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Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for 1999-2000


1. The year under review has seen both major achievements and structural change for the Board and the institutions under their supervision. The General Board draw particular attention to the following, some of which are referred to in greater detail in the body of the Report:

The success of the University in these, and in many other areas, reflects not only the underlying strength of teaching and research, but also the commitment, vision, and hard work of staff at all levels.

2. The monthly cycle of meetings of the Board, referred to in last year's Report, came into operation. Although pressure of business necessitated a greater frequency of meetings, the new arrangements have, in general, operated satisfactorily. The Board's Committees have continued to meet regularly, between the scheduled meetings of the Board, allowing the opportunity for discussion in depth and for business to be taken forward. At the same time the Board, with the Council, have reviewed the effectiveness of the Committee structure in a number of important areas, leading to the following structural changes:

These developments seek to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the University's governance arrangements and clarify the purposes, and roles, of the bodies responsible for the formulation of policy.

Academic standards, quality, and reviews

3. The Education Committee are concerned with:

National arrangements for quality assurance

4. The principles behind the QAA's new methodology for quality assurance, to which reference was made in last year's Report, were made known in August 1999, with further details being provided in the QAA's 'Handbook for academic review', published in April 2000. The system will involve rather different methods of Subject Review and Institutional Review than hitherto.

5. The new methodology for Subject Reviews, which will come into operation in 2001, is based on negotiation with the QAA Subject Review teams as to the times, the programme, pattern, and intensity of each Subject Review, and a Self-Evaluation document to be provided by the University. The QAA expect that the amount of documentation required will be significantly less than under the current system. The Review report will be concerned with 'academic standards' and the 'quality of learning opportunities' divided into three aspects, 'Teaching and learning', 'Student progression', and 'Utilization of learning resources'. Aspects of provision will no longer be given a numerical grade: an aspect assessed as 'failing' will result in an overall judgement of 'failing', otherwise the overall judgement will be 'approved'. The reviewers will measure provision against various national reference points including the QAA's proposed Qualifications Framework, their Code of Practice, and the relevant Subject Benchmark Statement. The Institutional Review, which will take place every six years, will principally be concerned with the means by which central responsibility for the management of quality and standards in all of the University's educational provision is implemented.

6. The Board remain sceptical as to whether or not the QAA's stated intention for a 'lighter touch', particularly in respect of those universities such as Cambridge, where there is a high standard of provision, will be fulfilled: the Board have repeatedly emphasized to the QAA that detailed scrutiny of universities which have repeatedly demonstrated excellence in their provision is inappropriate.

7. Following the consultation exercise, in 1998-99, on a Qualifications Framework for Postgraduate Qualifications, the QAA issued a further consultation paper, in October 1999, on a Qualifications Framework for all university qualifications in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In their response to this paper, and subsequent refinements of it by the QAA, the Board expressed grave concerns about the general thrust of the proposals (which seek to promote national standardization of nomenclature for titles of qualifications, and a fixed hierarchy of credit-based 'levels' of qualification within which each of a university's qualifications must be placed) and about the undesirable implications for various of the University's qualifications, including the M.A. and M.Phil. Degrees and the four-year undergraduate courses in engineering and certain of the sciences. Whilst the QAA claim that their proposals have attracted wide support, it seems clear that a number of other universities share many of Cambridge's concerns.

8. Through their Education Committee, the Board have considered those sections of the QAA's Code of Practice which have been issued, in either draft or final form, during 1999-2000. These included sections on: Assessment of students; External examining; Programme approval, monitoring, and review; Academic appeals and student complaints on academic matters; and Students with disabilities. In responding to drafts issued by the QAA for consultation, represen-tations have repeatedly been made about the very limited period of time allowed for consultation, a regrettably regular aspect of much of that body's dealings with the HE sector. On its publication, each section of the Code is made available through the Education Section's web pages. A total of fifteen different sections of the Code is promised by the QAA. These will then constitute a 'Code of Practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education'. As part of the review process, the QAA will assess the extent to which universities are meeting the expectations of the Code's precepts.

