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A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Jeremy Sanders was presiding, with the Senior Proctor, two Pro-Proctors, the Registrary's deputy, and eleven other persons present.
The following Reports were discussed:
Fourth Report of the Council, dated 17 March 2008, on the development of the University's land in North West Cambridge (p. 613).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'The North West Cambridge site represents the only substantial area currently in the University's ownership for future academic developments in the long term.' One is bound to wonder, in the light of what became of the grand promises made in connection with the West Cambridge site, both practically and aesthetically, whether it is wise to 'spend' the rest of the University's land bank on another grandiose and ambitious scheme. It is a law of the Consultant Jungle that the flashier the 'vision' Consultants put before the University, the more they will be able to charge. How many of the premises set out before us here can be relied upon even in the medium term, what with 'credit crunch' and the ever-changing fashions in the Great Climate Change Panic? What if Government decided to require all universities to grow their share of bio-fuels as a condition of receipt of future HEFCE funding? I barely jest. HEFCE have now taken up 'sustainability' as a core principle to be considered in their 'conversation' with universities and Green is going to be Good in winning higher education funding. So my first question is whether it is wise, or necessary, to think so 'big'. There is much to be said for quiet organic growth over time. That worked quite well in making Cambridge the beautiful place it is.
Secondly, I wonder how wise it is simply to believe what we are told. The Regent House is invited to rely on a number of assertions in giving consent to what is now proposed: 'As explained in the Third Report, global corporations are carrying out significantly more of their basic research externally' 'a number of industrial research laboratories have already been set up in Cambridge. These provide opportunities for interaction', but on what terms, once an industrial laboratory is sitting pretty in possession of acres of the University's land on a nice long lease? Remember the Discussion of the academic year 1998-9 about the building of a new Computer Laboratory in part of which Microsoft would be working, in which it was remarked that:
The 'framework agreement' documenting the disposition of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) that arises from projects involving collaboration between Laboratory and Microsoft staff is now in force: it apparently contains a clause colloquially known as the 'coffee room clause' to explain what happens to IPR that arises in casual conversation rather than in pre-planned activity. The precise details of this agreement are naturally and properly confidential. However when companies other than Microsoft wish to support work within the Laboratory or otherwise collaborate with us they may naturally seek a clear and definitive statement as to what they can be certain will not become available to Microsoft under the terms of the framework.1
I have often wondered how that worked in practice and how it has been affected by the IP rules now in force. An example of just how badly wrong Cambridge Enterprise can get 'interactions' between academic research and its commercial exploitation was the subject of a finding by the Technology Appeal Tribunal in the summer of 2007, which you may read about in the Reporter of 23 April.2 Then there is the financial risk in trusting big corporations to be there for you in the long term. Remember what happened about the Marconi building when Marconi collapsed?3
My third concern is one I have often voiced before. The open-ended delegation of decision-making powers after approval by the Regent House of an idea of extreme vagueness, repeatedly erodes the control of the Regent House. How many times has a Grace allowed the General Board to take its own decisions on a particular matter in future? How frequently did we pass a Grace allowing the former Treasurer or her successors to accept tenders? What is to be approved here seems to hand over power to take this immense project forward not to an academic organ but to a different Officer, the Registrary:
18. The finalization by the University of a Master Plan developed from the Lent 2008 emerging Master Plan will need to be an iterative process by way of continuing engagement with stakeholders, and responding to the outcome of the North West Cambridge Area Action Plan. At this stage the Council invites the Regent House's approval of the provisional mix of uses
This sounds innocuous enough. But look at what is really being granted. Control is surely being signed away with the handing over of 'decision-making powers' to a small group chaired by the Registrary, with a Project Director reporting to the Registrary, who will be largely unaccountable to the Regent House unless by chance it gets to hear of some of the decisions taken on its behalf under these delegated powers:
The Finance Committee have approved the appointment of a Project Director to take overall responsibility for delivery of the project against the strategic and financial objectives set by the University. The Project Director will report to the Registrary through the Director of the Estate Management and Building Service. In addition the governance structure will be supplemented by an executive group chaired by the Registrary, reporting to the Strategy Committee and through it to the Finance Committee and Council. The group will have the authority to consider and take decisions within the overall strategic and financial framework set by the Committee and the University. Its membership is the Registrary (Chair), the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Planning and Resources), Mr Alexander Johnston (Chair of the North West Cambridge Strategy Committee), the Director of Finance, and the Project Director.
What exactly does 'within the overall strategy and financial framework' mean in terms of Reports to the University and agendas and minutes posted on the intranet? I noticed that in his interview in the current edition of Cam, the Registrary is reported as saying, 'Cambridge remains a self-governing community of scholars but they have delegated authority to senior bodies and individuals'.4 Here is an example. The question is how far this handing over of the real decision-making to a 'management' should go in this University.
1 Reporter, 1998-99, p. 309
2 Reporter, 2007-08, p. 634
Cambridge Ordinances on Intellectual Property rights are online at http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/so/so_ch13.pdf
3 Reporter, 2002-03, p. 1205
Dr D. R. DE LACEY:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, is it not somewhat ironic that the first two Reports under scrutiny today concern the development of as-yet unspoiled farmland and the sale of land with buildings on it? The irony is compounded by the fact that the second Report recommends this sale 'as an exception to that policy'; that is, 'the normal policy of retaining freeholds in the City Centre'. No reasons are given for this exception. Meanwhile the University Farm is to be covered with new building. I must declare an interest here, as about half of the proposed development will be in the Parish of Girton, of which I am currently Chairman.
There is a worrying inflation hitting our planning of North West Cambridge. In a robust response to Dr Grove the Council affirmed in 2003 'The University will plan for high quality sustainable transport provision. There is no intention for housing development to accommodate anything like 10,000 people.'1
In November 2003, the site was to be for 'up to 2,000 units of accommodation over future decades',2 a datum repeated in the Third Report of 2005. But in a Report of 7 January 2008, Council acknowledges that the Cambridge Local Plan Public Inquiry had approved only 'housing with an indicative capacity of 1,150 dwellings.'3
That Plan was adopted in July 2006: the fact that it is now to be replaced by a Local Development Framework does not of itself allow a doubling of the housing density. Yet our Report inflates the earlier figures from 2,000 to 2,500 dwellings (in paragraph 6), and adds 'housing for up to 2,000 students'. We are not very far at all from Dr Grove's 10,000 inhabitants after all. What is it that has happened, much less than even a single decade on, to turn the robust denial to a tacit admission? The Reports do not tell us.
The response to Dr Grove continued, 'there is no certainty that Cambridge Airport will be released for development during the Structure Plan period, and it is unlikely that development could take place until 2010 at the earliest. The development of Cambridge Airport would not meet the University's needs'. In the current situation, Council might be encouraged to re-think the options.
And that 'high quality sustainable transport'? The plan is for a road right through the development (making a mockery of the so-called 'Girton gap'), ideal for the private motor-car. Apart from that, there are two vacuous, aspirational statements that, 'The site should be well-served by sustainable transport routes' (paragraph 13) and that, 'the infrastructure layout has been refined, taking into consideration public transport requirements' (paragraph 15). Have our planners simply forgotten their promise?
If not, can we know what is in mind? Again, the Reports do not tell us.
This Report rightly states that the local authorities have agreed, not to the original University proposal ('Option 10.1') but to a significantly smaller footprint ('Option E'; paragraph 15). The Report fails to note, however, that the current 'emerging Master Plan' is not at all in accord with Option E, any more than it is in line with the Local Plan. It appears, then, that the University Officers pushing the development forward have decided to ignore the wishes of the local authorities, presumably on the assumption that they can appeal any local authority refusal and sweet talk the inspectors. Is this a responsible attitude for Regents to underwrite?
Could we not at least look at renovating and retaining the housing stock at 28-29 Trumpington Street and 1-2 Fitzwilliam Street first?
1 Reporter, 2002-03, p. 695
2 Reporter, 2003-04, p. 149 (italics discussant's own)
3 Reporter, 2007-08, p. 392
Report of the Council, dated 17 March 2008, on the sale of premises in Trumpington Street and Fitzwilliam Street (p. 616).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr. Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'The Council recommends that approval be given to the sale of the freeholds of 28-29 Trumpington Street and 1-2 Fitzwilliam Street.' I am not clear why this is to be 'an exception' to 'the general policy of retaining City Centre freeholds'. We are not really given an explanation, are we? Surely this is something the University may come to regret, so may we have a much fuller justification please in a Notice in response by the Council?
Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 17 March and 6 March 2008, on the introduction of a degree of Master of Research (the M.Res.) (p. 617).
Professor J. S. BELL:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak in support of this proposal, from the basis of the needs of the School. As the Report makes clear, the present degree title of M.Phil. covers a number of different types of courses of study. Within my school, there are conversion Masters, advanced study Masters, and research preparation Masters. The M.Phil. can only be taken once. Within the School, there is a desire that students should be able to take both, for example, a conversion Masters, followed by a research preparation Masters, before moving on to a Ph.D. We have, from the Research Councils, grants to support people to study research preparation Masters, but obviously only if they have the appropriate title. And therefore what is proposed here makes abundant sense, because it enables a number of Departments within my School to provide the sort of range of graduate programmes which is appropriate to their students and meets their academic aspirations. As is made abundantly clear in the Report, there is no requirement that any Department or Faculty within the University adopt the title of M.Res., which is a well recognized title within the sector, but that those that wish to do so may adopt this title as a re-labelling of some of their M.Phils., and indeed, within my School, at least a couple of Departments would wish to do so as early as possible. This is very much an enabling piece of legislation, which supports the academic aspirations of Departments, and I recommend it to the Regent House. I would merely observe that I regret that this requires, not only approval of the Regent House, but also, the approval of the Privy Council. It does seem to me strange in these days that we have to change our Statutes in order to change the titles of our degree programmes and I hope an opportunity will be taken as early as possible to enable the academic community to decide its own titles without interference from the Privy Council.
Dr C. T. MORLEY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, one does wonder whether the thinking behind this Report has been radical enough.
The Report mentions ten different titles for Masters' degrees already in existence in the University, and goes on to propose the introduction of another! In these days of transcripts, setting out in detail just what has been studied and done, and when common usage across the academic world is to talk simply of taking 'a Master's degree in such-and-such ', could not thought be given to reducing, rather than increasing, the number of degree titles? One might well accept the proposition that 'a wider range of different models of Masters provisions is appropriate', without agreeing that, 'a wider range of different degree titles is appropriate', also. What is so special about Masters' degrees, that their titles need to proliferate so? The University manages quite well with only one Bachelor's degree title - the B.A. - for the great majority of students, and only one title (Ph.D.) for the first doctorate - in both cases awarded irrespective of the subject studied, provided that the required academic level has been attained.
It is surprising in such a Report to see no mention of the way that the rest of Europe is said to be coalescing, in a process initiated by the Bologna Declaration of 1997, on Masters' degrees requiring two years of further study after the Bachelor level has been reached. Here is the University proposing to add another degree, defiantly out of line with this process. Can British universities, and Cambridge in particular, long stand aloof in this way?
Would it not be sensible for the University to consider rescinding all of its current Masters' degree titles - though retaining or even widening the range of routes to Master's level - and replacing them by a single degree, to which a student may proceed after successfully completing two years of Master's level study (just as one may proceed to the B.A. after three successful undergraduate years, and to the Ph.D. after three years of research and an accepted thesis)?
The time required would be two academic years of full-time study, or the agreed equivalent of part-time work - and there would need to be regulations about the requirements on the various routes to the unified degree, by higher-level study and/or research, just as there are regulations about what is required for the B.A. For example, a successfully completed first year of research towards a Ph.D. could be accepted as one year of Master's level study, as would be the final year of study towards the current M.Eng. or M.Sci. Degrees, and perhaps Part III of the Mathematical Tripos. For professional subjects like Engineering or Law, in which only one year of this Master's level study is currently undertaken in residence, a system could be introduced of reporting successfully on some agreed period of professional practice before proceeding to the Master's degree.
The suggested name for this single degree? Master of Arts 2009 - or Master of Arts for short - scrapping the current regulations for this degree also, and thus rescuing into modern circumstances an ancient degree of this University, scarcely mentioned in the Report under discussion, a degree which is regarded with some disdain in the rest of the academic world.
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, a note in rejoinder before I begin my planned remarks. The exercise of our degree-awarding powers is no light matter. But may I remind the first speaker that it is of immense importance to the protection of our autonomy that we continue to be free under the Oxford and Cambridge Act 1923 to create our own Statutes subject to the consent of the Privy Council, which is never in practice withheld. Look at the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 and quail at the alternative.
First let me welcome the prefatory 'general comments about the University's provision of Masters programmes', not only because it is high time Cambridge did some joined-up thinking about the patterns of its proliferating Masters' degrees, but also because the world's expectations have been moving on. Thus:
Education at Masters level serves a wide variety of purposes. It must cater for diverse student groups seeking a Master's Degree for various reasons, including: advanced study; professional and career development; conversion from another discipline; and preparation for doctoral study. It must take into account the policies of the Research Councils and changes to their policies if the University is to attract UK public studentship funding; and it must also respond to employers' requirements and to developments within and across disciplines.
Two or three points. Just as a decade ago there was inconclusive national discussion of the nature of 'graduateness',1 so now, in the context of the developments of national and European qualifications frameworks and the Bologna process, we are engaged in a debate about the nature of 'masterness' and 'doctorness'.2 The length of Masters' courses (one year or two) is becoming a crucial question, and one which Cambridge needs to 'watch'.
Secondly, 'the central bodies are aware that, in proposing this new pathway to a Master's Degree, the matter of the availability of the necessary resources is significant'. I am sure the central bodies read with their customary attentiveness the recently published 'Crewe' report on the future of funding for the 'National Research Libraries', which includes the CUL.3 If so, they will have noticed that the recommendation that special HEFCE funding should continue gives merely an interim reprieve. At paragraph 49 Crewe expresses frustration that it 'has not been possible to arrive at robust estimates of costs on the basis of the information provided by the libraries in question', and proposes that HEFCE should commission a TRAC-based full economic cost (fEC) analysis of the net additional recurrent and capital costs encountered by the National Research Libraries and 'require the libraries to create mainstream data bases that provide the data necessary for such an analysis on a standard template (e.g., TRAC staff time diaries and appropriate categorisation of external users). The use and cost of provision of access to special collections and archives (as distinct from the main collection) should form the subject of a separate analysis.' The practical impossibility (and immense cost in staff time) of doing this will be apparent to any regular library user. I wonder whether the authors of the Notice in reply may wish to put on record a short but telling growl by the University of Cambridge at the notion that this new kind of Masters' students might have to be separately classified and the cost of their use of 'resources' minutely broken down; with their reclassification as 'external' readers immediately on graduation, despite the historic lifetime rights of members of the University, so that they can be charged for subsequent use of the CUL. I am not making this up. Read paras. 54-5 of Crewe.
The heart of the matter in the present proposal is surely paragraph 4, which deals with a problem which has presented itself for many years, especially since the arrival of the expectation that doctoral students would normally begin their graduate study with an M.Phil. or equivalent:
4. Whilst many of the University's M.Phil. courses serve as a preparatory year for prospective Ph.D. candidates, a number of institutions and Degree Committees now find the M.Phil. a less than fully effective means of providing research training for Ph.D. candidature.
A dual-purpose 'taught Master's' course can lead to unhappiness, and to disputes as to a candidate's right subsequently to work towards a Ph.D., sometimes turning on one mark more or less in the M.Phil. Though I think this is probably a good idea, I am a little concerned that something similar may happen here. And is it really to be anticipated that any students will do both an M.Phil. and this new Masters?
1 John Hilbourne and Robin Jackson Academic standards in the approval, review and classification of degrees. Graduate standards programme (HEQC, 1996), 10.11.4.
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Cambridge University Reporter 08 May 2008
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