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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 8 June 2004. A Discussion was held in the Council Room of the following Reports:

Report of the Council, dated 24 May 2004, on certain administrative offices (p. 714).

Professor G. R. EVANS (read by Ms A. L. CHAPMAN):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am not going to add to my previous remarks on the moves on the chess-board which led to the simultaneous departure last summer of the previous holders of these two offices, and what that cost us. The trail of speeches touching on all this is easy enough to follow if anyone wants to search the Reporter and read all about it.

This is going to be a speech about the way executive powers creep about in the University. It is a convention that Reports begin, where appropriate, with a little history. The history in this one does not go back to the point when we scarcely had an administration at all (just the Chancellor and the Proctors). The Registrary arrived as we said good-bye to the Middle Ages. It is only for the last century or so that we have had senior administrators 'among' us in any numbers. The University is nearly eight hundred years old. The Treasurer was invented as recently as 1926 and the Secretary General in 1934.

The sense in which they are 'among' is central to the present Report. 'The functions of the two offices have varied significantly from time to time, as the needs of the University have changed, and according also to the aptitudes and interests of the officers concerned, and the developing responsibilities of other officers, in particular the Vice-Chancellor and the Pro-Vice-Chancellors, and the Registrary and Directors in the University Offices.' (2).

So it is being contended that 'functions' can be identified which have been passed from hand to hand like a constitutional pass the parcel. (Or perhaps we have been playing musical chairs, for now the music has stopped again and the Secretary General and the Treasurer find there is nowhere for them to sit.)

In the next paragraph the 'functions' mutate into (or turn out to include) 'executive authority'. 'Until the changes made following the Wass Report the roles of Secretary General and Treasurer went significantly beyond those of routine administration and were particularly important in supporting the policy work of the General and Financial Boards, and in terms of executive authority and leadership under the chairmanship of a part-time, short-term, Vice-Chancellor.' (3).

Having apparently established to the satisfaction of the members of the Council who signed this Report that the parcel of 'executive powers' is so securely tied up that it can be handed around, the Report sees it as a short logical step to hand it over to the Pro-Vice-Chancellors, for the 'Pro-Vice-Chancellors were appointed to support the Vice-Chancellor and to provide further academic and strategic leadership' (4). I cannot find the claim that they were to have 'executive authority', mind.

Who is to get the 'executive' powers it is alleged the Treasurer and Secretary General were exercising, and how will they be defined when they eventually draft the new Statutes and Ordinances which are missing from this Report? Some of them are to go to the Registrary who will merely delegate them to the officer who wields them at present, under his own line-management. 'The Registrary or a University officer designated by the Council, after consultation with the General Board, shall act as Secretary of the General Board. In the present configuration of administrative posts the Council would expect to designate the Academic Secretary in this role.'

'The other administrative functions formally allocated by the Statutes and Ordinances to the Secretary General are relatively minor and the Council propose that they should be transferred to the Vice-Chancellor or a duly authorized deputy, or to the Registrary or a University officer designated by the Registrary according to their nature' (11). But they are not minor. To the Secretary General go all sorts of matters of considerable importance for individuals and Faculties affected - the raising of a concern under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, for instance. There are hordes of them which should surely have been dug out and listed for us in this Report?

The Treasurer, as I have frequently pointed out, has regularly been allowed to accept tenders on behalf of the University, and this does not appear to have kept us out of the red at all effectively. This power is to go to the Vice-Chancellor, who will hand it over to a deputy, almost certainly the one dealing with Planning and Resources (15).

And who will get the rest of the former powers of the Treasurer? The Registrary (yes I know there are qualifications at (16)). He will also get 'the various administrative roles' (16, b) and 'supervision of the Directors of the University Farm and the Corporate Liaison Office, and the Telecommunications Manager, is currently delegated to the Registrary' (17).

'The present Report is submitted for consultation and provisional approval (subject to legislation)' (7). That is not quite accurate, is it? We are going to be asked to approve a Grace of alarming woolliness, to give 'general approval to the proposals in this Report', which are themselves blurry to a degree. We are to do this without even a glimpse of the 'detailed legislation' in which, famously, devils always lurk.

What is the overall effect of these proposals? It is to centralize power still further in the Unified Administrative Service, under the line-management of an executive Registrary, and in the hands of executive Pro-Vice-Chancellors and an executive Vice-Chancellor who will be taking over those 'executive' powers allegedly belonging to these two defunct offices. The cabal in the Dome Room will by this route get exactly the kind of powers we voted not to give to the Vice-Chancellor in last year's infamous jumble of proposed changes to our governance. As I recollect, our objection was not to the Vice-Chancellor personally having such powers but to their passing out of the control of the Regent House. A hint of worse to come is in the advertisement for the new Director of Public Affairs (Reporter, 19 May, p. 700) who is to 'be part of the senior team working closely with the Vice-Chancellor, the Registrary, and key stakeholders in leading the communications function'. This person, who is being head-hunted for us by Ffion Hague's firm, is to be a member of the UAS and under the line-management of the Registrary, but not it seems a University officer. This non-officer, who will not have to sign the book and undertake to obey the Statutes and Ordinances, and who will not have the vote here, is 'to develop a public affairs strategy to enhance the understanding and positioning of the University', to advise the Vice-Chancellor and other senior officers on public affairs, strategy, and management, and 'to implement a public affairs and media relations strategy'.

So if they are sincere in saying that this Report is merely for consultation, may we have sight of the proposed legislative proposals before we are asked to approve these recommendations please? What possible advantage except to the Ship of State in the Old Schools can there be in getting a vague approval before we really know what we are approving?

'These developments have made the designation of the offices of Secretary General and Treasurer as principal advisers inappropriate. The Council therefore propose that these statutory designations should be repealed'(5). I do not think we should agree to that until we can see very clearly the probably constitutional knock-on effects, and exactly what 'executive powers' we are giving up.

Report of the Council, dated 24 May 2004, on the financial position of the Chest, recommending allocations for 2004-05 (p. 716).

Professor A. C. MINSON:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, at the equivalent of today's Discussion last year the Treasurer reported to the University a continuing Chest operating deficit. The deficit for 2002-03 was predicted at £8.4m, the estimated deficit for 2003-04 was £5.1m and the Council had set a very challenging target of break-even by 2007. Notwithstanding the lower than forecast deficit in 2002-03, that target now looks unrealistic.

As the Report notes, the University is now faced with items of additional expenditure and reductions in income. These include a substantial increase in the energy bill and a decrease in student fee income due to the expansion of the EU, for which we will receive no compensation from HEFCE. The result of the actuarial valuation of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) is the most significant blow. A cash contribution of £9.5m was required in the current year, bringing the latest estimated Chest deficit to £15.6m in 2003-04. The increased employer contribution to CPS adds £6.3m to expenditure in future years. In the face of these inescapable adverse movements, current projections do not achieve a balanced budget by 2007.

The Allocations Report deals only with Chest income and expenditure, constituting only about half of the University's budget. It is notable that the Chest deficit for 2002-03 was £6.2m but the out-turn for the University as a whole, as reported by the income and expenditure (I&E) account in the University's financial statements, was close to balance. This reflects a growth of reserves in Departments and institutions which offset almost all of the deficit in the Chest. It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue follow the implementation of the Finance Working Party recommendations, which require increased contributions to the indirect costs of activities supported from discretionary accounts. It is also worth noting that from this year the accounts of UCLES will be included with those of the University, in accord with modern accounting practice. UCLES operates in a rapidly changing world but is at present recording an operating surplus, and the I&E account for 2004-05 may therefore be close to balance despite a substantial Chest deficit. These factors serve to illustrate the financial complexity of our University. The Chest provides the resources for supporting the core activities of the University, but Chest account, taken alone, does not necessarily provide a reliable picture of the University's financial health.

The financial challenges that face us are not straightforward but the crucial first step is to achieve a better understanding of our income and expenditure. The Resource Allocation Model (RAM) is not perfect and it requires further work, but it allows devolved budgeting and provides Schools, and other institutions, including the UAS (Unified Administrative Service), with a better understanding of their sources of income and their true costs. The on-going TRAC analysis (Transparent Approach to Costing) attempts to assess the real costs of teaching and research; the implementation of FEC (Full Economic Costing of Research) as required by the Office of Science and Technology from October 2005, will provide a parallel assessment of true research costs, and is designed to ensure that universities price their research on a sustainable basis. The implementation of the RAM and analysis of TRAC and FEC place significant additional burdens and costs on the administration, both centrally and in Schools and other institutions, but TRAC and FEC are required by external agencies and they will help to guide us in future decision-making.

Much of this is work in progress, but some, perhaps obvious conclusions can be drawn. Space is expensive. The Estate needs to be developed but not expanded. New buildings can be justified only if equivalent space can be relinquished or if plans are in place which demonstrate that both the capital and recurrent costs can be recovered. This applies to all parts of the University - not merely to academic Departments. The Capital Projects Process, overseen by the Planning and Resources Committee, attempts to ensure that this discipline is in place, but we also need to improve our space management and space usage.

Teaching lies at the heart of our mission, but to maintain the quality to which we aspire it must be given financial support, and the proposed additional fee income will not be sufficient. Our stewardship of collections, our libraries, museums, gardens, and galleries are a central part of the life of the University and they contribute to teaching and research. But they also need support. We are spreading our endowment thinly - too thinly, and quality is therefore at risk. These facts raise questions about growth. Our student numbers have grown steadily for many years. Should they continue to grow? Should we allow our 'treasures' to grow without adequate under-pinning endowment? A planning enquiry document sent to all Schools and institutions during May seeks responses to these issues, among others.

The news is not all bad. There are encouraging signs that Schools and Departments are taking action to improve their financial position and to meet agreed targets set by the Resource Allocation Model. There are expectations of additional income, notably from the probable introduction of higher fees, the generation of endowment from the 800th Campaign, and the proper pricing of research. It would be tempting to include predictions of these new income streams in future projections and to show a balanced budget by 2008. There are, however, considerable unknowns: changes will be introduced into the HEFCE funding formulae for teaching and research; the impact of FEC on research income is uncertain; the HE Bill has yet to be passed and the Government has no fall-back. Perhaps most important, the spiralling housing costs in the Cambridge area make it difficult to predict the future costs of recruiting and retaining high-quality staff. The Council are persuaded that balance can be achieved, but the challenge is substantial and it should not be supposed that predicted new income streams will reduce the challenge.

Dr D. M. THOMPSON (read by Dr A. D. STREET):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Report before us today is a sorry tale. The opening paragraphs explain various reasons which lie behind the worsening financial position of the University, even if the hope is held out of better times around the corner. I do not doubt the significance of the various problems, not least the importance of the reduction in real terms of the value of various allocations received from the HEFCE; and, as is hinted in paragraph 9(ii), the tendency of the funding council to micro-manage its allocations has also been unhelpful.

However, I am equally dismayed by the lack of imagination shown in this Report on the way through these various problems. Once again we are to have a Savings Exercise. I have lost count of the number we have had since I was first appointed to my University post in 1970. My post was in effect the amalgamation of what had been two posts in the subject previously; and this has been the story of various Faculties in the University over the last thirty years or more. When I was Chairman of my Faculty Board some fifteen years ago, I realized, because of my concurrent membership of the General Board, that we had to look at things differently. If there was to be growth and development in our subject, we had to take the initiative, because the University would not.

In the period since 1990 the Faculty of Divinity has raised the funds to endow four new posts; and this is a process to which we remain committed. A consequence of that process is that Faculties which take such initiatives should not suffer disproportionately from savings exercises; otherwise both Faculty fund-raisers and potential benefactors will be put off. However, among the Arts and Humanities we seem to be unusual, if not unique. Yet this process is vital if we are to provide the range of teaching, which should be expected in a modern degree in Theology and Religious Studies. It is very much easier for large Faculties to lose a post here or there than for small Faculties; and the academic implications of such decisions are important. I am very concerned at the way in which the apparent 'fairness' of sharing out savings targets among Schools and among Faculties within Schools enables us to avoid reflecting on the academic implications of the decisions we are taking. In principle, larger Faculties might be expected to be better equipped to raise funds to develop their subjects; but it does not seem to be like that. Indeed some Faculties in the School of Arts and Humanities can meet their savings target by keeping a post vacant, whereas a Faculty like my own, which does not have any immediate forseeable vacancies (and none which could actually be afforded in academic terms) will struggle to find real money to contribute to such a target.

It is symptomatic of the approach of this Report that the references to increasing income are very few, and essentially concentrated in the last paragraph on the Development Office. But the Council's preference for targetting fund-raising as far as possible on general endowment in paragraph 9(v) illustrates its detachment from the real world of fund-raising. It is a truism that increasing general endowment is the least attractive object for fund-raising. But there are a number of existing chairs in the University that are partially endowed. (The reason that they are partially endowed - now - is partly due to the University's failure to secure the increase in the real value of the endowments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and partly to the periods of rapid inflation in the twentieth century, not least in the last quarter.) Although such benefactions might not have quite the same attraction as ones which carry the benefactor's name, I would hope that the kudos of being associated with such historic chairs would carry its own reward. My own Faculty is certainly considering this in relation to one of its chairs. I am sure that there are other ways of securing benefactions which will both be specific enough to have a particular appeal and also cumulatively offer some contribution to general endowment.

We need to recognize that we can no longer depend upon the Government to supply our basic needs as a university. This requires a fundamental change in mindset, which must affect all members of the Regent House as well as those in the central bodies. It also means that we need to be much more prepared to confront the Government with the reality of their under-funding of higher education instead of hoping that by being nice to them they will be nice to us. Four years on the General Board and six years on the Council under both Conservative and Labour governments destroyed any belief I might have had that the Government would be our helper - and I have not even mentioned the running sore of University Teachers' pay! So, although I see the force of the detailed proposals in this Report, I do hope that the Council will have a broader vision by the time they complete their plan later this year to bring the University's finances into balance over the five-year period. That is what the University needs for its continued development in the twenty-first century.

Professor G. R. EVANS (read by Ms A. L. CHAPMAN):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, (2) 'The financial position of the University has worsened significantly during the past 12 months.' 'The single largest factor is the return to making regular contributions in the Cambridge University Assistants Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS)'. I am glad that has been attended to but one wonders why the contributions were allowed to get so dangerously far behind.

Our deficit is growing. Even the financially challenged among us who do not read balance sheets with full understanding are bound to wonder why we are still allowing the Estate Management and Buildings Service to hatch huge expensive plans and fly these paper darts on the wind of half-promises from possible (just possible) donors and benefactors. 'An important outcome of implementing the C[apital] P[rojects] P[rocess] will be a clearer and more transparent understanding of the risks to the Chest which certain projects involve' (48). One does hope so.

'The Council also propose an allocation of £2m for staff restructuring as the minimum needed to implement the financial strategies of Schools and other institutions.' (4). At (45) there is mention of 'staff restructuring by early retirements and redundancies and positioning for the next Research Assessment Exercise. A provision of £2m has been made to facilitate restructuring.' So this restructuring is going to include getting rid of people. We have learned in recent exercises that early retirement is an expensive way of doing that. And so is paying redundancy payments or settling unfair dismissal cases taken to Employment Tribunals. But surely we need not worry, for it says that the famous scholars of this University are valuable to it. (7) 'The greatest risk to the University is that it fails to recruit and retain high quality staff of all grades. If Cambridge is to survive as a world-class university, it must … generate sufficient funds to allow further investment including greater rewards for staff'. So does that mean you will either be sacked or promoted depending whether your Head of institution considers you a liability or an asset for the next Research Assessment Exercise? 'The expectation is that the staff profile will reach a new steady state within a few years, at which time funds liberated by the retirement of senior staff will be available for promoting more junior staff.' (9, iii). Is that a promise or a threat? We are also bound to wonder who at what level and on what authority approved the £75,000 for the salary of the new Director of Public Affairs in these straitened times? Not a lot for the kind of person we are presumably looking for, admittedly, but the equivalent in salary terms of two University Lectureships.

