS (European Credit Transfer Scheme) equivalences for the University’s Masters’ courses; and agreement that the Department of Engineering should assume responsibility for the student exchange with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and establish a new exchange with the Technical University Munich.

4.2 New M.Phil. courses were approved in: Finance and Economics; Nuclear Energy; Clinical Science (in place of the rescinded course in Translational Medicine and Therapeutics); and in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (in place of rescinded courses in Linguistics, and English and Applied Linguistics). The M.Phil. course in Management Research was rescinded. New part-time M.St. courses were approved in: Historic Buildings; Building History; and Advanced Subject Teaching.

5. Graduate Education

5.1 The Annual Report of the Board of Graduate Studies (BGS) for 2010–11 will be published at a later date but the General Board take this opportunity to include a summary of key BGS business considered in 2010–11.

5.2 The Board were pleased to note that Cambridge had been awarded a Doctoral Training Centre by the ESRC under that Council’s new funding arrangements. The Centre will include provision for 26 studentships in 2011–12 but as for other Research Councils would not include separate financial provision for the College fee.

5.3 Following a 9% increase in graduate student numbers in 2009–10, it was agreed that a cap should be introduced for the intake of Masters’ students in 2010–11. Colleges were asked to provide their maximum intake which was used to inform the Schools’ planning round and to set the limit on Masters’ student admission. The Board are grateful for the engagement of Faculties and Departments in these arrangements, which they recognize are not universally welcome. Discussions to increase College capacity for graduates have made good progress through the University and Colleges Joint Committee.

5.4 The Board approved recommendations by the BGS, in consultation with the Education Committee, on future arrangements for consideration of graduate matters. These proposals, which are the subject of a Report for Discussion in the Michaelmas Term 2011 (Reporter, 2010–11, p. 998), are that matters of policy relating to Graduate Students and graduate qualifications should be transferred from the BGS to the General Board through their Education Committee, with consequential adjustments to the memberships of the BGS and of the Education Committee. The proposals require no change in the formal responsibilities of the BGS or Degree Committees, but their implementation will enable the BGS to give increased attention to individual student cases and operational matters affecting Graduate Students, University institutions, Degree Committees, and the Colleges. The proposals also aim to: bring together consideration of cognate activities regardless of the mode of study; streamline procedures to generate efficiencies (including saving academic staff time); and align policy and operations for all types of students to achieve greater clarity and equity of treatment. They complement changes in the organization of central administrative support provided by the Academic Division.

6. International activities

6.1 Discussions with Heads of School and other academic leaders have highlighted the extent and range of international collaborations throughout the University and the opportunities that exist for strategic engagement. The year ahead will focus on identifying those collaborations that would benefit from strategic designation and associated support.

6.2 The appointment of a new Head of the International Strategy Office together with a refocusing of the Office’s responsibilities have given added momentum to the General Board’s development of a strategy for the University’s international activities. The Office has identified the importance of the University’s relationship with the European Union, and has initiated an analysis to focus on opportunities for strengthening this relationship. Other initial priorities will be the University’s engagement with India and China, working with the Research Strategy Office and the Development Office.

6.3 The General Board are giving attention to the procedures for signing international agreements and are developing a protocol that will support Schools, Faculties, and Departments in initiating international partnerships, while providing better coordination of international activities and ensuring that legal and reputational factors are given due consideration.

7. Establishment of new senior positions

7.1 As the result of generous benefactions, the Board proposed the establishment of a Dyson Professorship of Fluid Mechanics in the Department of Engineering and a Sultan Qaboos Professorship of Abrahamic Faiths and Shared Values in the Faculty of Divinity.

7.2 With the support of the Medical Research Council, the Board proposed the establishment of a MRC Professorship of Cognitive Psychology.

7.3 The following Professorships were established, or re-established, supported on general University funds by the reallocation of recurrent funding within the Schools concerned:

Professorship of Biostatistics in the Department of Medical Genetics

Professorship of Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience in the Department of Experimental Psychology

Professorship of Education in the Faculty of Education

Professorship of Finance in Judge Business School

Professorship of Molecular Physiology and Pathology in the Department of Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience

Professorship of Polymeric Materials Chemistry and Physics in the Department of Chemistry.

7.4 In addition, the following Professorships, supported by generous benefactions, were re-established for a further tenure:

Professorship of Experimental Medicine (entitled as the Genzyme Professorship of Experimental Medicine) in the Department of Medicine

The Sheila Joan Smith Professorship of Immunology in the Department of Clinical Medicine

7.5 The Board were pleased to recommend the designation of a Regius Professorship of Engineering to commemorate the outstanding service of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of his retirement from the office of Chancellor.

8. Research Policy and Research Assessment

8.1 Research activity grew in 2010–11 compared with 2009–10:

(i)Research Income grew by 7.5% compared with 2009–10. Most of this growth is attributable to grants from UK Charities and the European Commission.

(ii)The Research Councils and UK Charities continued to be the University’s main sponsors, generating 41.3% and 28.6%, respectively of the total research income received. Given the predominance of the Research Councils in supporting the University’s research activities, the Research Policy Committee (RPC) was very concerned to learn that not only had Research Council income started to fall but the value, based on 100% full economic costing (fEC), of applications and contracts submitted by the University to all funders decreased during 2009–10 by 10% to £1.26 billion.

8.2 The RPC has identified a need for enhanced research management information to understand the reasons for this trend and appropriate remedial measures. A Working Party, under the Chairmanship of the Director of the Management Information Services Division (MISD), has now been set up to take this forward on a University-wide basis.

8.3 As a further measure to strengthen the coordination of research activity across institutional boundaries, and in areas considered of strategic importance, the RPC implemented its formal programme of strategic initiatives and networks in the Lent Term. The Strategic Initiatives and Networks scheme aims to highlight the University’s strength in, and commitment to, a small number of cross-School thematic research areas. Applications are considered by the RPC and are required to demonstrate clear academic leadership and goals, broad support from the academic community, and substantial potential for attracting new partnerships and research funding. Modest pump priming financial support is provided and designation is for a period of three years. The first awards under the scheme were made in 2010; further awards were announced in July 2011:

Strategic Initiatives

Strategic Networks

Neuroscience (2010)

Psychometrics (2010)

Infectious Diseases (2010)

Digital Humanities (2011)

Stem Cells (2010)

Sensors (2011)

Conservation (2010)

Nano (2011)

Language Sciences (2011)

Immunology (2011)

Cancer (2011)

Metabolism (2011)

Energy (2011)

Financial support for these awards now stands at £1,206,368 over a three-year period.

8.4 In July 2011, the HEFCE published its ‘Assessment Framework and Guidance on Submissions’ which defines the policies and procedures underpinning the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), for which the staff census date is 31 October 2013 and the full submission is due by 29 November 2013. This document confirmed that ‘research impact’, which replaces the esteem element in the previous Research Assessment Exercise, will count for 20% of the overall assessment with research outputs contributing 65% and environment 15% to the assessment profile of Units of Assessment.

8.5 The REF Policy Committee, which comprises the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Heads of Schools, is coordinating planning for the REF with the support of a number of specialist REF committees. Given the novelty of the concept of research impact, and the University’s earlier experience of HEFCE’s Research Impact Pilot Exercise, the RPC launched a University-wide ‘impact’ pilot exercise in Michaelmas Term, which required Faculties and Departments to prepare one case study each and to identify other examples which might be suitable for the REF. The case studies were assessed at School level and a number were re-assessed by a central committee of HEFCE REF Panel members. This exercise demonstrated the significant further work that is needed in almost every case to demonstrate impact. The revised impact template and individual Panels’ expectations of types of impact they expect to receive have now been published, and the RPC will progress its impact preparations in the coming year.

8.6 During the year HEFCE announced that, unless exceptional circumstances existed, only research judged to be of international significance (3* or 4* REF quality rating) would be funded in future. Linked with HEFCE’s decision to restrict considerably the eligibility of non-University employees for inclusion in the REF submission, it is possible that the University’s REF submission will be smaller than in the past, which may have funding implications. To gain a better understanding of the position, the RPC will run an exercise in the Michaelmas Term 2011 to form a preliminary view of the quality and quantity of the current research outputs of all those who appear to meet HEFCE’s eligibility criteria for submission.

9. Human resources

9.1 The Human Resources Committee reports jointly to the Council and the General Board. The major items of business considered by the Board were:

The Equal Pay Report 2010, and the developing work for the Gender Equality Group

Revised Equal Opportunities Policy, following the Equality Act 2010

Launch of the Employment and Career Management Scheme for Researchers

Adopting the new immigration rules, as a result of Government’s intention for tighter national immigration

Agreement on a University & Colleges’ Joint Lectureship Scheme

Implementation of a revised Contribution Increment Scheme for Academic-Related Staff (up to Grade 11) and Assistant Staff

Modifications to the Senior Academic Promotions Procedure.

9.2 The year has seen the need for the University to adapt quickly to a number of legislative changes, most notably the Equality Act 2010, changes to immigration rules and related procedures, Agency Workers’ Directive, the abolition of the National Default Retirement Age, and pension tax relief changes. Higher Education is also seeing major changes to the USS pension scheme, and ongoing changes to other more localized schemes. The University is embarking on consultation for changes to its CPS pension scheme in order to ensure its sustainability over the longer term.

9.3 In addition, the Board has been actively engaged in the Voluntary Severance Scheme which was launched during the academical year, which forms part of the University’s overall approach to managing its costs and meeting efficiency needs at a time of strong financial constraints. The Board noted that some 200 staff would leave by 30 September 2011 under the VSS scheme.

10. Health and safety

10.1 During a time of significant change within government departments and organizations related to reducing operational costs, the University has continued to experience a positive and pro-active relationship with the enforcement authorities involved with health and safety. The University’s reputation for effective and responsible health and safety management and the subsequent trust afforded to us by the enforcement authorities resulted in a reduction in the frequency of inspections compared to previous years, which in turn is beneficial to the authorities with respect to their limited resource. This trust, once earned, has to be maintained on an on-going basis. Although external inspection frequency may further reduce, the onus subsequently lies with the University, through the Health and Safety Executive Committee chaired by the Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor to monitor and improve standards with less visible external intervention – particularly as the consequences for failures in health and safety management are now punished more severely than ever.

10.2 The Health and Safety Executive Committee monitors the University’s health and safety performance through reports of regular internal and external audits across all departments, institutions, and associate bodies. These consist of both general ‘safety management’ audits, and ‘subject specific’ auditing, which includes radioactivity, chemicals, biological, and food safety. In addition, external audits have been undertaken for the operation of the Safety Office and the formation of the Occupational Health and Safety Service, both concluding good management systems are in place.

10.3 As a leading research University, Cambridge has to be able to control and respond to emerging new risks relating to this research, requiring new policies, operating systems and guidelines, for example those relating to nanotechnology, which have been recognized both nationally and internationally as setting the standards for safety management in this field.

2 November 2011

L. K. Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor

Christopher Crow

Peter Haynes

N. Bampos

Simon Franklin

Rachael Padman

William Brown

Andrew Gamble

J. Rallison

H. A. Chase

C. A. Gilligan

Patrick Sissons

Sarah Coakley

David Good

Morgan Wild