QAA subject reviews

9. Eight Subject Review visits took place during 1999-2000, and involved teams of reviewers who judged the quality of education in the subject concerned, by assessing six aspects of provision: Curriculum design, content, and organization; Teaching, learning, and assessment; Student progression and achievement; Student support and guidance; Learning resources; and Quality management and enhancement. Each aspect is graded on a scale of 1 to 4, an overall mark of 24 being the highest achievable. The following results were achieved:

Veterinary Medicine 23
Mathematics 23
Anatomy and Physiology 23
Experimental Psychology 24
Organismal Biosciences 24
Molecular Biosciences 24
Pharmacology 24
Clinical Medicine 21

Visits are scheduled to take place in 2000-01 for the following subjects: Archaeology, Economics, Education, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, and Classics. The final visits under the current review methodology (Social and Political Sciences, Philosophy, and Theology and Religious Studies) will take place in the Michaelmas Term 2001.

10. The University's performance in this exercise remains unparalleled. The Board acknowledge the very considerable contribution made by staff at all levels in the institutions concerned, and by Mr Graeme Rennie who, as Institutional Facilitator, assisted institutions in their preparations for the review visits and liaised between institutions and the review teams.

Internal quality assurance

11. Internal teaching quality assurance arrangements continue to rely significantly on External Examiners' reports and the detailed consideration by the Education Committee of recommendations and observations included in them, and on the Board's programme of departmental reviews. The Committee, with a view to further promoting good practice across the University, have reviewed the guidelines for the conduct of final meetings of boards of examiners and various aspects of the appointment of examiners and, during 2000-01, plan to review issues concerned with assessment and examining procedures. The Committee have consolidated their links with other central bodies with an interest in student-related matters. They contributed to the drafting of various parts of the Joint Report of the Council and the General Board on the review of examination results for students other than Graduate Students (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 806), and members have served on a working group looking at procedures for other areas in which student complaints and appeals may arise.

12. In the course of 1999-2000, reports were received from the Review Committees for the Departments of Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Italian, and for the Faculties of Archaeology and Anthropology and Oriental Studies. The institutions concerned and other relevant authorities have been consulted about these reports and matters raised by the Review Committees have been, or are in process of being, addressed. Preliminary Review Committees were established for the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Geography and for the Faculties of Classics and Divinity, and a Full Review Committee for the Judge Institute of Management Studies has begun its work. Following consultation with the Councils of the Schools, a programme of reviews for the period 1999-2006 has been agreed.

13. The Board are grateful for the work devoted to reviews both by the Review Committees and by staff in the institutions under review. Whilst they remain convinced of the value of these reviews in terms of the University's internal quality assurance strategy, the Board have encouraged the Education Committee to take steps to reduce the documentation generated in the course of each review, particularly that which is not already available for other purposes.

Degrees, courses, and examinations

14. The Board reported, jointly with the Council, to the University on the introduction, with effect from October 2000, of a Degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (subsequently approved by Her Majesty in Council). The introduction of a part-time route to the Ph.D., M.Sc., and M.Litt. Degrees was the subject of another Joint Report. As a result of the approval of that Report, a further Report, proposing the necessary amendments to Statutes and Ordinances, will be made during 2000-01, with a view to part-time study towards these degrees being available, initially in a limited number of subject areas, in 2001-02.

15. The Board approved the introduction, with effect from October 2000, of new courses and examinations for the M.Phil. Degree (one-year course) in Developmental Biology, Earth Sciences, Economics with Econometrics, Materials Modelling, and Quantitative Modelling of Industrial Processes. In view of the large number of subjects now offered within the M.Phil. Degree and of the substantial number of Graduate Students registering for that Degree, the Board have established a Review Committee to consider a wide range of issues relating to M.Phil. provision.

16. A number of significant proposals relating to other Master's Degrees have been made by the Board. They reported, jointly with the Council, on the introduction of a third programme, based on a two-year 'open' course involving distance learning, leading to the M.B.A Degree, the necessary statutory amendments for which await approval. A new course and examination in Chinese Studies, leading to the M.Phil. Degree (two-year course), has been approved by the University, and awaits the approval by Her Majesty in Council of the changes in the residential requirements for that Degree, required to enable students to undertake a period of study in a Chinese institution. Changes to the arrangements for the M.St. Degree have included the removal of the limit on numbers registered for that Degree, imposed when the Degree was introduced, and allowing the Examiners the discretion to waive an oral examination. A new M.St. course and examination in International Relations was approved with effect from October 2000.

17. The Board approved, or concurred with, a number of changes in the regulations for various Tripos examinations, including substantial changes to: Part I of the Classical Tripos and the Preliminary Examination for Part I; the Education Studies Tripos; Parts IA and IB of the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos; Part II of the Social and Political Sciences Tripos; and the Theological and Religious Studies Tripos.

Learning and teaching: strategy and funding

18. As indicated in last year's Report, the Board established a Working Party to draft an institutional Learning and Teaching Strategy, upon which the University's eligibility to secure the institutional strand of funding available through the HEFCE's Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund was contingent. (The HEFCE scheme also included a departmental strand of funding, for which the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy successfully bid.) The Board subsequently approved a Learning and Teaching Strategy (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 550). In July 2000 the HEFCE gave their final approval to the Strategy, therefore releasing some £740,000 over the three-year period 1999-2002. Oversight of the implementation of the Strategy will be undertaken by the Education Committee, in consultation with other relevant bodies.

Joint Committee on Academic Performance

19. During the year, the Joint Committee on Academic Performance have continued to consider factors which affect the academic performance of students in the University. The Committee have scrutinized a wide range of statistical data and made a number of recommendations for improvements in the provision of the University's data. The Committee continue to liaise with other bodies sharing an interest in the academic performance of students.

20. The innovative research project on 'Predictors of Academic Performance', funded by the Board, with support from a number of Colleges, continues to make good progress. Statistical analyses of the academic performance of students have been undertaken and particular attention has been focused on a qualitative study of a group of volunteers from amongst the 1997 intake who keep in informal contact via e-mail. It is expected that, inter alia, the information provided by this part of the project will reveal students' perceptions of the factors which affect their performance in Cambridge. Several publications from the project have appeared and consideration is being given as to how the research on the experiences of students might be used to assist the University in broadening access. A final report, to be developed in the light of the Committee's scrutiny of preliminary drafts, will be available in September 2001. The Committee will consider how the findings of the project should be used by the University and whether further research should be conducted in other areas such as the career paths of alumni and the progression of Graduate Students.

The Natural Sciences Tripos

21. Following a Report to the University, a Committee of Management for the Natural Sciences Tripos has been established, in place of the previous committee, with effect from October 2000. The Committee of Management will be responsible for the detailed administration of the Tripos, for keeping its regulations under review, and for taking initiatives in disseminating information about the Tripos to schools and other parties.

The Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI)

22. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 8 November 1999 that the Government would be willing to commit up to £68m over five years for a collaboration between Cambridge and MIT. The funding, which was to be released against contracts for specific programmes, was for the establishment of 'The Cambridge-MIT Institute Limited (CMI)', to direct the collaboration.

23. In March 2000, the Regent House approved, in principle, the academic collaboration in four broad areas: undergraduate education (including student exchanges, the first instance of which will be a group of MIT students spending the academical year 2000-01 in Cambridge); a programme of integrated research; professional practice programmes in innovation and entrepreneurship; and the creation of a National Competitiveness Network of Enterprise Centres. The Office of Science and Technology released £65.1m of funding for CMI, following the submission of a proposal document for the University. The funding of £2.9m for the Cambridge Entrepreneurship Centre had been separately released at an earlier date.