There are assertions about student numbers and the admission that we are overcharging overseas students by 2% above the rate of inflation (32) which all needs a hard look. I hope CUSU will ask some questions about the principle of overcharging some students to provide bursaries for others.

The last point to which I would like to draw the attention of the Regent House and on which I ask for a Report before this goes any further is at (25). 'The special funding for Chinese Studies has been discontinued. Funding for minority subjects is under review, but has been continued for one more year.' We have taken no decision about discontinuing minority subjects. We have not even begun to discuss the implications. Before I am abolished I would like to be discussed.

Report of the General Board, dated 12 May 2004, on the Institute of Biotechnology (p. 728).

No comments were made on this Report.

Report of the General Board, dated 12 May 2004, on the establishment of a Bernard Wolfe Professorship of Health Neuroscience (p. 730).

No comments were made on this Report.

Report of the Faculty Board of Architecture and History of Art, dated 24 February 2004, on revision of Part II of the History of Art Tripos (p. 732).

Dr P. BINSKI:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I think it appropriate to explain very briefly how and why this Report has arisen. It marks the end of a process of Tripos reform that began in my subject in the mid-1990s with a departmental review. This led in 1999 to the introduction of a Part I in History of Art which previously had been a Part II subject only. That has taken root very well. This has been followed by consideration of our postgraduate qualification and the introduction of an M.Phil. in 2003. This Report from the Faculty Board of Architecture and History of Art concerns the revision of Part II of the History of Art Tripos, which I think I can summarize fairly succinctly since it is set out very clearly on p. 732 of the Reporter.

The issue regarding Part II is that it should be brought into line finally with the adaptation that we have been making to the Tripos since it became an admission subject a few years ago. The point set out in the Report is really a simple one of flexibility. We propose that a process whereby students taking the two-year Part II retake a special subject that they have taken for the Preliminary Examination should end and undergraduates should instead take a total of four special subjects in the years of Part IIA and Part IIB. This means that they will not be retaking a subject and, for a variety of reasons, this will be much easier to staff, fund, and arrange. When a staff member goes on leave at present we cannot always offer the topic.

So flexibility is a major issue. The second major one being the introduction of one more paper in Part IIB of the new proposed form of Part IIA/Part IIB. Paper 2 in Part IIB is called the Display of Art. The purpose of this paper is simply to complement the long-standing emphasis that my Department has placed upon the study of the historiography and theory of the subject with a course that recognizes that many students will not be going on to further academic work but will be going on to work in the art world, museums, curating, etc. It therefore seemed appropriate that we should try to harness the enormous existing resources of the University: the Fitzwillam Museum, the Colleges, the Hamilton Kerr Institute, and so on, to create a paper that would enable students to have some experience of the practicalities of art displaying, exhibition maintenance, etc., in the professional world. This is not simply a vocational issue, however, because the issue of the display of art is something that is now also of quite serious intellectual interest - the nature of exhibitions, art galleries, museums, their formation, development - in the history of western European culture. It is something that is now and has been for some time a subject of quite considerable interest.

So the main point of the Report is that the Faculty is in favour of the principle that there should be a new Part IIA and new Part IIB to replace the old Preliminary and Part II Examinations and that there should be a paper additional to the papers that have existed already which should be on the Display of Art.

I should add finally that as far as we can see there are no serious resourcing issues in the introduction of that new paper.


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Cambridge University Reporter 16 June 2004
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