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Tuesday, 30 May 2000. A Discussion was held in the Council Room of the following Reports:
The Report of the Council, dated 15 May 2000, on the construction of a new research facility for the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Anatomy (p. 687).
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor: 'There were a number of people who from time to time came to work in the labs to carry out casual work of various kinds - some Government department, perhaps, wanted a little work done on some particular subject, or some private person wished to come and do a little research work'1. So said Sir William Pope in a Discussion reported in December 1932. (Useful thing, the historical record of our deliberations.) It is admitted that no one in the University can tell you how many embedded laboratories we have, how many commercial and industrial concerns are using our facilities, and on what basis. I do not think it is satisfactory that this should still be the case seventy years later. Will this new research facility be all ours? Will it remain so? How shall we know? Should not such Graces in future also include a requirement to report back on the fulfilment of the stated purpose of new buildings?
I make, secondly, a point I have made before on Reports of this sort, but with a new and more urgent emphasis. I hope the gentleness of the teasing will reassure that what I have in mind is principally a criticism of our failure to provide ourselves with fail-safe devices.
Here, as elsewhere, we are delegating very considerable decision-making powers to administrative officers. It is all a bit open-ended. Of course the place could not run unless authority to take day-to-day decisions could be committed into hands in the Old Schools. Yet the Regent House hands over such authority without making any provision to give itself an opportunity to check up on what happens subsequently and to do something about it if things go wrong. Look at this present Grace.
Why do we not put in hand a systematic review of the circumstances in which it is appropriate for it to be left to administrative discretion to carry things forward? And provide for staging posts when there has to be some reporting back? For administrators and academic decision-makers do make mistakes, the most enormous gaffes, and then they roll up like hedgehogs, all prickles but shaking inside, and refuse to explain themselves.
One example must have been in many colleagues' minds as the closing date for appeal passed on 19 May. A consequence of our allowing the General Board to get control of the further reform of promotions procedures, with no requirement to come back to the Regent House, has been that procedural granny-knots are being tied with string across the gaps in the netting by a variety of unidentified figures, without even the General Board knowing. No one took stock of the obvious flaws in those procedures before the Green Book was issued, despite many attempts to call attention to them, not all by any means made by me.
That would be bad enough. But look at the hedgehoggy unfolding of events since. First the promotions round stopped and restarted in the History Faculty, without the General Board being consulted, on the sole authority of unidentified 'senior officers' in the Old Schools (though one hedgehog did briefly identify himself before curling up). Then someone removed a whole raft of old references from a file, no one will say on whose authority or on what principles. (The hedgehog who did that is so tightly rolled that it is impossible to guess at its identity, though I have my theories. The nervous little hogs on my Faculty's swollen new 'committee' put out trembling paws while covering their eyes and point at one another on this one.)
Then the Faculty Board (sub-species Hedgehoggus academicus) neglected to appoint a Chairman to discharge the 'Chairman's Green Book duties' with reference to me. Various non-Chairman hedgehogs were present, though not all of them for long, at the feedback session we tape-recorded. (The hedgehogs brought their own tape-recorder and the two tape-recorders sat side by side on the carpet.) I am especially grateful to the non-Chairman former Chairman hedgehog for his honest 'statement'; he uncurled to read it into the recorder before rolling away down the stairs. I hope everyone read page 8 of the Times Higher Education Supplement of 26 May.
So my point in connection with this Report and this proposed Grace is not only about delegation; it is also about accountability. Hedgehogs, own up to what you have done. The Hedgehoggi academici historici are now making moves which put my job in peril, a tenured University officer of twenty years' standing, for attempting to put my interdisciplinary lectures at the disposal of more than one Faculty. I want it very publicly on the record that I have been asking for years to be allowed to move away to an environment in the University where such work is respected. But then, of course, the historical hedgehogs are attempting damage limitation. They are wise if there are to be more accounts of their doings in the press.
So let Experimental Psychology not be the scene of experiments of sorts no one has envisaged, out of Regent House control. Let us keep a proper eye on this project by requiring accountability for administrative action.
1 Reporter, 2 December 1924, p. 318.
The Report of the Council, dated 15 May 2000, on proposed collaborative arrangements between the Local Examinations Syndicate and National Computer Systems, Inc. (p. 689).
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, here is another example of our taking a decision on trust, without, it seems to me, sufficient evidence. We are told, without evidence, that our Local Examinations business will collapse unless we take this big 'pardner' with the stetson on board. Apparently it has to be this partner, though I am not clear how other local examinations boards across the country are to meet the Government's new requirements if this is the only partner and we have got it. We shall be short of candidates for admission. School children will not have enough examinations to take if we take to our collective Regent bosom the one and only possible partner with whom A level examinations can be conducted to Government specifications.
This partner is to have a controlling interest (4). I am not sure whether it would be a breach of Council confidentiality to tell you how that came about, so I will leave you to guess. (If the Council were more open with the Regent House, your imaginations would have less scope.) UCLES is to move part of its metaphorical and perhaps literal furniture into UCLES Ltd, in which this American provider of computer systems will be in charge.
We are to approve this plan (as with so many things put before the Regent House), at a stage when it is a mere embryo, and authorize the Local Examinations Syndicate to conclude the formal agreement on terms not yet decided. But among those terms is the open-ended possibility that National Computer Systems, Inc. may get control of further activities of the Syndicate (6). Admittedly we are promised a Report if that is planned, but what ensures that the moment when something really new is proposed will be correctly identified and a Report forthcoming? It is not a long distance from making arrangements for anonymous marking (a mechanical task suitable for computer systems) to taking over the framing of mark-schemes (an academic task). And presumably this dominant partner could refuse to allow a dependent UCLES to ask us at all. My great fear, here as elsewhere, is that the academic activities of the University will cease to be under our control, and business imperatives will run that which lies at the heart of our purposes as a university. This parasitic wasp is already within much of what we do.
I expect this Grace will go through, like other acts of blind trust of recent years labelled as Graces. One day all these wasps inside us will complete their life cycle. The consequences to the host will not be a pretty sight. But we shall not know, for the University will be no more; we shall have become a business, not 'cam.ac' but 'cam.com'.
Professor P. GODDARD (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak in my capacity as Chairman of the Local Examinations Syndicate.
In 1998 the Syndicate's examinations in the UK became the responsibility of a new company called Oxford, Cambridge, and RSA Examinations (OCR), which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University.
The Board of OCR has advised the Syndicate that it must respond to directives from the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to the three English examinations boards aimed at improving the services they provide to schools and candidates. These include a requirement that they return examination scripts to candidates and that scripts be marked anonymously. The Board of OCR has concluded that the only practical way to comply with these requirements is through the introduction of new document-processing technology, which will then enable the redesign of administrative processes and the introduction of new management practices.
After consideration of ways to achieve this objective, the Syndicate and the Board of OCR have jointly concluded that their first preference is to take up the opportunity offered by National Computer Systems, Inc. (NCS), an American company listed on the NASDAQ, to establish a joint-venture company in the UK to take responsibility for the administration of OCR's examinations. The Syndicate and the Board of OCR have reached this conclusion because they are aware that, from its work in the administration of large-scale public examinations in the USA, NCS has already developed the technology and workflow management experience sought by OCR. They believe there should be financial and operational advantages in working with an established leader in the field, compared to other possible ways forward.
If the proposed collaboration proceeds, OCR's examinations administration work will be undertaken by the joint venture, but OCR will remain fully responsible for professional matters, such as syllabus development, question paper writing, and grading standards, and for quality control. Thus OCR will remain accountable to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). It will also remain the point of contact for examination centres on all professional matters. The relationship between OCR, which will remain a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University, and the joint venture will be set out in a shareholder agreement, which is still the subject of negotiation. The shareholder agreement will also deal with such matters as the financial relations between the parties, control over the use of the name OCR, and control over the intellectual property rights contributed by the Syndicate and OCR to the joint venture.
The Syndicate and the Board of OCR have conceded that NCS should be the majority shareholder in the joint venture, since this is a fundamental condition of the deal. However, they are still taking external advice about the relevant proportions of shares to be held by each party.
In addition to the potential benefits for the administration of OCR's examinations, NCS has agreed to use the joint venture as the vehicle through which it will undertake other education-related businesses it plans to develop in the UK. This will bring to OCR an involvement in established on-line testing and curriculum support systems for schools and teachers. These are areas that OCR had already marked for development. Indirectly such developments will support the University's objectives of widening participation and access.
If the negotiations with NCS are brought to a successful conclusion, most of the staff of OCR will be asked to transfer to the joint venture. The transfers will be subject to the legislation governing the protection of employment on the transfer of undertakings and consultations with staff are in hand. The Syndicate and the Board of OCR will also need to be satisfied about the pension arrangements for staff who transfer to the joint-venture company. No redundancies are envisaged as a result of the establishment of the joint venture.
The Syndicate has concluded that its International and EFL examinations business should not participate in the joint venture because these two business streams now have administrative requirements which differ significantly from those of the highly-regulated business of OCR in the UK.
Although negotiations are still at an early stage, NCS concluded that they had reached the point where a public statement should be made to comply with NASDAQ listing rules. The Syndicate therefore asked the Council to publish a Report on the proposed collaboration to coincide with the US announcement.
The Syndicate commends the proposals to the University.
Dr D. M. THOMPSON (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, since this is the first Report of the Council that I can remember declining to sign during my term of service, I think it important to indicate to the Regent House my reasons. I entirely accept the arguments presented by the Local Examinations Syndicate for electronic means of delivering results in order to meet new government requirements, and I agree that the proposed link-up seems to be a sensible way forward. My main hesitation is in the proposal that before any negotiations begin the University should accept that it will have a minority share-holding in the new venture company. The proposal seems to involve the service-provider dictating the terms on which the service will be provided, and the capital sum which the Syndicate proposes to invest is a considerable one. In their present form, the proposals seem to me to present too much of a fait accompli to represent the opportunity of genuine negotiation. Since I am also Chairman of the Council's Audit Committee, I felt it important to preserve my neutrality at this point, lest questions about this course of action in relation to the University's assets be raised at a future point in time.
The Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 15 May and 11 May 2000, on changes to the M.B.A. Degree (p. 690).
Professor S. J. N. DAWSON:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as Director of the Judge Institute. The proposed changes to the M.B.A. involve adding a third way through which students may take the Cambridge M.B.A. The M.B.A. may already be taken in two ways: (1) as a course involving full-time study over one year, and (2) as a course over two years involving a break of one year, to be taken in industry at the end of the Lent Term in the first year. The proposal under discussion provides for an alternative two-year option, in which four intensive residential periods of study are combined with periods of study in private locations, remote from the University, in which the students have contact with the University through the latest educational technology which may include the world-wide web, e-mail, online classes, and video links. This proposal offers the University an unrivalled opportunity to enter the world of lifelong learning and to increase access for the most able students to enter graduate programmes in a creative and yet secure way.
Let me address the security aspect first. The proposal is to offer the same course content, the same examination and assessment regime, and the same quality control procedures as those found in the Cambridge M.B.A. in its current two forms. The University of Cambridge keeps control of all academic matters. The admissions criteria will be the same. The difference is that, with the benefit of the latest information technology secured through our partnership with FTK, the University will be able to admit students to take the degree on the basis of four intensive periods of collective study, and further periods of programmed private study which may be undertaken at times and in places to suit individual students.
Very able students, who occupy significant managerial posts and who will benefit greatly from taking the Cambridge M.B.A., will not now necessarily have to give up their employment in order to take the M.B.A. They will be able to undertake the course whilst still employed in distant parts of the globe.
The reputation of the M.B.A. is well established. We are now admitting eighty of the most able students from thirty countries. Over six people apply for each place. We choose to admit those who are successful in their application because they combine proven high academic ability with evidence that they have the capacity to develop their knowledge and skills as managers and leaders. They choose Cambridge in preference to M.B.A.s from other leading business schools for many reasons, including our approach to integrating rigorous study of the disciplines underlying the practice of management with opportunities, through real life case studies and individual and team projects, to relate theory to practice. We can match this combination in the M.B.A. form now under discussion. With careful selection of the elements which will be taught and learned remotely and those which will be covered in the periods of collective study in Cambridge or on in-company projects, we believe we have created an opportunity to develop the M.B.A. in a way that offers no compromises to quality or standards but which greatly improves access to the degree, and gives the Judge Institute an opportunity to widen our experience of different modes of learning in ways which may also in time benefit students on other programmes.
What would happen if the University fails to support this development? Our competitors in leading business schools around the world would be delighted. They are all seeking ways to develop their educational programmes through taking full advantage of new information technology. Many of them are looking for partners who have the requisite skills and experience in educational technology. So if this proposal is not supported, the Judge Institute would miss a superb opportunity, and so would the rest of the University. With its commitment to lifelong learning, the University will almost certainly have to find ways, just like those proposed here, to develop and use the capacity for effective remote learning.
We have in this proposal the opportunity to make such developments with an extremely strong partner, FTK, which, as part of the Pearson Group, is a leader in developing educational technology for remote learning. FTK will not only provide the Institute with the technological capacity to develop and deliver the remote elements of the programme, but also the initial funds to enable appropriate levels of investment in the development and delivery of the programme. As the Report notes, support for this proposal will enable the required changes to the Statutes and authorize the General Board to enter into a formal agreement with FTK for the provision and maintenance of programmes and technology for the proposed course.
This proposal offers the Judge Institute the opportunity to be amongst the leaders in the field and to open a door to the rest of the University to learn, with us, how to work with the latest educational technology in ways which will enhance the learning experience for Cambridge students and at a stroke increase access opportunities.