24. A 'Guide to Project Funding' was made available within the two universities in September so that the jointly-conducted teaching and research activities could begin. It is a goal of CMI that these activities will improve the economic competitiveness and productivity of the UK Economy. The aim is also to engender a more entrepreneurial spirit in universities in the UK and among those who come into contact with them - whether staff, students, or business partners. The Chancellor of the Exchequer wishes CMI to be a means of securing for the UK Economy the same sorts of benefits that MIT has engendered in the US Economy.

E-university and the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET)

25. The impact on the University of e-university activities, and developments in e-commerce generally, has been considered by the General Board and the Council. The establishment by the University of the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 820), the partnership of the Judge Institute with FT Knowledge, and the common courses to be fostered by the Cambridge-MIT Institute are examples of developments which it is timely to encourage in the University. In supporting these developments, the Board will ensure that Faculties and Departments do not enter into exclusive relationships with partners that would prejudice development of University-wide activities. They will also ensure that the University has quality control procedures and intellectual property rights and copyright policies that are appropriate and which support these new developments.

26. Funding of £433,000 a year, for an initial period of three years, has been approved for the establishment of CARET. The Centre will be a research and development group, in which the focus will be on applied research to develop, implement, and evaluate new technologies in education, and will assist Departments and Faculties in understanding how existing education technologies could be deployed, and, more importantly, new systems and applications developed. The Board will review the Centre's effectiveness in meeting these objectives before the expiry of the initial funding.

Research and infrastructure

Research Assessment Exercise 2001

27. The effective date for the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), on which the quality and quantity of research-active staff in the University will be assessed, is 31 March 2001. There is an overlap, however, between the assessment periods for research outputs for the 1996 and 2001 RAEs. The assessment period is 1 January 1994 to 31 December 2000 for arts and humanities subjects and 1 January 1996 to 31 December 2000 for other subjects. Outputs submitted to the 1996 RAE may be resubmitted and will be accorded equal weight with all other submissions. The University will be making 51 submissions to 46 Units of Assessment.

28. In order to strengthen the University's position for the RAE, in addition to approving further 'proleptic' appointments, the Board have introduced temporary arrangements, mainly to avoid delays in the filling of offices that might otherwise have remained vacant on 31 March 2001. As part of the new arrangements for providing HEFCE funds to Colleges, College-only employees, whose research output accords with the relevant Faculty or Departmental submission, may be included for both quality and volume in submissions.

29. Work to support institutions in preparing for the 2001 Exercise has gained momentum during the year. Two temporary administrators have been employed and a Computer Officer seconded part-time, forming a small RAE team, under the direction of a senior officer of the Board and based in the Old Schools, which provides support to Faculties and Departments. Each Unit of Assessment has been asked to identify academic, technical, and administrative contacts in order to ensure that information is disseminated rapidly and efficiently. A University RAE web-site has also been set up (http://www-rae.admin.cam.ac.uk/). A dedicated central file server will enable both central entry of a considerable amount of data and the production by the University Offices of all but the research output information and the self-assessment documents. The Board hope that these arrangements will significantly reduce the additional workload on Faculties and Departments.


30. The Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF), which covers all elements of research infrastructure for science and engineering encompassed by the remits of the Wellcome Trust and the Research Councils, including research equipment and infrastructural research facilities, new scientific research buildings, and the refurbishment of laboratory or research-related space, has continued with further grants being announced. In the first three rounds, the University submitted twenty-four applications of approximately £260m in value. A total of almost £100m has been awarded for ten successful projects, including the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, a new building for the Wellcome/CRC Institute, and a new research unit for the Departments of Anatomy and Experimental Psychology, in addition to the major programme of laboratory refurbishment in the Department of Chemistry referred to in last year's Report. A further six schemes were submitted in round four of the initiative for which the deadline was April 2000; the outcome is expected in late autumn 2000. There is due to be one further round, limited to applications for equipment only, for which the closing date was October 2000.

