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A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Jeremy Sanders was presiding, with two Proctors, two Pro-Proctors, the Registrary, and twenty-nine other persons present.
Thirteenth Report of the Board of Scrutiny, dated 10 July 2008 (Reporter, 2007-08, p. 996).
Mr R. J. STIBBS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am here today as the outgoing Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny to commend its Thirteenth Report to the Regent House.
As this is my second term of office as a member of the Board, I have now served for seven out of the thirteen years of the Board's existence, and I am delighted to report that the spirit of confrontation that was so evident in the Discussions in the early years has changed to a helpful spirit of co-operation, and whilst it is clear that some officers take issue with some of our conclusions, all the officers that the Board has dealt with this year have been generous with their time and have provided requested information in a timely fashion.
At the corresponding Discussion held on 9 October 2007, my predecessor, Mr Nick Downer, was able to comment on the Council's Notice of 1 October 2007, published in the Reporter of 3 October, which gave Council's preliminary comments on the Twelfth Report of the Board. I regret that Council has not repeated this practice this year as the Notice allowed the Discussion last year to be more of a debate than has become usual.
The Board has received only one formal communication following the publication of the Report. That communication was from Professor J. Paul Luzio, pointing out an inaccuracy in terminology in the Report. I am happy to put on record his correction:
In paragraph 18.4 you report that 'the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (previously Wellcome MRC) receives funding albeit absent from Ordinances'. CIMR [he goes on] was never called Wellcome MRC. CIMR is housed in the Wellcome Trust/MRC Building, which is a University building.
Professor Luzio continues in his letter to agree that CIMR is absent from the Ordinances as it is governed by Regulations made by the Faculty Board of Clinical Medicine and to state that its establishment was reported to the wider University by means of a Notice in the Reporter dated 6 February 2002. The Board has no quarrel with CIMR which has a world-wide reputation for excellence and which has enhanced Cambridge's medical research capabilities. However, CIMR provides an important example of how the de facto governance and administration of the University has become disjoint from the de-jure position as described in Statutes and Ordinances. The Regulations which Professor Luzio kindly provided for the Board are not readily available for members of the Regent House.
It is this example and those detailed in paragraphs 17 and 18 of the Thirteenth Report that makes the Board's Recommendation 4 that 'A Syndicate should be established as soon as possible to undertake a revision of Statutes and Ordinances' the recommendation that the Board considers to have the highest priority. The Board considers that Council should not wait for the outcome of further governance discussions (for example, on the membership of the Regent House) as those discussions are likely to be protracted. The Board realizes that Council will be heavily involved in succession planning for the Vice-Chancellorship and for a new Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Planning and Resources) over the next two years but suggests that the groundwork can get started immediately.
Finally, I would like to remind the Regent House that the Board of Scrutiny is a reviewing body that exists to report to the Regent House matters that will help Council and the officers improve the governance and administration of the University, and whilst the Board welcomes communications from individual members of the Regent House (and other members of the University), the Board cannot act as an Ombudsman about individual grievances but can only act if they throw light on general failures of governance or administration.
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, after Henry VIII had made a visitation of both Oxford and Cambridge which included intrusions upon the design of the syllabus, the rest of the Tudors followed suit with invasions of their own, culminating in the Elizabethan Statutes, with consequences notable for creating the first occasion when the Regents had to defend their democracy energetically against state-backed, top-down line management, especially in Cambridge. Edward VI's advisers thought the state knew what was best for the two Universities, addressing each in the same terms:
It has seemed fit to us to give [the Visitors of the University] some laws, collected in this volume, which we have framed specially for your good, that they may deliver them to you, in order that, your statutes being antiquated, semi-barbarous, and obscure, and for the most part unintelligible on account of their age, you may henceforth obey royal law framed under our auspices.1
This is the fifth time the Board of Scrutiny has called for a revision of the Statutes and Ordinances. There are dangers in not attending to this in the present climate of looming state interference, when HEFCE has just completed an Assurance visit (30 June), and Oxford is about to send in its 'replies' to the eight questions HEFCE insisted it answer after its own Assurance visit and the decisive vote to retain democratic governance which followed. Oxford and Cambridge are unique among British universities in their freedom to design their own domestic legislation, subject in the case of Statutes to Privy Council approval, which is never unreasonably withheld (actually never withheld at all as far as I can discover). The most important residual power of the Regents is to create their own 'rules', by democratic vote or 'default' assent.
As the Board of Scrutiny points out in the Report we are discussing, muddle is mounting. Dangerously so. Revision cannot be delayed much longer without Cambridge exposing itself to the allegation that the very legislative responsibility which is, arguably, the Regent House's most important remaining historical function, is not 'working', is being neglected, and can therefore reasonably be taken away and left to the State with all the power in the University handed over to an Executive Council (preferably with a majority of external members and an external Chair).
However, it would be wise to glance across at Oxford before revising Cambridge's Statutes. Among the North Reforms was the complete overhaul of the Oxford Statutes, for the first time since Archbishop Laud as Chancellor had supervised the comprehensive revision which was approved by Charles I in 1636.
It was decided post-North that there should henceforth be only two layers of domestic legislation, Statutes and Regulations, the counterparts of Cambridge's Statutes and Ordinances (although Oxford's Congregation does not get a Report and a Discussion and Regulations with huge implications can go through on mere publication in the Gazette without anyone noticing in time to call for debate and possibly voting).
There is also an alarmingly generous use of the delegated power to create Regulations, and of the delegation of power to individuals. