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A Discussion was held in the Newton Room of the Pitt Building, Trumpington Street. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Mr Duncan Robinson was presiding, with the Senior Proctor, the Junior Proctor, two Pro-Proctors, the Registrary's deputy, and seven other persons present.
The following Reports were discussed:
Report of the Council, dated 19 May 2008, on the financial position and budget of the University, recommending allocations from the Chest, 2008-09 (p. 792).
Professor A. C. MINSON:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this year's Report on the financial position of the University and proposed allocations from the Chest has a different format from previous years' Allocations Reports. First, the Report has less focus on the details of the HEFCE block grant, reflecting the increasingly complex mix of income sources to the Chest. More importantly, the predicted financial position of the University in 2008-09 is presented as a consolidated operating budget showing all sources of income and elements of expenditure. The operating budget is also presented in the form of a projected income and expenditure account, allowing a comparison of the predicted operating budget with the actual out-turn as reported in the Financial Statements at the end of the year. The presentation of trends in staff numbers has also been modified to indicate more clearly the staff groupings and the University organizations in which they are employed. These changes to the format of the Report are consistent with the recommendations of Council and of the Board of Scrutiny during the past few years. I hope that Regent House will welcome the changes and will find the Report more informative.
This is the fourth year in which devolved budgeting has been in operation. Budgets were devolved first to the Schools, and later to the UAS and the University Library. Next year it is intended that the Fitzwilliam Museum will be included. I believe that this has been a success. It provides Schools and Institutions with the flexibility to identify their priorities for expenditure independently of an 'established list' of staff positions. One effect has been much greater control of expenditure. All Schools have consistently under-spent their Chest Allocation during the past four years and have accumulated reserves from Chest sources of some £20m during a period when the Chest has suffered an annual deficit. As the Report notes, the settlement this year is tight - only slightly higher than inflation - and Schools and Institutions may struggle to stay within budget. Reserves from past under-spends are available for strategic purposes and as a cushion in difficult years, but the reserves are not evenly distributed and they are often held in Faculties and Departments, rather than at School level. It remains to be seen how effectively these reserves can be mobilized. Devolved budgeting is a learning process.
I am pleased that this year the Chest will return to balance after a number of years in deficit. Future projections suggest that the Chest will remain in surplus and that modest sums can be put aside for strategic use and for capital replacement. In the longer term, larger sums for these purposes are likely to be needed and the projections are, in any case, fragile. They assume tight control of expenditure, and they are dependent on effective indirect cost recovery from research grants and contracts, on the continued good performance of Cambridge Assessment, on successful management of our investment assets and, of course, on the continued support of higher education at current levels by the Government via the Funding Council. None of these is certain, particularly given the current economic position. As in previous years, pensions and their impact on the paybill remain a concern.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, two members of Council have signed a note of dissent and have commented that we 'oversubsidise inessential central services' at the expense of academic activities. During the planning process the budgets of non-school institutions are scrutinized very carefully and tough constraints are set on expenditure. Nevertheless, this is a difficult area and among Regent House there will be differences of opinion as to what constitutes an important or an unimportant service. In an attempt to reassure Regent House that the balance of academic and central service activities is being maintained, the Report this year shows the split of expenditure over the past four years. This is, however, a crude analysis and will, I hope, be refined in future Reports.
Finally, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to express my thanks to many of the staff of the UAS, and particularly those of the Academic and Finance Divisions, who have worked hard to produce the data and projections that inform this Report.
Professor G. WHITTINGTON:
Mr. Deputy Vice Chancellor, I would like to draw your attention to the second sentence of paragraph 47 of the Report of the Council: 'It is important that employment decisions, particularly with respect to employment beyond normal retirement age, genuinely reflect the needs of the University.' If the University is short of funds (which it always is) then clearly all employment decisions should be scrutinized with particular care. Selecting those beyond retirement age for particular attention seems to be perverse on economic grounds, given that, on current policies, such appointments terminate after three years, whereas the appointment of a younger person to the retirement age can create a commitment for more than thirty years. Moreover, age discrimination of this sort is against the spirit of the relevant European Union Directive, although not the letter of its somewhat grudging implementation in UK law.