31. The Board have contributed, through their Needs Committee, to the process of updating the University's Estate Plan, which was originally produced in March 1995 as the 'Estate Strategy' required by the HEFCE. When finalized, the Plan will provide a 'gap' analysis between the supply of University accommodation available to each institution, according to the capacity record and demand calculated from the University's space norms, and assist the central bodies in appraising options and determining priorities for the implementation of building and refurbishment initiatives. In the light of the attribution of the over/under provision of space identified, the Councils of the Schools have reviewed the academic priorities of institutions within their scope and have categorized building projects, including new buildings, in one of four categories with those on which work was already authorized being placed in the top category (A). Following review of these by the Estate Management and Building Service (EMBS), taking into account the condition and maintainability of existing buildings, the Board agreed that option appraisals should be undertaken by EMBS for those schemes placed in the next highest category (B).

32. The University has been awarded £1.15m under the fourth round of the HEFCE Joint Research Equipment Initiative and a further £2.8m under the EPSRC's special equipment initiative.

Minor works

33. A total of £4m was committed from the Minor Works Fund in support of some 60 schemes in General Board institutions. Requests for minor works continue to arise for numerous reasons, including health and safety, the arrival of new staff, especially Professors, in connection with QAA Subject Review visits, and opportunities to make more effective use of existing accommodation. As in previous years, the Board have required contributions towards the cost of schemes from discretionary funds in Faculties and Departments. The Building Upgrading Procedure referred to in last year's Report was implemented for the first time. Under this scheme, institutions were invited to submit applications for minor works estimated at over £50,000, which were then ranked in order of priority to achieve the optimal use of the Minor Works Fund and of available resources. The Councils of the Schools were involved in this prioritization process, which also took account of the draft University Estate Plan. The Procedure will operate again, with certain modifications, in 2000-01. Among the larger schemes in progress were the in-fill of the base of the West Tower on the New Museums Site to provide improved access for those with disabilities to the Babbage Lecture Theatre, additional accommodation for the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, the refurbishment of the basement area of the Faculty of Architecture and History of Art, and the third phase of the refurbishment programme of the Department of Plant Sciences.

Research Policy Committee

34. The Council and the General Board, in their Report on Research Services, set out the arrangements for the creation of a Research Services Division within the Unified Administrative Service. The Research Policy Committee has been established as part of the arrangements to advise them on issues relating to research policy, including general matters concern-ing industrial liaison, consultancy, and intellectual property rights. The Committee will meet for the first time in the Michaelmas Term 2000.

Planning and resources

Major academic developments

35. External funding has enabled proposals for the establishment of new Professorships in 1999-2000:

In the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, the Professorship of Nonlinear Mathematical Science was re-established for a future tenure from 1 March 2000.

In the Department of Engineering, the donation of a five-year rolling grant from Rolls-Royce plc provided the funding for the re-establishment of the Professorship of Aerothermal Technology from 1 January 2000 for one further tenure.

Two Professorships, one of Physical Geography and a second of Human Geography, were both established from 1 October 2000 in the Department of Geography at no additional cost to general funds as a result of the suppression of three other offices.

New needs procedure

36. The Board have recognized that their existing procedure whereby funds for recurrent new needs were distributed biannually in response to priority lists of bids, afforded the Councils of the Schools and Heads of institutions insufficient opportunity for planning. In the Michaelmas Term 1999, the Board accordingly agreed to move to an annual exercise whereby a block allocation of recurrent funds, determined according to an agreed formula, will be allocated to each Council of the Schools, who will submit recommendations to the Board for its deployment. The first exercise will take place in the Michaelmas Term 2000. The Board have agreed, however, to review the position after one year in the light of developments, including work on the proposed Resource Allocation Model which was the subject of a consultation exercise with the Schools in the Lent Term (see the Council's Annual Report, paragraph 9).


37. The Personnel Division was established from 1 November 1999 by the unification of the Assistant Staff Office and the Work and Stipends Section of the General Board Division. The transfer of other personnel functions undertaken in the General Board and the Research Services Divisions is underway, while the relationship between the new Division and the Occupational Health Service, the Safety Office, and the Counselling Service has begun to be better defined. Within the Division, senior staff have been designated as Personnel Consultants to Schools and other institutions. It is hoped that, with the housing of the whole Division in the Old Schools, further integration will be achieved. An account of the work of the new Personnel Committee is included in the Council's Annual Report (paragraphs 48-50).

University Senior Lectureship

38. The Regent House and subsequently The Queen in Council approved proposals for the introduction of the office of University Senior Lecturer, and a scheme for promotion to that office from 1 October 2000 has now been introduced. Also following approval by the Regent House, a new scheme for awarding additional, discretionary pay awards to non-clinical academic and related staff from 1 October 2000, has been launched. These developments, made possible as a result of the savings exercise in 1998-99, are important elements in the Board's strategy for improving the University's position in recruiting, rewarding, and retaining the high-calibre staff on which its teaching and research depends.

Institute of Learning and Teaching

39. The establishment of the Institute of Learning and Teaching (ILT) has focused attention nationally on training for university teachers. There is a recognized need in the University for more substantial preparation, especially in teaching, for young staff at the start of their academic careers. With this in mind, a detailed consultation exercise was undertaken in the Michaelmas Term and work is proceeding on the introduction of a new programme of staff development in academic practice, which will also provide an accredited route to membership of the ILT. A project to assess the potential for using new technologies as part of the course began in August. Whilst there remains some unease in the University about the ILT itself, the Board's view is that the way to influence the future direction of the ILT is through active membership. To this end, a number of measures have been put in place to support experienced staff wishing to take advantage of the currently available 'fast-track' route to membership of the ILT. These include reimbursement of the initial registration and membership fee and guidance on the submission of applications.

Equal opportunities

40. With the support of the Vice-Chancellor, an audit has been undertaken which will help determine the next stage of the agenda for equal opportunity following on from the work undertaken in the context of the University's membership, since 1993, of the Opportunity 2000 (now Opportunity NOW) campaign. The audit includes a comprehensive study of staffing statistics, of relevant policies and procedures, and, by the use of questionnaire and meetings, the experiences of all staff groups.

Academic services


41. The Committee on Libraries have continued their regular programme of inspection visits to Faculty and Departmental libraries in the University, and have also addressed a number of general policy issues in the course of the year. The General Board have agreed that a new library automation system should be introduced across the University. The present system, created and developed in-house by staff of the University Library, has stood the test of time, but it is clear that a new approach is needed to provide seamless access to the full range of information services now expected of libraries, whether relating to electronic databases, digitized images, or catalogues of printed or manuscript materials. The Board have authorized a procurement process, with a view to the selection of a system from a commercial supplier in autumn 2000 and implementation from autumn 2001.

42. During 1998-99 the University Library prepared a collection development policy, amended in the light of comments from Faculty Boards, which serves both to inform users and to guide those responsible for developing the Library's collections. Through its Committee the General Board have subsequently encouraged Faculties and Departments to produce similar policy statements for the libraries for which they are responsible. The Committee have agreed that the statistics collected annually from Faculty and Departmental libraries should conform with new guidelines issued by the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries (SCONUL), and have conducted a consultation exercise in this connection. The new form of statistical return will enable the University to provide funding bodies and others who seek information with a fuller and more accurate picture of the Cambridge library system as a whole.

The Language Centre

43. In July 1999 the Board approved the recommendations of a Working Group set up by their Needs Committee to consider future arrangements for the Language Centre. In doing so, the Board affirmed their commitment to providing language learning facilities for all members of the University, and to the development of a distributed system as a means of achieving this. During the past year, following consultations with staff of the Language Centre and working also on the basis of recommendations from the Committee of Management of the Centre, progress has been made towards this end. The Board will shortly be advertising a new unestablished post of Executive Director to take forward the development of a strategic plan for the expansion of the Centre into a major academic service. In the meantime, the Board have recognized that providing integrated accommodation for the Centre must be a high priority.

1 November 2000

ALEC N. BROERS, Vice-Chancellor

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Cambridge University Reporter Special, 24 November 2000
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