The proposal under discussion today contains more detail about the rationale for the changes and the mechanisms by which the new version of the M.B.A. will be introduced than I have summarized this afternoon. My aim has been to highlight what I believe to be the significant reasons why the University should enthusiastically support this proposal. Madam Deputy Vice Chancellor, I urge the University to give wholehearted support to this Report and these proposals.
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in 1832, J. J. Park, giving a series of professorial lectures at King's College London on 'The Theory and Practice of the Constitution' reported, 'a general disposition among professional men … to dissuade' him from applying for his Chair. It was, they told him, a job for 'those who had nothing else to do'. 'The object and motive of professional life being gain, and a large income the summum bonum to which alone all exertions are to be directed', a sensible well-wisher will caution his friends against the academic life. In his lectures he suggest that 'a man may', on the contrary, 'propose to himself some other principles of action'. He has in mind the 'philosophical enlargement of views'.1 Is this 'executive' M.B.A. going to bring these worlds together or sell out academe to the profit motive?
More blind trust is being asked of us. This M.B.A. proposal is another piece of business far too immature to come before us for irrevocable decision. These figures and these percentages are conjured out of the air. They are meaningless without evidence to support them. I am (again) repeatedly baffled at the willingness of the Regent House to trust what they are told when time after time it turns out afterwards that the assurances or warnings were unfounded and it has all worked out quite differently. (Keep an eye on that one when you see certain statements in the Allocations Report in a few weeks.)
The implications of this concession for part-time study in general, and for our residence requirement in particular need to be worked out much more carefully. What precedent are we setting here? We stand out in other contexts (the part-time Ph.D. proposal) against allowing a flexibility which might improve access to our courses in general. But when FTK or big business in general has an interest we go all trembly at the knees and rush to accommodate its imperious wishes. I pick up Professor Dawson's point, to remark that other kinds of prospective students might like to have our requirements made more elastic to accommodate the exigencies of their life-circumstances and existing careers. If we have to compete for these students, should we not be competing with the same openness for others?
It is not wise, recent history tells us, to give a general permission and then to trust the General Board or the Council or Old Schools officers to carry on with the implementation. I give two more recent examples to add to what I have already cited this afternoon.
The Regent House allowed the Cambridge-MIT project to be carried forward in that way. (Rather against my instincts, I did not in the end gather the signatures to call a ballot. One likes to surprise.) The Council was entrusted with the task of supervising closely and step by step what happened next. I am afraid I must leave you to guess what was nearly done at the Council of 15 May, out of your sight, when you reasonably believed that you had handed over certain tasks to the Council by Grace, in the expectation that they understood the rule delegatus non potest delegare.
The Grace for the Statute for Senior Lectureships was sent off to the Privy Council for approval without the Council ever discussing it or signing anything. Senior Lectureships are a creation of the General Board, and the General Board is now to have unsupervised control of the process of appointment to them. Those of you who would like that title may come to regret that act of trust.
So, no more trust until it is earned please. Let us get transparency and accountability into our administration as part of the present reforms of quality of administration (which I seem to remember I was calling for in the Michaelmas Term when they last had a phase of cutting my speeches).
1 London, 1932, p. 105.
Professor C. J. CHOI:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as Director of the Cambridge M.B.A. In the top US research universities, such as Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Duke University, and the University of Michigan, the issue of distance- and internet-based degree programmes has become a major issue of debate since the early 1990s. Studies by these top US research universities has led to their implementation of full or partial distance-based master's degree programmes in management studies and in engineering. Stanford University, Duke University, and the University of Michigan began offering such distance-based master's degree programmes in the early 1990s. More recently, the University of Chicago and Columbia University have also created such programmes. The trend seems irreversible, among the top research universities in the United States certainly, to all providing such distance-based master's programmes.
A related phenomenon is for top research universities to work together as a consortium in developing such distance-based master's degree programmes with major corporations. Unext is an example of a corporation that develops internet-based distance education, working with world-famous universities, including Stanford University, the University of Chicago, the London School of Economics, and Columbia University.
Distance-based master's degree programmes have traditionally been seen as being provided by universities that do not possess world-wide research reputations. The world-wide use of the internet has created an additional urgency for such master's degree programmes to be provided by the world's top research universities, applying and disseminating the results of their world-class research. The University of Cambridge, as Europe's leading science and technology university, cannot afford not to be a leader in this world-wide trend in distance-based master's degree level education.
No remarks were made on the following Report:
The Report of the General Board, dated 26 April 2000, on the establishment of a second Professorship of Clinical Oncology (p. 692).
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Cambridge University Reporter, 7 June 2000
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