However, these are subsidiary reasons for finding the Council's statement egregious. The most important reason is that an employment policy based on it is likely to be against the interests both of those affected and of the University. Being an academic is a vocation rather than simply employment and people do not lose that vocation suddenly at the age of 67 (or, more precisely, according to Statute D, on 1 October following their 67th birthday). Some people will wish to take a well-earned rest at this time (or even earlier), but others will retain their passion for teaching, scholarship, or research, together with their ability to contribute to these activities. They may certainly wish to reduce their level of participation in some or all of these activities (examining for the tripos may be a popular candidate for reduction, especially at this time of year), but this implies that they will not expect full-time salaries and suggests that they will be good value for money, especially at a time when the University is short of resources and claims that recruitment and retention of staff is a serious problem.
A creative policy towards the retirement of academics would be to have flexible arrangements that enable people to phase out their academic activities at a rate and in a manner that suits their preferences and their ability to contribute. The contributions would, of course, include such matters as the ability to raise research grants and participation in the RAE, which have direct consequences for the University's income. The University's present scheme for employment of academic staff beyond retirement fails to do this. It contemplates the continuation of employment only on a full-time, pensionable basis, both of these features being very expensive. It also assumes a standard of academic contribution equal to that of a Professor worthy of a band 2 merit award, thus ruling out more than half of the professoriate, as well, presumably, as academic staff in lower grades. The scheme seems to have been devised for the purposes of retaining 'stars' for the RAE rather than as a sensible long-term policy for managing human resources.
I therefore urge the Council to reconsider the sentiments underlying the second sentence of paragraph 47 and its policy on the retirement of academic staff. More generally, I urge the Council to transcend the type of restrictive thinking that can be induced by an Allocations Report and to consider the associated benefits as well as the costs of various policies.
Mr R. J. DOWLING:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I did not sign this Report. The University knows money is going to be tight. In this Report it has responded to that by tightening all the screws just a little bit. And next year it will be a little bit more, and then more and then more. In consequence, we risk all our ships sinking for their respective ha'p'orths of tar. What is missing from this Report is any sense of targeted saving.
Do we need an underused 'University Centre' by the river? How much would be saved by losing it? A million pounds per year? That's two or three per cent on the budget for the School of Arts and Humanities. Do we need cafeterias run ourselves? Could we rent the space out to commercial operations as some Departments already do internally? Half a million saved? One million? Pretty soon we're talking serious money.
How many central services need to exist at the scale they currently do, or exist at all? How many simply exist because it's easier not to think about the hard questions? I speak as someone who is a member of a central service: the University Computing Service, albeit one whose staff count has been constant for the past several years.
These are just potential examples. I don't claim that they are the right answers to our money worries. But I do claim that they are the right sort of questions, but there is no sign of their having been asked in this Report.
As you talk over the coming year, passing around anecdotes about how tight money is, ask yourselves this: how many stories of pain and penny-pinching do you hear from the Centre?
Professor R. J. ANDERSON (read by Mr R. J. DOWLING):
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I did not sign the Allocations Report this year.
There is a disturbing parallel between the University's finances and those of the country. Since the 2001 election, our Government has steadily raised taxes and spent ever more money. It hasn't greatly improved services, but it has created ever more administrative jobs and red tape. The voters are fed up, and now we face a recession the Government finds that it's used up both its financial and political credit.
Since I was elected to Council in 2002, the Old Schools has eagerly embraced the spirit of the age. Although our turnover has increased steadily, the number of University Teaching Officers has been kept roughly constant. The extra money has gone to hire more administrators and to subsidize central services, many of which we could do without.
Like my colleague Bob Dowling, I fail to see why we should have doubled our catering subsidy from a million a year to two million; Cambridge has many sandwich bars, and it's wrong for us to use our charitable resources to compete with them. Oxford does not have a central catering service at all, so we could surely do without one. And as I look at old internal phone books, I don't understand why so many central departments had to grow so quickly. I get annoyed by spam offering me training courses I don't need, and frustrated when Research Services Division takes months to deal with Studentships that the old and much smaller Research Grants and Contracts Section used to turn round in a week. Our administration has grown not just fat, but ponderous.
Meanwhile, academic departments suffer. In the Arts and Humanities, Department heads complain of cuts; in the Physical Sciences, the outcry is over cancelled journals; and in Computer Science we no longer have online access to the most important series of conference proceedings in our field. Deputy Vice-Chancellor, our budgeting process is broken. It just does not make the right decisions at the margin.
Let me pose a thought experiment. One of the most pressing problems is a shortage of Research Studentships for our own undergraduates. Students coming here from abroad can compete for Gates Scholarships and Cambridge Trust Scholarships, but local students are often stuck. This year we have six students expected to get firsts in Part II of the Computer Science Tripos who want to do research. We have one Studentship to share among them. Fixing that would cost a few million pounds a year; we should have Cambridge Home Studentships as well as Cambridge Overseas Studentships.
Can anyone please explain to me why we're spending two million a year on catering subsidies rather than on Studentships? Perhaps we should just amend this Report to shift a few million from central subsidies and put the money into Studentships instead? If our own lab canteen ends up run by Nadia's and lunch costs me twenty pence more, then I'd consider it money well spent if bright students who want to do research were able to do so.
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr. Deputy Vice-Chancellor, every year a mismatch is remarked on between the proposed Allocations and the report of what actually happens which appears in the Annual Accounts. One of the reasons for this is noted in Paragraph 2. Allocations are traditionally made from the Chest. But the full financial statements include non-Chest income too. The stated aim is to move to:
A full budget document for the 'teaching and research' University, that is the University excluding Cambridge University Press and Cambridge Assessment (except to the extent that transfers are made to the University from these entities). This year's Report represents a further stage in that process, with the inclusion of a bridge between the traditional 'Allocations Report' presentation, prepared on a funds accounting basis, and the format of the financial statements of the University.
This project perhaps deserves a full Report to the University in its own right, since these days it is dealing not only with these two traditional pots of money, but with unprecedented types of income deriving from the fruits of fundraising activities; these may be subject to restrictions as to purposes and permitted uses, negotiated as part of the deal with the donor or funder, about whose scope I am not sure we are always absolutely clear. An aspect of this problem is noted in the present Report. As we have just been reminded, 'There is an increasingly complex set of links between non-Chest and Chest income: for example, elements in the HEFCE grant supplement research grant income funded by particular types of sponsor.'
I read that (paragraph 39) 'the projections take account of anticipated donations and their planned expenditure', and the mention of the 800th Campaign at paragraph 53. A distinction is made between 'unrestricted donations and endowments to support existing posts' which 'impact directly on University finances' and those seeking to help the University meet longer-term objectives '(to improve student support and to increase the capacity of Collegiate Cambridge to deliver its core missions of teaching and research)'. The Report notes that benefactions of the first 'type are unusual but are expected to contribute £1m-£2m to the operating budget by the end of the decade.' If 'unrestricted donations' are to be interpreted as simple gifts of money with no strings, these are admitted to be 'unusual'. The extent to which donors are allowed to determine the way the gift is used, and in what way, and how far into the future, surely raises potentially very important questions?
Would HEFCE or DIUS intervention on these points be desirable? It could happen. In 1877, the state took statutory powers to interfere with ancient trusts and it can still interfere with new ones. There are also questions I have raised in speeches in the past, to do with the propriety of allowing, say, a big corporation benefactor funding a new Professorship to be represented on the Board of Electors.
And how is the money to be vetted for cleanliness before acceptance? In a Notice dated 22 May 20081 we are reminded that 'the power of the University to accept benefactions is delegated to the Vice-Chancellor, see Regulation 6 of the regulations for the Vice-Chancellor, Statutes and Ordinances, p. 650'. In the same Notice I read that the Vice-Chancellor has appointed a deputy to act on her behalf in accepting benefactions up to £100,000: 'The Vice-Chancellor gives notice that, further to her Notice of 6 August 2007 (Reporter, 2006-07, p. 954)', [in which she appointed various deputies: the Librarian, The Director of the Botanic Garden, the Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute, the Chairmen of the various Faculty Boards, various Heads of Department, and Directors of other institutions.2], 'she hereby also appoints the Director of Development and Alumni Relations in accordance with Statute D, III, 7(b), to act on her behalf until further notice in relation to the acceptance of benefactions of up to £100,000, provided that he shall not have power to accept from the same donor one or more benefactions which exceed £100,000 in total.'
We are assured that 'Acceptance of all benefactions is considered against the ethical guidelines published by the Council (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 925). Submission of the appropriate Graces to regulate funds will be published in the Reporter together with announcements of the benefactions received.' As a member of the Council at the time, who sat on the committee which drafted the original proposals which were developed into these guidelines, I take an interest in the way they work. In Oxford, where a similar protection is in place, it appears, as reported in The Oxford Student in recent issues, that there has been a certain amount of laissez-faire and the counterpart to the Director of Development, who is now to be allowed to exercise powers as the Vice-Chancellor's deputy, is quoted as having admitted that no benefaction or donation has ever been rejected on ethical grounds. I merely suggest that a gulf can easily open between bothering with awkward ethical restrictions and the protection of academic decision-making in academic matters, and the all-powerful drive to bring the money in. I am not clear how effective the existing protections are likely to be in ensuring that the danger of major scandals is remote.
I move finally to a further area of concern. 'The current financial management challenge of the University' includes accommodating 'the impact on staff costs of the recent pay and grading exercise and pay settlement', which have proved 'difficult to predict accurately'. One of the welcome introductions in this Report is an analysis of trends in staffing, partly in response to the concerns which have been expressed about the enlargement of the UAS. There does, however, appear to be a trend towards blurring the categories of some quite senior UAS appointments, despite what we have just heard about 'staff groupings'. Professor Whittington has reminded us that all appointments should be scrutinized with care. It will be remembered that concerns were raised when what became Offices of the Director of Personnel and others were first advertised and filled as unestablished posts and only later turned into University Offices carrying membership of the Regent House. This meant that when the Regent House finally got its Report and its chance to discuss whether or not to Grace the creation of such Offices, it was faced with something of a fait accompli, with existing senior post-holders already at work. There have been changes of nomenclature recently for some of these Offices and I am not at all sure that that practice complies with the requirements of the Statutes and Ordinances.
Another example of this kind of slipshod and potentially budget-busting mode of creation of expensive senior posts has just appeared with the announcement of the creation of the alarmingly named 'Director of Undergraduate Recruitment':
The University is now seeking to appoint to the new role of Director of Undergraduate Recruitment to ensure that it continues to recruit the very best undergraduate students with the strongest academic potential, in this rapidly changing and increasingly competitive world. This is a critical appointment for the University.
Surely this cannot be a University Office, since there has been no Report. But the 'incumbent' will exercise immense powers within the University, including policy-development in the region of its core activity of teaching, and speak on its behalf to 'government, national agencies, and the media'. 'While not essential, some marketing expertise and/or previous experience of recruitment would be helpful', says the Notice. How is the University to control its expenditure on senior post-holders if this kind of major, high-salary, head-hunter-using appointment is made without the protection of the procedure required to create a University Office? Unless that is done, this whizz-kid will not even have a vote. 'Planning direction and decisions are made with reference to the agreed statement of the University's mission and core values'3 says the Report we are discussing. But this non-member of the Regent House could not be called to account under Statute U if he or she ran amok with admissions in the interests of 'marketing'.
