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Earlier this year the Planning and Resources Committee recommended that a consultation be undertaken throughout the University and the Colleges concerning the University's Mission for the next decade in the light of a range of current factors and influences.
At the beginning of September the Vice-Chancellor sent a Consultation Paper to all Council and General Board institutions, requesting their views on the issues raised. The text of this Consultation Paper is published below. Individual members of the Regent House who wish to comment on the Paper should do so directly to the Vice-Chancellor at the Old Schools no later than Friday, 17 December 1999.
REVIEW OF THE UNIVERSITY'S MISSION: A CONSULTATION
The Council and General Board invite views on the Mission of the University
Is the University currently undertaking all that its mission implies; and should the mission for the next decade be reoriented in view of changing societal and financial factors?
Against the background of the factors mentioned in the appendices to this paper, institutions are invited to respond to the questions which follow. Where work is already proceeding on the issues raised, this is mentioned after the related question(s).
1. At present the University claims a mission to 'foster and develop academic excellence across a wide range of subjects and all appropriate levels of study'. It might be said that the three main educational principles of a traditional university are a broad range of subjects, leading to all levels of qualification, available to all who can benefit. It has to be asked whether the combination of breadth and unrestrained steady growth in student numbers is affordable, given the recent downward pressure on the unit of resource for teaching by the University, and the effect on College finances of the new College Fee arrangements from 1999-2000. So:
2. The present mission claims a strategy to 'produce graduates of the calibre sought by industry, the professions, the public service, and the academic world, and to enable graduates to compete on the international stage'. This is clearly a substantial agenda, largely comprising intellectual and inter-personal training to develop students' 'qualities of mind', and it might be thought that adding to it was unnecessary.
3. However, much has been said recently of the perceived need to instil specific skills in graduates; a working party of the University and the Colleges has already analysed such pronouncements and recommended a list of skills which Cambridge undergraduates can be expected to develop. Nevertheless other supposedly-key characteristics of graduates have been widely discussed: attractiveness to small business, self-employability, entrepreneurship (see 8. below). There has even been talk of the benefits to students of paid work in term-time. So:
4. The present University Mission refers to partnership between the University and the Colleges as central to the University's development, and it would be surprising if this were challenged in any way. However the relationship is a changing one, most recently against the background of the fundamental change in the undergraduate College Fee arrangements. So:
5. At present the University claims a mission to 'encourage and pursue research of the highest quality across the full range of subjects studied in the University, and to develop new areas of research …'. Some General Board institutions have developed that general statement, to provide for themselves a balanced research profile combining the skills available (or which can be obtained by selective recruitment of academic staff) and an appropriate research agenda with a reasonable probability of being funded. Whilst that process might be easier for the 'applied' subjects to undertake, it provides some prospect of planning the deployment of scarce academic resources rather than simply relying on the natural attrition of specific research topics. Arguably resources might also be better deployed if there was greater cross-subject collaboration. So:
6. In spite of the extensive links with industry and commerce which already exist within the University, the current statement of mission nowhere mentions this aspect of University activity. That may reflect some ambivalence about such collaboration: on the one hand there is a view that the only advantage to the University is financial (with many potential disadvantages); on the other hand there is the view that much can be (and has already been) achieved to mutual benefit.
7. Following Government interest in the matter, the HEFCE, DTI, and DfEE have established an HE Reach-out to Business and the Community Fund (HEROIC). This initiates a third permanent HEFCE funding stream 'for activities to increase the capability to respond to the needs of business, … where this will lead to wealth creation'. Inevitably universities bidding for funding have to demonstrate a strategy for improving their productive interaction with business. A working group led by the Treasurer is already preparing the University's bid (due by 1 October); success might initially generate up to £1m over four years.
8. As a quite separate matter, an initiative to establish a Cambridge Entrepreneurship Centre has already passed the first stage in the Science-Enterprise Challenge competition. This Centre would focus on the commercial exploitation of knowledge via businesses based in the region. It would also offer courses on entrepreneurship to students.
9. The 'community' is of course wider than business, but the current mission is also silent on relations with the regional and national artistic and cultural community.
The following supplementary notes are included with this Consultation Paper:
Appendix A, giving the internal background leading up to the consultation,
Appendix B, summarizing external factors which may be relevant in this context.
1. At a time when a greater range of influences is bearing on UK higher education than ever before, the Planning and Resources Committee have recommended that the University, through its constituent institutions, undertake a review of the University's Mission. The current extended statement of the Mission forms a preface to the University Strategic Plan, and was first drafted in 1992. The wording has been amended to a limited extent since then, but the Mission as such has not been reviewed.
2. It is a requirement of the HEFCE that 'the governing body considers, as frequently as necessary, the institution's mission [statement] in the context of national education policy and market conditions' ('institution' here meaning whole institution). It is increasingly the case that universities are expected to have statements of aims, objectives, and plans flowing from their varying missions, and they are seen to be lacking (and may indeed lose funding for teaching or for research) if up-to-date statements are not available.
3. In the common parlance of institutional planning, Cambridge is traditionally and firmly a 'bottom-up' university. That is, it has relied on the constituent academic Departments, Faculties, and Centres and Institutes to develop plans for new courses and to pursue appropriate research strategies, within an overall mission of the most wide-ranging excellence; all working in concert with colleagues in the independent Colleges.
4. Even if there had been a desire for the sort of 'top-down' planning which some Higher Education institutions adopt, it has always been possible to point to a sound record of high quality, and to argue that the inherent serendipity of much research activity makes 'planning' impractical in a research-intensive university. However the range of external factors now affecting higher education (as demonstrated in recent CVCP discussions amongst others) suggests that the time is ripe for a review of the implications of a particular mission for the activities undertaken at the 'coal-face'.
Developments in IT and digital broadcasting
Growth of the Internet as source/medium
Market for distance learning
Changing patterns of student demand
The European dimension
International collaboration and competition
From 'elite' to 'mass' system
A means to competitiveness, and social inclusion
More diverse sector and student population
The burgeoning regional dimension
Students as customers - therefore service standards
Promotion of lifelong learning
Teaching quality control and assurance
Capping of Home/EU-student tuition fee income
Research quality assessment/selectivity
Transparent use of public funding
Academic profession to be more 'professional'
Declining teaching and research resources
Substantial historic and fresh investment needs
Rise of special initiative funds with 'strings'
Shift towards fixed-/short-term funding
Potential benefit of collaboration with industry
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Cambridge University Reporter, 13 October 1999
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.