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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 28 January 2003. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Reports:

Annual Report of the Council, dated 9 December 2002 (p. 418)

Dr D. R. DE LACEY:

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'The Council take seriously their responsibility for University management generally, and for the central administration' (paragraph 31). One wonders in the light of this whether any Council members had twinges of conscience as they put their names to the Report.

It is very clear that neither our administration nor our governance is working properly. In two unrelated sections, the Report touches on these two areas. This strategy neatly permits Council to ignore the explicit link between the two, so clearly emphasized in the Shattock and Finkelstein CAPSA reports. For this reason if for no other the current governance proposals should be thrown out; but instead we see members of the Council, in an attempt to sway the Regent House against even small amendments of their precious plan, resorting to lies - or am I obliged to describe them as terminological inexactitudes? - in misleading and mendacious flysheets. The flysheet on page 17 contains the statement that 'Professor Grant ... pointed out that recent changes at Oxford require at least 125 members of Congregation ... to force a ballot'. This is not true in two senses. The correct figure is 2 for a legislative proposal by the Council (Regulation 2.4 for the Conduct of Business) and 20 for a proposal not initiated by the Council (Statute IV, 1, (2) and (3)); and the record of Professor Grant's remarks does not include the alleged statement. The flysheet on page 21 makes (at least) two false statements. One is that the matter had not been previously raised in the consultation process. I do not know whether anyone else raised it, but I myself did so; I believe in the first of the so-called 'Road Shows', and certainly in the first of the Discussions (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2001-02/weekly/5893/19.html).

The second falsehood is that 'no safeguards [are] suggested' in the proposal for e-mail submissions. You will note the use of the phrase 'from addresses within the cam.ac.uk domain' in the amendment. Anyone who understands how cam mail works will be satisfied that, compared to fax which is already acceptable, this provides more than adequate safeguards. For even those disastrous guidelines on computer misuse which we discussed on a topic of concern last year were clear that we are not allowed to reveal our Computing Service passwords to anyone else. Thus only forgery could enable anyone to disown a submission as unauthorized: but forgery of a cam domain e-mail would be so easy to detect, so dangerous to the forger, and so trivially unimportant to the real business of the University, that the safeguard is clearly there; and at least some of those who set their names to that flysheet ought to have been fully aware of these facts.

Indeed, the Council's own claim that 'The results of the consultation were fully taken into account' (paragraph 4) smacks of terminological carelessness, since it suggests that the 'Road Shows' were the real consultation, not the Discussions. It is surely ironic that at the time when the new, expensive-looking, Staff Guide (which, we are told, is to be read in conjunction with a non-existent online version) contains an exhortation from the Vice-Chancellor to 'take as full a part as possible in the governing process', the Governance Committee seems dedicated to making that as difficult as possible.

On administration the Council seems remarkably unconcerned about the present state of the University: it may be true that CAPSA is 'in operation' but it remains too cumbersome to be actually used for many of the functions for which it was intended. However, when we receive messages from CUFS like the one sent out this morning, we surely know all is well. 'Users will experience some delays in grants processing. This is because a patch was applied on Monday to improve Funds Check functionality.' The Registrary has assured us that he is now personally responsible for the activities of his staff, but he seems to have ignored the invitation to express any sort of apology for the absurdities committed in his name - or, rather, in ours - by his staff.

It is a pleasure to discover, in the section on Personnel and equal opportunities, that 'Action is particularly important in the areas of disability [and other things]'. I am sure that will be a great comfort to Dr Tapp, reflecting on the embarrassment and inconvenience to which he is put any time he wishes to address this forum. I am sure Mrs Jesky will find that adequate compensation for the difficulties she will face simply so that we can hear her case. No doubt it must be very comforting for that Senior Academic Women's Advisory Group to have their regular meetings with the Vice-Chancellor: I hope the junior academic women (and academic-related women, and assistant staff, and their male equivalents) who suffer daily discrimination and bullying may share that comfort, for sadly there seems to be an unaccountable failure in these areas on the part of that 'efficient and proactive' Personnel Department of which our Staff Guide speaks - the paper copy only, of course, thanks to the efficiency of the United Administrative Service.

No, Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Despite the impression given by this Report, all is far from well in our University, and not simply in those big areas of government policy and financial insecurity. If this is intended as an accurate reflection of where we stand today, then Council's eyes must be tightly closed. May we request the new members elected last term to keep theirs wide open?

 

Professor J. R. SPENCER (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, later in the year, the Board of Scrutiny will (as usual) produce its own Annual Report, one of the subjects of which will be the Annual Report of the Council. At this Discussion it wishes to make the following brief points.

The first concerns 'governance'. The Report under discussion describes how since January 2002, the Council have discharged some of its business through a new Business Committee. We commend this, because we believe that it makes sense for the Council to delegate for analysis certain matters that it necessarily does not have the time to debate fully at its regular meetings.

However, we believe that the Regent House would welcome a formal statement of the role of this new Committee. A formal statement would be welcome, too, on the role of the Executive Committee. These statements should, we suggest, explain in particular how the work of these two bodies, one statutory and one non-statutory, ties in with the work of Council.

The second relates to paragraph 21 of the Report, containing the news that with effect from the start of the current academical year there is a new capital procurement process for new buildings, 'the objective of which being that the University comprehends the financial impact of increasing the estate, through the provision of full business plans covering recurrent and whole life costs'. The Board has already pointed out that a major reason why the University's finances have run into the red is its recent habit of erecting buildings without calculating the incidental costs. It therefore welcomes the news about a revised capital procurement process.

Our third and last point concerns the Senior Academic Women's Advisory Group, with which we learn the Vice-Chancellor is in regular contact. We would be interested to know who the members of this group are, and how they are selected.

 

Mrs J. JESKY:

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as the Head of the Disability Resource Centre. I was pleased to see in the Annual Report of the Council mention of the Disability Resource Centre and its move to more accessible premises in the ground floor of Keynes House, Trumpington Street. The Disability Resource Centre and its staff are grateful to the University for providing funding for the refurbishment of the new premises as well as the continuation of the posts following cessation of HEFCE funding on 31 December 2002.

It is the reference to the establishment of the Joint Committee on Disability and its aim of establishing a coherent approach to disability issues in the Report of the General Board that I would like to draw attention. It is unfortunate that I must report that an operational budget has not yet been agreed for the Centre, creating both immediate and long-term difficulties for the work that is currently being undertaken and for future planning. I recognize that resources are quite rightly under scrutiny at the moment, and addressing disability, access, and support issues cannot be provided without resources. However, having a well-resourced Centre is imperative for ensuring that quality services continue to be provided, and that statutory duties are met under the Disability Discrimination Act both in Employment and Education ensuring that disabled staff and students are able to work and study at Cambridge to their full potential. The current incoherence in our funding situation creates unnecessary frustration and anxiety, particularly for Centre staff not knowing whether they have any of the resources and equipment necessary for them to do their work. With the new premises at Keynes House, the University has the opportunity to make a positive statement about its commitment to addressing disability issues. It is hoped therefore that this opportunity will not be wasted and the Council will make it a high priority and the resources will be forthcoming.

 

Dr D. A. GALLETLY:

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I wish that it were unnecessary for me to speak at this Discussion. However, I cannot ignore an important matter, arising in connection with the decisions that are in the process of being taken on the governance reforms mentioned in paragraphs 3 to 7 of this Report, that has unfortunately only recently come to my attention. As someone who is not a member of the Regent House, I had been following the governance debate with a rather lazy eye and, I am afraid to say, only a small fraction of my brain. I hope that I may be permitted a maiden speech to set out briefly some of the results of a mathematically minded engineer's researches into the voting system we currently use.

A vague suspicion that there might be a problem with the system of voting used for ballots surfaced briefly when the results of the ballots on Conduct of Discussions and on the Report of the Council on the Principal Administrative Officers were published in December. Fears were expressed that there was some ambiguity in the ballot papers and that some people might not have been fully aware of what they were voting for.

Ten days ago, the issue was forcibly returned to my attention as a result of a message in the newsgroup 'ucam.change.governance' asking for an expert explanation of the workings of the Single Transferrable Vote method. The reason for this was a general state of unease about the current ballots, particularly those on Graces 5 and 6. People were uncertain how best to order their choices to avoid undesirable outcomes; people were uncertain as to whether putting down more than two options was desirable, or even permissible; people were confused by the design of the ballot papers and could not understand why the options (a) and (b), and the options (c) and (d) came in nicely paired sets - e-mail allowed, or not - whilst the two options (e) and (f) were so differently worded. In short, confusion reigned.

My interest piqued, I decided to carry out a little research, both on voting methods, and on the history of their use within the University. It was not long before I discovered some problems with their use in cases similar to this one.

Using straw votes to simplify the ultimate voting options

In the Report of the Council of the Senate on the Procedure for Considering the Recommendations of the Syndicate on the Government of the University1 some interesting statements appear. 'The Council are aware that the holding of a ballot to choose between a number of options has been attended by controversy on some occasions in the past. However, they note that the procedure which was called in question was the use of such a ballot to authorize legislative change, and that no objection was raised to the holding of a ballot as a 'straw vote'; on the present occasion the process of taking opinion is essentially a straw vote, and this would be followed by a definitive Grace to confirm the result of the ballot.' The Report carries on: 'For example, in the case of recommendation 18, which deals with the number of signatures required to support a request for a ballot, the Wass syndicate recommended 100 and various other figures have since been suggested, ranging from 10 (the present requirement) to 50. All the alternatives that have been suggested would feature in the ballot, and voters would be asked to express a preference between them. When the result of the ballot was known, a Grace would be put forward to confirm the result of this expression of opinion.'

This all sounds most reasonable. So, what actually happened in that particular ballot ? The number of first preference votes for 10 signatures was 299, for 20 signatures 108, for 25 signatures 139, for 50 signatures 260, and for 100 signatures 100. After redistribution of votes from the less popular options, the 50-signature option was preferred with 403 votes as opposed to the 386 votes of the 10-signature option. Voters were outraged by the result, and when the resulting Grace came before them rejected it emphatically. Thus it had been made possible for people to see clearly what their options were before an irrevocable decision had been taken.

The statement on behalf of the Wass Syndicate2 defends the voting system against some criticisms: 'It is true, as the signatories of flysheet (iii) point out, that in the November ballot the largest number of first preference votes was for ten signatures, so that ten would have been the preferred number in a first-past-the-post system. However, the University has long recognized the inadequacy of a first-past-the-post system, and uses the more sophisticated single transferable vote procedure.' Impolitic to mention, perhaps, that when the Ordinances were changed in 1926, no one came forth to speak at the Discussion about the change. Perhaps the academics of that era fully understood the advantages of the single transferrable vote procedure, and the mechanics of its operation, but I hope that you will forgive me if I say that, given repeated complaints over the succeeding decades about inability to comprehend it, I remain unconvinced.

In 1985, the Syndicate on elections to the Council of the Senate reported3 that 'they were aware of some feeling among members of the Regent House that the STV Regulations in their present form were unduly difficult to follow and that a simpler, more perspicuous procedure should if possible be adopted.' They were much concerned by fairness, although if one takes a strict interpretation of 'fair', it was proved by Kenneth Arrow around 1950 that an ideal election method does not exist. The Syndicate consulted the Electoral Reform Society: 'The Electoral Reform Society have recommended the adoption of a more modern form of STV Regulations which in their view is technically superior and will more faithfully reflect the balance of opinion in the voters.' Unfortunately, the explanation of how they work, whilst detailed, is considerably more complex and opaque than that of the previous regulations. There is the added disadvantage that, in the case of ballots rather than elections to the Council, I am hard pressed to think of a reason why one might wish to be transferring surpluses (which is where the main change lay), so these new regulations brought no improvement, only confusion.

The matter of selecting an appropriate method of voting for ballots is a serious one, but little attention seems to have been given to it. It has become urgent given the present surge of ballots of immense importance to the future constitution of the University. Should one return to straw polls prior to Graces as (for example) in the early 1990s? Should one adopt a different voting method, for example that of pair-wise comparisons (which breaks the options down into pairs, and sees which would win a two-horse race, with the option that never loses a two-horse race being declared the winner)? Or some other system? It is time that some serious consideration was given to this matter, preferably by a group of people far more knowledgeable and experienced in these matters than I. As long ago as 1985, Anthony Edwards was voicing his doubts:4

'As to the Syndicate's actual recommendations, I would not like my support to be interpreted as an endorsement of the S.T.V. system under all circumstances, for I think it has three broad features which makes its general use, for example in national elections, questionable. First, it offers the electorate so great a choice of options as to be bewildering [...]; secondly, most people do not in fact take the trouble to understand it sufficiently to benefit from its merits; and thirdly the amount of information published when the results are declared is discriminatory as between candidates.'

How sensible. How prophetic. I do rather wonder what the second choice votes of those 490 people who voted for option (c) in the Conduct of Discussions ballot were.

1 Reporter, 1989-90, p. 448

2 Reporter, 1991-92, p. 438

3 Reporter, 1984-85, p. 415-16

4 Reporter, 1984-85, p. 505

 

Professor G. R. EVANS:

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I hope you will find it acceptable for me to cast this speech in the form of an open letter to the new Vice-Chancellor. I shall be referring point by point to the Council's Report so you may safely allow your attention to wander.

Dear Vice-Chancellor-Elect, if you have been reading the press cuttings and the back numbers of the Reporter, you know you are coming to a University in trouble. The question is why it is in trouble and what you can do about it.

The most notable thing about your appointment is not that you are a woman. You now know that we have had a woman Vice-Chancellor before, in the 1970s, Dame Rosemary Murray. The really notable thing is that you are - I think - to be the first Vice-Chancellor who has not had an apprenticeship to Cambridge's ways by serving as the head of a College. I know you were an undergraduate at Newnham but I doubt whether you knew much about the way the University was run in those days. So naturally you will be reading the Council's Annual Report very carefully.

Your first task will be to discover what lies beneath the surface sense of the words, and when you have worked that out, I hope you are going to be an open and honest and fearless Vice-Chancellor and teach the Press Office that a university cannot fulfil its purposes unless it speaks the truth about itself. I trust you are going to encourage the Council to explain itself to the University in the next year's Report without that unconvincing air of 'we can do no wrong'. Some early signals of that sort will win you many friends in the University.

On the face it, the Report is very reassuring reading. (31) says that the Council 'take seriously their responsibility for University management generally, and for the central administration'. You will know about CAPSA. 'The Council have been informed that … the University now has in operation a modern financial system' (31). Notice, though, that coded admission that this does not include a means of keeping track of our research grants. And it might be sensible to ask about the 'appropriate management arrangements' which are said to be 'in place' for the new student information system (CamSIS). There have been widespread rumours that that is another CAPSA in the making. And if you are going to be reading the Reporter in Madagascar, you should perhaps be asking what is behind (35): 'The Council will make further recommendations' about the positions of the Secretary General and the Treasurer 'during the academical year 2002-03', that is, before you arrive. There has been a resounding vote of non placet on the previous recommendations. I and no doubt others will be glad to explain the history to you.

The Report is so cheery, so positive, that you may not easily guess at what it is leaving out. Public procurement (23-4): 'on a procedural point, the High Court dismissed the University's application with costs awarded to the Treasury Solicitor'. We lost. We lost shamefully and with some pretty robust remarks by the judge. The University was left to bear the Treasury's costs as well as its own for two High Court applications and the ECJ case. The Regent House has still not been given the figures for the expenditure on legal fees from start to finish.

(Paras 3-5): I am sure you will not take the next bit amiss. It is meant in the friendliest of spirits, and, dare I say, from one 'senior woman' to another. I hope you will never forget for a moment that the governing body is the Regent House and that you have a direct democracy of several thousand people to listen to and ultimately bow to. I should particularly like you to note that it took the calling of a Discussion on a topic of concern and some public exposure by members of the University's governing body the Regent House to trigger the inquiry into CAPSA.

There is already expression of disquiet about the way you are quoted in the Newsletter of December/January 2003. 'We must listen and respond to the aspirations, hopes, and concerns of the academic community. But decisions must be made - the Vice-Chancellor must give clear direction in choosing where to focus resources'. We await the outcome of the governance ballots, (3)-(5). But even if the office you were appointed to is now to be given that 'fuller definition' you will not have ultimate power to 'choose'.

The Regent House is far more than a watchdog. Is that a royal 'we' you were using? That won't be a politically wise kind of 'we' to use in this community. Or does it assume that the people who really run the University are the oligarchy on the central bodies? That will not be a popular 'we' either, and you are going to find that it matters, if not that you should be popular, certainly that you should be trusted.

I take together here the matters covered by paras. (3)-(7) and (31)-(35) of the Council's Report. For the management failure which gave us CAPSA is not entirely to be laid at the door of the administrators. It is also the fault of academics. I want you to be conscious every moment, from the outset, of the vital distinction to be drawn between our ancient tradition of direct democracy which ensures that this University is ultimately academic-led, and the goings-on of a few academics who have disastrously got far too much power into their own hands.

Those few serve on committees without being required, as they would in many UK universities, to undertake the relevant training to enable them to understand what is at issue in the decision-making for which they are responsible. The training is on offer. They just don't do it. It is largely their fault that our committee-system has fallen into disrepute.

They are chosen by the Committees on Committees and other appointing bodies, secretly, without published procedures. In my experience the Council and General Board ask no questions and ratify what their respective Committees on Committees suggest. The memberships of the Committees on Committees noticeably overlap with the memberships of the most important committees. The Risk Management Steering Committee (to which I hope to refer in another speech today), is itself an excellent example of incestuous secret nomination.

I know you are concerned about the need to get more senior women onto committees. A number of us women, especially us women Professors, are not at all happy to learn that a secret self-appointed Advisory Group of Senior Women has set itself up and got itself the Vice-Chancellor's ear, excluding other women employees, and even other senior women (38). I have not been able to discover who is on this committee, and it is not reporting to the University. Not one word. I hope you will not give it your own ear but invite all the University's women to offer to serve on a new and visible committee. I personally think it much more important to open up the whole process than to concentrate on the under-representation of women. All groups except the self-perpetuating oligarchy are under-represented and disadvantaged in Cambridge when it comes to getting round committee-tables and having a say in the creation of plans and policies, at the important stage of their formation.

That Business Committee. 'The Council have discharged much of this legislative business through their new Business Committee' (3). 'Careful protocols ensure that all members of the Council are aware of, and can comment on, business referred to the Committee'. I had understood that when a Report came before the University for Discussion it had been approved by the Council in full session and that the Business Committee merely tidied up some of the infelicities of drafting (manifestly only some) before the Council met again to approve the Report for publication. Similarly with notices. If this is not the case, may we please have clarification? Especially if 'the Council will be ensuring whether further categories of routine business should be referred to the Committee'. 'Routine Business'? The IPR Report was 'routine business' then? The new promotions procedure? The governance Report? This is terrifying. It means that this Committee, appointed out of sight of the Regent House, has in effect been acquiring very considerable powers, and no one told us.

You have learned already from your visit to the UK when your appointment was announced in December that you will only have to sneeze and there will be broadsheet headlines the next day: 'Is Cambridge's Vice-Chancellor catching a cold?' Between sneezes, they will be wanting you to say things on behalf of the University. You might, for example, have been asked to comment on the words of the Education Secretary quoted in the Sunday Times of 26 January. 'Education for its own sake is a bit dodgy'. The Regent House will greatly appreciate a bit of tact in recognizing that you cannot 'speak for Cambridge', for they are the University, not you. The Press Office will be tumbling over themselves to write your statements and speeches. We shall notice if you let them. We know their style. I hope you will give us an opportunity to get a direct sense of the qualities of your mind and that means hearing from you in your own words and not the words of the University's Press and PR people.

The big issues lurking in this Report are three. People. Buildings. Money. Pretty big risks attach to all these in Cambridge at present as the headings in the Council's Report implicitly admit.

People: give the University's students and staff a sense that you take their needs seriously and will put them first. By the time you enter office, the institutional audit report of the QAA will be on your desk. That will help you to read your way into our 'student issues'. The Council have set out a list of priorities in their Annual Report which leaves out the students. The staff of the University (paras. (1) and (36-9)), come at the top of the list. What the Report calls 'employment issues' are indeed a bit of a problem. You will find that the natives are restless. There has been huge and noisy discontent over many years about the procedures for academic promotion. The upgrading procedures for non-academic staff have not been overhauled since 1995. The implementation of the procedures for discipline, grievance, redundancy, sickness, absence for various categories of staff, is in some disarray. And there are huge delays. You are going to have your work cut out to change that particular bit of the culture. I hope you will be sensitive to the cultural differences between the USA and the UK in the area of equal opportunities. Campus speech codes will not go down well.

Then there is the building (20-22), indeed the empire building, which has committed us to £500 million of expenditure when we already have a deficit. Your period as Vice-Chancellor bids fair to be the one in which the University went bankrupt as a result of this greedy rush to build.

We are indeed hugely in deficit. The University of Cambridge is doing its stuff, it says in the Council's Report, 'with severely limited resources' (8). I would challenge that. We are a vastly rich university. What are we doing is wasting our resources (CAPSA and the ruinously expensive rescue of CAPSA, CUFS); and living beyond our means (the £500m building programme and the new north-west Cambridge expansion project); and being profligate in unnecessary expenditure on paying top legal fees by the hour when we could appoint in-house lawyers to do much of the work.

You will be encouraged to think that fund-raising is going to be one of your most important roles. I rather doubt that. Let others work on that. You would be better occupied in ensuring that money does not continue to leak out uncontrollably. If benefactors realize their gifts are likely to be wasted they are going to stop giving. That is the present real risk, given recent press coverage and a campaign by outraged students to discourage alumnus and other benefactions.

You are going to have to think about your priorities. In fact hitting on your Vice-Chancellorial style is going to be the trickiest thing of all. To be scary? User-friendly? Accessible? Crisply efficient? Stand no nonsense? Be everyone's friend? Be clever and principled, I would say. And pretty energetic, though we hope you will keep space in your diary so that you have time to think.

You have, I am sure, already been told that our present troubles are the fault of the 'radicals', especially me. You will also have been told that we are the die-hards and conservatives resisting the entry of the modern world into our old-fashioned way of doing things, Do meet this extreme left which is also the extreme right. I hope we shall like each other. It would do a great deal of good if we found ourselves with a Vice-Chancellor who would be seen to act as an honest broker.

I'm not sure how to sign this, but perhaps 'a well-wisher' will be best.

 

Dr J. RUNDE:

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak today in my capacity as Associate Programme Director for the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI). In section 7 of this Report, five new M.Phil. programmes are listed. Three of these are the result of collaborations between the University and MIT, and represent another important development by the University in meeting its commitments to Her Majesty's Government. These are the M.Phil. in Bioscience Enterprise (based in the Institute of Biotechnology), the M.Phil. in Environmental Engineering (based in the Department of Engineering), and the M.Phil. in Technology Policy (based in the Judge Institute). A proposed fourth CMI M.Phil. in Chemical Engineering Practice (based in the Department of Chemical Engineering) is scheduled to come on stream in October 2003, and is currently in its second year of running on a pilot basis as a Ph.D. enhancement. Various proposals for further CMI M.Phils. are currently under discussion.

The CMI M.Phil. programmes are novel in combining courses in areas of engineering, science, and technology, with courses in business, management, and policy. They are aimed at equipping students with backgrounds in engineering and the sciences for future careers as entrepreneurs, and business and policy leaders. The programmes are jointly designed and developed by faculty from MIT and Cambridge University, although most of the teaching is conducted within Cambridge. MIT faculty contribute directly to the teaching on some courses, sometimes in the flesh and sometimes via videolink, and often on a team-teaching basis with a Cambridge University colleague. Two of the programmes are analogues of programmes that were already in existence at MIT, one was brought on stream concurrently with its sister programme at MIT, and one is new to both Universities. The programmes are all modular in structure, draw on new and existing course offerings from a range of Departments, and offer a varied educational experience that includes study tours, internships, and in one case, students undertaking some of their coursework at MIT. All CMI M.Phil. students are required to take a three-module course on the Management of Technology and Innovation developed by the faculty from the Judge Institute.

There are currently 46 students (16 women, 30 men) across the three programmes, and numbers are set to increase for next year. Competition for places is strong and many applications have already been received. All of the programmes are subject to an independent evaluation programme, and initial reports have been favourable.

In the University's mission statement, we say that our aim is to contribute to society through various programmes of education and research. In agreeing to work with MIT as a result of the Government's initiative, we agreed to pay particular attention to the economic benefits to society, and through this to form a working relationship with another world class University. These M.Phil. programmes, alongside the many other educational and research initiatives coming from the work of CMI, are fully consistent with our mission as a University, and hold out the prospect of many benefits to the University and the UK in the coming years.

Annual Report of the General Board, dated 6 November 2002 (p. 424)


 

Dr D. R. J. LAMING:

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in §23 of this Annual Report the General Board describes its work on a single procedure for promotion to University Senior Lectureships and to personal Professorships and Readerships; but, regrettably, it has again failed to address the matters of favouritism and bias within that procedure. Indeed, in its response to my speech (Reporter, 2002-03, pp. 328-30) on its Report on the revised procedure the Board said, among other things, 'Dr Laming's implications of favouritism and bias do not appear to be based on any evidence.' (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 390). That bit about 'do not appear to be based on any evidence' is untrue, as anyone, even members of the General Board, can ascertain by looking in the Reporter.

In my speeches of 23 January and 12 November last year (Reporter, 2001-02, p. 460-62 and 2002-03, pp. 328-30) I cited some statistics concerning applications for promotion by Readers in the 2001 promotion round and the results of some calculations based on those statistics, calculations that any competent statistician could replicate. The inference from my calculations is that it lies beyond all reasonable doubt, and beyond many degrees of extremely unreasonable doubt as well, that the Readers in question knew, before making their applications, what their chances of promotion were - knew to a very useful degree of accuracy. There is only one source from which such knowledge could have come; it came from members of the Promotions Committees.

Moreover, the data that I cited are equivalent to a tetrachoric correlation of virtually 1.0. That kind of accuracy cannot be obtained from reading an application for promotion. If, for example, two referees comment on a paper submitted to a learned journal or on an application for a grant, their reports are typically two-thirds referee and only one-third paper or grant application. So the advice to potential applicants, whether to apply for promotion, was not based on the strength of their case vis-à-vis the General Board's published criteria, because a mere application for promotion could never support the accuracy of the advice that was provided. That advice was based, instead, on the ability of the sponsor to steer the favoured application through the Promotions Committee, something that members of those committees will have discovered from experience in previous years.

This role played by members of Promotions Committees makes sense of another, otherwise curious, provision in the new promotion procedures. When a University Teaching Officer takes sabbatical leave, he or she undertakes to 'give up all teaching, administrative, and examining duties for the University or for a College or Colleges, other than duties in connection with the supervision or examining of Graduate Students' (Ordinances, XI 6(b)). Moreover 'The General Board regard attendance at meetings of Boards, Syndicates, Committees, or other similar bodies of whatever name, as falling under the head of administrative duties for the purposes of these rules' (Ordinances, XI 8). The supervision of Graduate Students is a necessary exception, because usually there is no one else who can assume that particular duty in the absence of the Teaching Officer on leave. Now there is to be another exception. 'Members [of Promotions Committees] who are on sabbatical leave must seek permission from the Personnel Division to attend meetings held during their period of leave.' (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 109). There is no reason why that duty cannot be carried out by a senior deputy; so why this new exception? The trouble is that a senior deputy will have a mind of his or her own and cannot be relied upon to sponsor the same candidates as the original member of the Committee would if present in person. The inconsistencies in the bias, apparent in the recommendations of Promotions Committees, that would result from year to year will not escape notice, especially from Professor David Dumville (Reporter, 2002-03, pp. 330-31).

All this follows from the statistics I cited in my speeches of 23 January and 12 November last year, and it poses this question: Why should the General Board have uttered so patent an untruth?

If the General Board were to admit to the manner in which candidates for promotions are effectively selected, its authority in the matter would collapse. Established authority seeks to protect itself from criticism at all costs. A similar self-protection by the establishment may be seen in the infamous judgement of the late Lord Denning when dismissing a charge of assault and battery brought by the Birmingham Six. To set the scene, the Birmingham Six were apprehended at Heysham late in the evening of 21 November, 1974, following two pub bombings in Birmingham. By the time the Six appeared in court seven days later, they had been brutally beaten up; that is incontestable. If a significant part of that brutality had been at the hands of the police, then, according to the Judge's Rules then prevailing, the Six's confessions whilst in police custody would have been ruled inadmissible in court. Accordingly, after their convictions, the Six brought a civil action against the West Midlands Police. The Court of Appeal refused to allow the case to proceed. In his judgement Lord Denning said:

If they [the Birmingham Six] won, it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous.

That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say: 'It cannot be right that these actions should go any further. They should be struck out …'1

When the establishment feels itself under threat, truth, decency, honesty, even justice itself, go by the board.

The General Board is concerned, above all else, to defend the newly revised procedures for promotion. Its response to my speech therefore starts from the 'premise' that those procedures are 'OK'; I quote: 'the Board endorse the remarks made by Professor Grant in responding to Dr Laming's speech at the Discussion of the Annual Report of the General Board for 2000-01 (Reporter, 2001-02, p. 462).' (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 390). That might have been a passable response to my speech in the Discussion on 23 January, if it had been made then, but not to my speech of 12 November in which I destroyed the rejoinder by Professor Grant that the Board subsequently chose to endorse. (I mention here that I provided Professor Grant with an advance copy of that second speech so that he could, if he wished, prepare a further rejoinder to follow my speech in the Discussion on 12 November. He chose not to do so.) What to do about my demolition of Professor Grant's remarks in my second speech? The General Board is forced to deny the base on which my argument rested, to pretend that statistics - at least, the statistics that I quoted - are not evidence.

That pretence also has its legal parallel. The Guildford Four were convicted of planting bombs in two pubs in Guildford and one in Woolwich in October and November 1974. Their conviction came to appeal in October 1977 on the basis of truly startling new evidence.

Subsequent to the conviction of the Guildford Four, four members of an IRA 'active service unit' had been caught 'on the job'. With such damning evidence against them, the four IRA men made no attempt to hide the nature of their activity. But they did speak up for the four innocents who had been sent down for life for crimes that they (the IRA men) had carried out. The four IRA men said that they had carried out the bombings at Guildford and at Woolwich. They established their presence at both crimes by providing unpublished details, hitherto known only to the police. They said that the Guildford Four had had no part in those crimes. Indeed, they said that they had never heard of the Four as individuals until they read of their arrests in the newspapers.

Listen now to what Lord Justice Roskill had to say about this new and authoritative evidence in his Appeal Court judgement:

As to this we need only say that so far as the new evidence is concerned we reject it in all relevant respects. That evidence therefore gives rise to no lurking doubts whatsoever in our minds. We are sure that there has been a cunning and skilful attempt to deceive the Court by putting forward false evidence. O'Connell, Duggan, and Butler had ample opportunity whilst awaiting trial to work out how the attempt should be made. Doing so was well within the intellectual capacity of O'Connell. The difficulty lay in finding a substitute for Hill. Dowd was brought in for this purpose. Providing him with his lines could not have been easy as he was not, at any material time in the same prison as the others. He did not, or could not, learn his lines properly. This was the reason why the conspiracy failed.2

The General Board has likewise denied the evidence. That is, indeed, the only 'conclusion' it could come to, short of admitting to us how promotions really are managed. As I have said, when establishment feels itself under threat, truth, decency, honesty, even justice itself, go by the board.

1 The Times, 17 January 1980, p. 10.

2 Regina v. Patrick Armstrong, Carole Margaret Richardson, Paul Michael Hill, and Gerard Patrick Conlon, 1977, p. 43, C-E. London: Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, 28 October, 1977. Crown copyright. Reprinted with permission.

 

Professor G. R. EVANS:

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the General Board's Annual Report has a similar tone to that of the Council. It's that Business Committee again perhaps, ensuring that everything will look smooth on the surface. The image which irresistibly occurs to me is of the energetic polishing of brass doorknobs in the hope that no one will look behind the doors and discover the true chaotic state of the rubbish in our cupboards.

I do not deny that they are trying to make things better, that there is an aspiration to make our procedures 'fit' for our 'purposes' (2). But one could respond more warmly and encouragingly to that if it went with honest self-appraisal and some admissions and did not seek to imply that there is nothing wrong. 'Deny everything' won't do, as Dr Laming has just, once more, shown us. It leads to a continuing debate, not to suppression, for our discussants are persons of spirit and they know their stuff. Couldn't they come clean? Just for once? And admit the need for application of intelligence to some spring-cleaning? We are at present adding to the muddle by throwing in assorted 'initiatives' and just pushing the door shut on it all once more.

I propose to take a few examples relating first to student and then to staff issues covered in the Report, to illustrate my point, which is this: a top class administration will assist our academic committees to raise their myopic noses from their own bits of territory; it will encourage them to think things through; it will command their respect for its intellectual grasp and expert knowledge and its spirit of stewardship. It will not seek to control but to help. Make what you wish of my choice of 'will' rather than 'would'. To my examples.

Student issues

'Establishing a coherent approach to issues of quality assurance of relevance to students with disabilities'. That is one of the things we claim to be doing in a manner we can be proud of. Compare Oxford's published rules with ours. We have scarcely begun. The General Board is not where the real work on quality assurance of relevance to students with disabilities is going on in Cambridge. Our first-rate Disability Resource Centre, set up on HEFCE money which has just run out, has just, just, been moved into more suitable premises, after years inconveniently situated in assorted spare rooms in DAMTP. At last accessible lavatories! The HEFCE-funded posts are to be continued. Good. But no one has thought to provide any money for the Centre to use in the discharge of its responsibilities, to enable it to maintain and expand its provision for disabled students and for staff. Not merely not enough. None. Those students creatively coping with dyslexia in all the many unforeseen forms in which it is now recognized to manifest itself in an academically demanding environment, place a growing burden on the Centre's heroic staff. They welcome it. They cope. I don't see the General Board in there engaging with the practical problems and pushing for the necessary money and the extra 'cover' to be provided. It merely seems to get on knitting that immensely long scarf called 'establishing a coherent approach to issues of quality assurance of relevance to students with disabilities'. I very much hope the QAA auditors will not be fobbed off with all those fancy verbal stitches and will be asking to see the flannel vests and warm socks of real practical provision.

'Changes in … relationship' are spoken of, 'between the Education Committee and other central units'. I did not know we had 'central units'. Kitchen cupboards rise before the mind's eye. There are important questions to do with proper academic supervision of those CMI Ltd courses, to which reference was made in an earlier speech today. There is evidence in the Education Committee Minutes that these were rushed through the system so that it might appear more plausible that the Government was getting value for its £68 million of November 1999. I am referring specifically to the M.Phils. in Environmental Engineering and Sustainable Development; Technology Policy; Bioscience Enterprise. Read the Education Committee Minutes on the Web and you will see the expressions of concern to which I refer. Probably it is all right though. The other 'central units' will be making sure there is nothing to worry about.

The comments we heard earlier raise some interesting and important questions about academic quality assurance when we do not have full control of courses and their delivery. I hope they will be addressed in a more than cursory way.

The M.Phils. were touched on by the Board of Scrutiny in its Seventh Report (47), and I read no answers here to the concerns they raised. The Board were suspicious about the projected costings of the new 'CMI-linked M.Phil. programmes' and the 'general issue of 'premium' fees for M.Phils.' That is going to become important if we are heading for top-up and differential fees, as it seems we now are. Why should students be asked to pay more for courses bolted together in a hurry and about whose quality there is a record of expressions of concern in the Minutes of the Education Committee? How many other courses are going to be 'costed' for their specially high fees on a non-academic basis, as it is admitted these will be?

Teaching, learning, and assessment (4). May I ask publicly for it to be reported to us what proportion of the teaching and learning budget is going to the e-learning initiatives. Is it really nearly half? Shall we soon be imitating Liverpool's 'special offer' to allow graduate students (for a limited period, hurry, hurry) to try certain e-courses on a 'sale or return' basis and without any published admission requirements, in partnership with a commercial firm called IT Professionals? You may see in the Minutes of the 'central units' who is apparently co-ordinating this budget. Explanations please? What is going on? And on what authority in view of the recent non placet?

(5) raises Data Protection Act issues in connection with the General Board's Code of Practice, containing its promises about the documents relating to their examinations students will be allowed to see. Perhaps students really will actually be allowed to see the Minutes of committees which have been discussing them. I wouldn't bet on it myself. But in the meantime, will somebody at least make a pretence of providing comparable promises for staff and students on our Web pages?

The University's employees (24)

When it comes to staff matters I am here to represent the position of 'the Enforcement Agencies' (26), for there is no QAA to come and talk to the University about the way it handles employment matters, and Charles Clarke's new White Paper proposes independent review only for students. If it will not make me look irrelevant please supply the leather gear and the whip in your mind's eye.

An increasing number of staff are coming to me with extraordinary tales of managerial cock-up threatening the security of their employment. This should not be happening and the reasons why it is happening need addressing systematically, not by firefighting potential injustices to individuals one by one, with no one apparently prepared to take the responsibility for over-hauling the system.

I continue to reserve my position on the Personnel Division. 'The Personnel Division aims to provide an effective and proactive service to the University community in an open and transparent manner', says this Report. My own view of the reason things seem to be getting worse not better for the University's staff is that we have continued very actively to march down the road of abolishing the old collegial equality, one person, one vote, and replacing it with master-servant relationships and line-management, without openly deciding together to make this gigantic constitutional change.

We hand more power to those at the top, but we are still not requiring those to whom powers over others are thus entrusted to undergo the relevant training. The Vice-Chancellor's promise of October 2000 remains unfulfilled. Disciplinary procedures used, I believe, to be quite rare. Not any more. Don't expect pastoral and judicial roles to be kept separate. Don't go alone to a meeting to talk things over; you may come out under discipline or suspended. Don't expect the applicable procedures actually to be applied. For example, the new Staff Guide covers redundancy. No mention of the fact that they cannot make a Statute U officer redundant without a Grace of the Regent House. No, just weasel words about attempted redeployment or a redundancy payment.

There are promises about protecting you from stress at work. Step forward all the stressed employees in the University. No, one at a time, slowly, slowly, there isn't room for all of you at once, hundreds of you, no thousands. Stop!

Among the many things I find inexcusable in this area of the General Board's Report is the failure to tackle the implications of the fact that University officers are now invited to inhabit two parallel universes. If you are promoted or appointed to a University office you receive from the Academic Secretary a letter informing you of your appointment and stating that the offer 'is subject to your accepting the terms and conditions of employment set out in this letter and in the enclosed contract'.

That is not true. In the case of Readers and Professors, legally, the 'offer' is surely made when the promotions are Graced. It is certainly 'accepted' by signing the book in the Old Schools under Statute D,I,4, by which act you also agree to obey the Statutes and Ordinances. All officers enter office in the same way. You do not have to sign that contract, new Professor or Reader. The Secretary of the General Board should not be writing these misleading letters. I hope it will stop.

Apparently there are supposed to be 'further particulars' or a 'role profile' attached to my new post. They forgot about that. I am supposed to ask someone who does not know either, the 'line-manager' I would have equipped myself with if I had signed that contract.

There is no duty upon a University Teaching Officer to do administration (Contract, 7). None. Our duty in office is to foster religion, education, learning, and research, and to give instruction in our 'subject' (Statute D,II,4). Anything else is the subject of independent mutual agreement. It is not my duty to observe the University's 'policies' (7) unless they are in the Statutes and Ordinances at the time when I sign the book. I am not bound to comply with the miscellaneous codes and guidelines confusingly put out from time to time on this and that without being properly Graced and without any clear authority, and not published in the big blue book. The contract seems to think it can bind us to obey rules made in the future too (7,20). No, I rather think that if they change the rules in any but minor ways, we are entitled to be invited to give or withhold our consent to the application of the new rules to ourselves.

And I am most certainly not 'expected to notify the head of my Institution' what I propose to do with my sabbatical entitlement (10). It is none of his business to approve what I am researching despite what it says in paragraph (22) of this Report. There are academic freedom issues here of some importance.

(22) of the contract sails very close to the wind in its attempt to tell us we may not discuss the University's affairs except in certain limited circumstances. Substitute a capital D for the small d in discuss and you will see what I mean. It is disappointing to see that there is no encouragement in the Staff Guide to raise concerns for the common good, merely strong hints that you had better not because you would be in breach of the 'confidentiality' rule the University has invented, and by which you bound yourself if you signed that contract.

I'll just have to go on whistling in the dark then. Time magazine has chosen a couple of female whistleblowers (at WorldCom and Enron) as its people of the year. I doubt if I or anyone else raising concerns will be in line for any such award from Cambridge.

 

Professor J. R. SPENCER (read by Dr S. J. COWLEY):

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, on this Report as well the Board of Scrutiny would like to make one comment now, pending further consideration in its own Annual Report later in the year.

This relates to the Time Allocation Survey, mentioned in paragraphs 16 and 17 of the Report.

The University's academic staff were asked to fill in a questionnaire to show the proportion of 'University time' they spent on various different kinds of activity.

Crucial to the questionnaire was the concept of 'University time'. But we were not told how many hours of the week constituted 'University time' for these purposes, or on what days of the week they fell.

To fill the questionnaire in meaningfully, this piece of information was crucial.

Take for example the case of a busy University Teaching Officer who spends 60 hours a week on academic matters, spread over seven days of the week, of which perhaps 20 hours are spent on a combination of supervising undergraduates, College business, and consultancy. As supervising and attending to College business did not count as University business for the purpose of the Survey, the proportion of 'University time' this person spends on 'University business' could have been presented, with equal honesty, in the following three wholly different ways:

(a) on the assumption that 'University time' consists of 40 hours, all between Monday 9 a.m. and Friday 5 p.m., he spends half his University time on 'outside activities';

(b) on the assumption that 'University time' consists of all the 60 hours he devotes each week to 'work', he spends a third of his 'University time' on outside activities;

(c) on the assumption that 'University time' consists of 40 hours over the space of seven days, these being the ones he chooses to devote to University business, the proportion of his time he spends on 'outside activities' is nil.

Without this information, there was no way in which the results of the survey could be other than statistically useless, or positively misleading.

However, when various people (including myself) asked those in charge of the Survey for guidance they were given none, nor were they given any explanation as to why such guidance could not be provided. At this point, some people (again including myself) announced that we refused to return the questionnaire until this guidance was forthcoming, which it never was - and we persisted in our refusal, despite a series of letters suggesting that by our refusal we were letting the University down.

The Board of Scrutiny cannot see any sensible reason why the guidance requested could not have been provided, and regrets that the time of members of Regent House was wasted on what was, in its absence, an exercise in gathering information that was frankly meaningless.

We would like to know why such guidance was not provided, and we would also welcome an assurance that, if there is another Time Allocation Survey in the future, it will be.


Financial Statements (Abstract of Accounts) for the year ended 31 July 2002 (p. 429).

 

TREASURER:

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in their notice published in the Reporter of 20 November 2002 (p. 311) the Council indicated that they intended to publish separately the University's audited Financial Statements and the unaudited Financial Management Information. It had been hoped that the latter would have been in the Reporter in time for those who are interested to read the detailed management information which it contains prior to this Discussion. However, there have been delays and the Financial Management Information, which contains information similar to that included in previous years in the appendices to the Abstract of Accounts, will now appear in a Special edition of the Reporter on Monday, 3 February. I am therefore confining my remarks on this occasion to the published Financial Statements for 2001-02, which constitute both the Abstract of Accounts as required by Statute F, I, 1(d) and the financial statements which the University has submitted to the HEFCE.

The Financial Statements under consideration are the second set of accounts to be prepared using the improved information which is available from the new financial system, and the first to have been entirely under the control of the Director of Finance, Mr Andrew Reid. I hope that he will not mind my saying that, notwithstanding what the Board of Scrutiny and others have described as an unsatisfactory position, there is a good working relationship between the Treasurer and the Director of Finance. Whilst I remain responsible under Statute D, X, 1(c) for preparing for the consideration of the Council and its Finance Committee such statements, accounts, and estimates as they are required to make or to prepare, it is no longer the case (as perhaps it was in Trevor Gardner's time) that the Treasurer carries out these tasks personally. As Treasurer I am supported by the Director of Finance and I am delighted that the professional skills employed by Mr Reid and his team, using detailed and accurate information provided by CUFS, have produced what I believe to be the best set of Financial Statements we have ever seen. I hope that members of the Regent House will agree that these Statements are clear, transparent, and much easier to understand. The Regent House will also have seen that careful note has been taken of points made by the Board of Scrutiny in their Seventh and earlier Reports. Not all of these have been incorporated, but I believe that many improvements have been made.

In preparing the accounts the Director of Finance has been assisted by the University's new external auditors, Deloitte & Touche, who were appointed as the result of a market-testing exercise carried out in accordance with the HEFCE Audit Code. New brooms traditionally sweep clean, and it is fair to say that no corner of the University's dusty rooms has been left untackled. The audit has been carried out in a post-Enron and post-WorldCom world where much greater emphasis is laid on the duties and responsibilities of auditors. Our desire for openness and improved disclosure has led to more explicit statements about the exclusion of CUP and UCLES and the independent Trusts such as the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and the Cambridge Overseas Trust, and an explicit note (Note 26) about the Colleges.

The Statement of Internal Control, on p. 432, is a new statement required by the HEFCE but also representing good practice, which explains the Council's approach to risk management. A start has been made on embedding risk assessment and management into the decision-making process of the University, but much needs to be done before we can feel comfortable that modern standards of risk identification and internal control have been achieved by all parts of the University. Like good health and safety practices and good financial management, risk management needs to be considered much more expressly and regularly, so that it becomes second nature.

The basis of preparation of the Financial Statements is set out on pp. 438 and 4394 of the Reporter. The Council have not changed their accounting policies, which are to show the state of affairs of the University's teaching and research activities in compliance with Statute F. However, as stated in the Basis of Preparation Note, we and Deloitte & Touche have concluded that these policies do not permit the Financial Statements to comply with applicable UK accounting standards. Deloitte's opinion is not qualified in this respect, but it has led the Finance Committee to review the current accounting treatment of CUP and UCLES and to set up a technical working group which expects to report to the Finance Committee and Council later this year and may propose a change in the accounting policies.

In the meantime we are discussing with the HEFCE the implication of the auditors' report on our position under the Financial Memorandum. Financial information should be relevant, reliable, comparable, and understandable, and we do not wish to place the funding council in a difficult position by providing them with Financial Statements which cannot easily be compared with those of our peers.

One change which has already been made, and which the Board of Scrutiny have requested on a number of occasions, is in the Income and Expenditure Account, which now stops at the surplus/(deficit) line. Transfers to and from reserves no longer appear in that Account.

There have been other changes in accounting treatment, notably on the balance sheet, where accounts held in the Amalgamated Fund on behalf of related parties and other associated bodes are shown as a single figure and included in creditors due within one year. Work has also been done to analyse the figure previously shown as 'general endowments'. The element which represents accumulated income has been reclassified as a general reserve, leaving a much smaller amount of permanent general endowment. The University relies on income from that general reserve, however, and any expenditure from it, if not eventually replaced, will permanently reduce endowment income available to the Chest.

Work has started on a major exercise to review 'Special Accounts' (otherwise known as 'Donation Accounts'). There are thousands of these, with an accumulated value of just under £80m. Some of these are Restricted, where the income is only brought into the Income and Expenditure Account when expenditure is made from that source of funds. Others are actually Unrestricted, which should be brought into Income in the year of receipt. A sample reviewed by the Director of Finance and the auditors suggests that perhaps as much as £10m may fall into that category. Correctly treated, this amount should be shown in the Balance Sheet as Reserves rather than as Special Accounts. In the course of 2002-03 all these balances are to be analysed and restated as a prior year adjustment as appropriate. This is something which has needed to be reviewed for a long time, although the work will have to be handled delicately at departmental level.

I turn now to review, briefly, the actual financial information contained in the Statements. Unlike the Allocations Report, which looks at the Chest cash position and makes allocations for present and future expenditure, the Financial Statements show the accounting basis for all University activities in the particular year in question. At this stage therefore, we are not discussing the Chest out-turn, although I am led to believe that as a result of a large number of non-recurrent transactions it was in surplus at the end of the year. By far the largest of those one-off items was the recovery of £3.7m by way of VAT rebate relating to earlier years. Once again I should like to remind the Regent House of the excellent work which is done by our terrier-like VAT officer, who has now at last completed the task of recovery of VAT back to April 1973, when the tax was first introduced. As I said, however, this is not the occasion to go into details of the Chest; instead, we review the overall position.

Last year the equivalent Discussion had under review a set of accounts which showed income rising overall by 7% and expenditure by 13%. In 2001-02, income rose by 12.7% and expenditure by 11%, with the deficit for the year reduced by more than 50% from 2000-01. Key financial points are set out in the much more straightforward Treasurer's Report, where I draw particular attention to the growth in research grant income (up 17.8%), on-going growth in operating costs and especially in staff costs, and continuing expenditure on the capital programme. Although new building costs have reduced from the peak of 2001, premises costs generally continue to rise by well above the rate of inflation. In contrast, the HEFCE core funding rose by only 3.3%, which was a major concern for us along with all other UK universities. We have read the 2002 Grant Letter (that is, the letter sent by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to the HEFCE, to coincide with publication of the White Paper on the Future of Higher Education, and also available on the HEFCE website) with interest and with some cautious optimism - we now await the arrival of the Cambridge-specific Grant Letter from the HEFCE next month.

One trend which I was extremely pleased to report is the continuing improvement in the use of spendable endowment income. I have renewed my efforts to encourage Trust Fund fund managers to spend rather than to accumulate income. This year there was overall a small excess of expenditure over income. There was a further increase in fee income, particularly overseas fees, which rose by 13.5%. In my Report I commented on the success of the Gates Cambridge Trust in bringing numbers of high-quality overseas students to Cambridge. We should also pay tribute to the work of the Cambridge Commonwealth and Overseas Trusts, and latterly the Cambridge European Trust, which have provided essential support and encouragement for overseas students for the past twenty years. One further area of income increase is the 36% rise in trading activities. This needs to be analysed carefully.

Turning to the Balance Sheet, the value of Amalgamated Fund units fell by 16.4% over the year, which reflected the dire state of stock markets all over the world. The Investments Committee continued to believe that it was sensible to be in conservative, value-oriented stocks, but nothing could protect the University from the overall downward trend. This is a continuing source of concern, particularly as the drop in capital value begins to have an effect on our estimates of how much would be prudent to distribute as income. The effect on the balance sheet at 31 July 2002 was offset to some extent by new permanent endowments and donations, by our investments in real property, and by the large amount of cash held in the deposit account.

Overall the Financial Statements for 2001-02 showed a growing and healthy University, but one which is still in deficit, albeit to a smaller extent than last year. The extent to which the improved overall financial position was due to one-off items is a matter for concern and for much discussion in the 2003 budget process.

The Council will soon be receiving the report of Professor Grant's Working Party on the financial position of the University which has been informed by the detailed Financial Management Information due to be published next week. Much still needs to be done to ensure that the overall position is long-term sustainable. The relation between Chest and non-Chest income and expenditure has been explored in great detail by the Working Party and will, no doubt, feature strongly in the Council's Allocations Report for 2003-04. The underlying problems to which I have referred in previous Discussions are still there and have to be tackled. The University's financial position is extremely complex. However, the Government's White Paper gives us cause for cautious optimism about funding for both teaching and research in the somewhat longer term, and the injection of new capital funds through the second round of SRIF will be of great help, provided we use such funds wisely and conservatively and, where relevant, in accordance with the Capital Projects Procurement process. In all these efforts we are greatly assisted by the detailed and accurate information now flowing from the financial system.

 

Professor J. R. SPENCER (read by Dr S. J. COWLEY):

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Board of Scrutiny congratulates all those responsible internally for the Abstract of Accounts, and the University's new auditors Deloitte & Touche, for the way in which the Financial Statements have been presented. We think that their presentation is clearer and better than it has been in previous years.

On a number of occasions, the Board of Scrutiny has publicly stated that the annual accounts of the University ought to be presented in a way that incorporates those of Cambridge University Press and the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, since these are constituent parts of the University. This view the Council has repeatedly rejected.

We therefore draw the Regent House's particular attention to the penultimate paragraph of Deloitte and Touche's report (Reporter, p. 433), which is as follows:

In forming our opinion, we have considered the appropriateness of the accounting policies adopted by the Council, which are disclosed in the Statement of Principal Accounting Policies. In fulfilment of its responsibility under the University Statutes to prepare and to publish an abstract of the annual accounts of the University, excluding the accounts of the University Press, the Council has drawn up financial statements showing the state of affairs and deficit of the University's and group's teaching and research activities. The Council has adopted accounting policies as required by the Statutes or which the Council has determined appropriate. These policies do not permit the financial statements to comply with applicable United Kingdom accounting standards, in that the entities set out in the basis of preparation note which forms part of the Statement of Principal Accounting Policies and works of art have not been included.

The paragraph concludes with the Delphic sentence: 'Our opinion is not qualified in this respect.'

Whatever may be meant by this last sentence, the message from our auditors is plain. The University's current accounting practices do not match up to applicable United Kingdom accounting standards.