It is often said that Discussions do not matter because they attract few comments and are not well-attended. The unfortunate decision of the previous Registrary to count heads and publish attendance, as though that measured interest in the remarks when published, seems designed to reinforce the impression that they are of no account. But without them, where would members of the Regent House and other members of the University be able publicly to draw attention to drift and confusion and potential dangers such as those I, and the other speakers this afternoon, have just sketched?
1 Reporter, 2007-08, p. 810
2 Reporter, 2006-07, p. 954
3 Reporter, 2001-02, p. 226
Dr E. LEEDHAM-GREEN:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in the unavoidable absence of the Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny, I have been asked at the very last minute to make a few remarks. The Board has not, as is usual at this time of year, had time to examine the Report in detail and may return to some matters in its Annual Report. Meanwhile, it very much welcomes the progress towards greater transparency and visible compatibility with the accounts. It is clear, however, that the University can only currently balance its books by budgeting for increasingly large contributions from Cambridge Assessment. The steady, or steadier, state of the University's finances remains vulnerable to unforeseen setbacks, increases in the USS funding gap as acknowledged by Professor Minson, and the world market instability cannot be helping. We welcome, however, the balancing of the books.
Report of the General Board, dated 20 May 2008, on Senior Academic Promotions (p. 820).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr. Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I congratulate those whose names appear on this list. Two comments. It would be hard to show that the numbers of promotions have grown fewer since the Regent House allowed the General Board to revert from the hard-won principle that all those who merited it should be promoted to the earlier rule that it would depend on the availability of funds, since of course no one can demonstrate unequivocally the size of the pool of the deserving. But I hope those in waiting have not forgotten that this policy-change is bound to affect their chances.
Secondly, I wonder how many are puzzled each year by the passage always included in this Report which reads: 'The Board were able to see how recommendations had been arrived at so that, without repeating the entire exercise itself, they could either approve the recommendations or, if they so wished, consider the basis on which any of the recommendations had been made.'
It does no harm to bring recent history to mind at intervals. It is important not to forget that the General Board delegates to committees the task of identifying the names which appear on this list. Both those committees and the General Board have a duty to do the job transparently, and to render account of the way they did it, not only to the General Board but also to its master the Regent House, in this annual Report.
In the Reporter of 22 October 19971 you may read the words of the judge granting permission for judicial review of the Cambridge promotions procedures which led to their complete overhaul and reform:
The situation would, of course, be very different if the committee's evaluations were provided in unitary and summary form to the Board, so that without repeating the entire onerous exercise undertaken by the committee the Board could see how it had arrived at its recommendations and either approve them or seek, if it wished, to consider the basis upon which one or more of them had been reached. For reasons to which I will come in a moment, this may become possible with the procedures now being adopted; but it is arguably an impracticability in the situation which obtained on the 1996-97 round of applications. This involved, as I understand it, the forwarding to the committee the names of those candidates who had their Faculty's endorsement, followed by the soliciting of external references upon the quality of each candidate's published work. No method appears to have been laid down for the orderly evaluation and comparison of commentaries on the candidates. So far as I can tell, the number and names emerged after an intensive and extensive discussion and were presented as baldly as I have indicated to the Board. Short of asking for all the material and starting again, it is difficult to see how the Board could have exercised any independent scrutiny of the recommendations it may be precisely the want of any means of surveillance of the delegated process which, arguably at least, has placed the Board in breach of Statute K, 9 by making it impracticable for it to exercise its non-delegable responsibility and thereby passing the appointment of Readers and Professors in practice to the committee.
So I just ask how long the General Board spends in practice exercising its 'independent scrutiny' which is its duty, so that it is really the General Board which is proposing that those on this list receive promotion and others do not?
1 Reporter, 1997-98, p. 62
Report of the General Board, dated 27 May 2008, on the establishment of an Alborada Professorship of Equine and Farm Animal Science (p. 823).
No remarks were made on this Report.
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Cambridge University Reporter 18 June 2008
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