 

Dr S. J. COWLEY:

 

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would now like to make a couple of remarks in response to the Treasurer. To the best of my knowledge the Board of Scrutiny has not suggested that there is anything other than a good working relationship between the Treasurer and the Director of Finance. However, it is true that the Board of Scrutiny consider the present statutory position of the Treasurer and Secretary General, given the roles that they are actually performing, as possibly unsatisfactory.

Secondly, the Board of Scrutiny is I would imagine glad that some of our recommendations are being taken on board and is pleased that other of our recommendations, particularly as regards the Press and the Local Examinations Syndicate, are at last being considered by a committee. However, the Board would be probably even more pleased if its suggestions had been implemented in a timely manner when they were made, rather than when outside bodies brought pressure to bear. The Board of Scrutiny is the University's watch-dog and it is one of the ways by which the University can convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we do not need interference from outside bodies in order to regulate ourselves.

 

Professor G. R. EVANS:

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'It may be safely assumed as a principle, … that publicity of the accounts of the receipts and expenditure of public bodies affords the only satisfactory security against inefficient or improvident administration' so asserted Dean Peacock, one of the movers and shakers who first got the Accounts of the University published in 1858 (quoted by A. W. F. Edwards, Reporter, 12 June 1985, p. 665).

'Public bodies should not use taxpayers' money to avoid dealing with poor performance' (Sir John Board, Comptroller and Auditor General, in an NAO press-release on a report of 19 November 1999).

'A high premium should be placed on excellent financial management' (Charles Clarke, DFES paper, November 2002).

This is the first year of the new format. I am grateful to the Treasurer for some honest admissions, in just the spirit I called for earlier today. While I am prepared to believe - and glad to hear the Treasurer's reassurance - that it is a more satisfactory format, and that 'further explanations and disclosures have been made', to those of us who lack the training to read a balance sheet intelligently, it does not seem informative. It is a lot clearer, but still not clear enough. We members of the Regent House cannot hope to do our duty in approving the spending of our money - and the public money we are entrusted with - without adequate information in layman's language.

That important figure I check on every year, revealing (approximately) the galloping expenditure on legal fees which is largely a result of our still not having appointed in-house legal officers, seems not to be there at all this year. I have asked for it but it has not been forthcoming.

It also continues to be difficult to relate this document to the Annual Report on Allocations from the Chest, and it is admitted that that is partly because they are concerned with different tides and eddies of the sea of money which flows in and out of the University. 'Non-recurrent transactions' the Treasurer has just said. Which? VAT recovery (but we still do not know which lab-space should be paying commercial-rate VAT, do we?).

'The Council has adopted accounting policies as required by the Statutes or which the Council has deemed appropriate. These policies do not permit the financial statements to comply with applicable United Kingdom accounting standards, in that the entities set out in the basis of preparation note which forms part of the Statement of Principal Accounting Policies and works of art have not been included.' (p. 433). It is admitted on p. 438 that 'the financial statements do not disclose all assets and liabilities of the corporation known as the University of Cambridge, do not include all income and expenditure of that corporation, and do not comply with certain United Kingdom accounting standards'. So the University cannot be satisfying the requirements of the Financial Memorandum under which HEFCE gives us money. Dangerous, in the light of the White Paper published last Wednesday and the threats of financial punishment for badly managed universities. I am glad to hear from the Treasurer that we are going to tackle all this. About time too, as she says.

The Council are required to 'make judgements and estimates that are reasonable and prudent' (p. 432). But surely the Regent House are the trustees? We must be given the figures. If they are requested in this House, they must be published. No figures can mean much, even to those who understand what they are looking at, and can make due allowance for all the things left out, when there is so little detail in these pages. 'Problems remain', it is admitted, 'with the new financial accounting system' and 'in particular, in areas of research grant monitoring and billing, and of reporting'. I asked where the detailed figures were. I was told they were to be published later this month. It appears they could not be got into print in time for us to take them into consideration in the Discussion of this Statement-Report. We have just heard the Treasurer's helpful apologia. It was not clear from what she said whether we shall be allowed to discuss them. Surely we should not be expected to have our final say today when the figures have not in fact been published? Another bite at the cherry? Please?

Everything I have said so far is really about the risks we are running by not being clear with ourselves, or comprehensive either; nor indeed accurate, in some important constitutional particulars. Who allowed the statement that the Regent House 'comprises the Resident Senior members of the University and the Colleges' to be passed for publication? The Business Committee of the Council?

Risk management is my theme. 'The state of internal control was not satisfactory at the beginning of the financial year 2001-02'. Apparently there are 'improved procedures in place' ((4), p. 432). The Council have 'approved a risk management policy' and 'risk management strategy'. They have 'agreed where the principal management responsibility rests, and determined a control strategy for each of the significant risks'. They have 'established a Risk Steering Committee to oversee risk management' ((7), p. 432). 'The University has prepared a University-wide risk register' ((8), p. 432). There are promised plans to 'arrange a regular programme to identify and keep up to date the record of risks facing the University'; 'to continue the programme of risk awareness training, which is underway'; 'establish a system of key performance and risk indicators'; 'develop and maintain its risk register'.

You can get a copy of this policy if you ask but why has it not been published? It says about itself, 'this risk management policy (the policy) forms part of the University's internal control and governance arrangements'. No it doesn't. We have not approved it.

As I read it, it all seems rather vague. One would not know at all what kind of risks are envisaged. We need some examples, some lists.

Risk to what? The University's cash-flow? Its reputation? Its viability? Its morale? Threats of litigation from staff and students are a financial and reputation risk, and the numbers are rising. Is the RSC getting the figures for numbers of staff and students suing or threatening to do so? There is plenty of 'early warning' in those. Surely that steering committee should be reporting to the Personnel Committee and the Education Committee too.

Doing risk assessment? Oxford's 12 December Blueprint mentions Oxford Risk Research and Analysis (ORRA) among whose founders is Sir John Krebs, who is rumoured to have been short-listed for the Vice-Chancellorship here. Oxford was also involved in the creation of the Active Risk Management in Education procedures funded by HEFCE. I am told we know about them but are confident that our own procedures are all right anyway and do not need to include that kind of thing in our risk management analysis. They cover branches of risk which will not be dealt with by our Risk Steering Committee.

Yet our existing procedures will not stand up to comparison with the good practice guidelines to be read on the Bristol University Web page where ARMED is located. We are at frightful financial and reputational 'risk' if a member of staff or a student sues and points out that we were too arrogant or lazy to ensure that our standards matched these most basic standards. ARMED procedure (1) Student contract and charters: Oxford is working on this. Why aren't we? ARMED procedure (8) Student complaints procedure: looks as if we shall have to overhaul ours to bring it up to this HEFCE-approved standard. ARMED procedure (12) Outside work: there is a good deal in that of relevance to our IPR debate. And look at the Oxford Gazette of 16 January, p. 616, on approval to hold outside appointments. One may not like all of its contents, but look at the quality of the drafting.

Has the Risk Management Working Party which was set up secretly, without as far as I know inviting applications for membership, been told to read the ARMED procedures and give some thought to all this?

An anonymous postcard came through my door in the summer of 2002. A 'supporter' afraid to be identified wanted me to know that in Blackwood's Magazine, October 1902, there was an article entitled 'Mere Children in Finance' and dealing with Oxford's and Cambridge's financial situation. It will not surprise you that it is still in many respects bang up to date. There is a notice in the Mill Lane area stating that this is the 'University of Ambridge'. Run by the Grundies?

 

REGISTRARY:

 

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, each year we hear Professor Evans call for information about the University's legal expenses. Each year I fail to hear her declaration of interest.

However, the real reason I wanted to comment is on one of her inaccuracies this afternoon. There is a University officer working in the Unified Administrative Service employed by the University as an in-house lawyer.


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Cambridge University Reporter, 5 February 2003
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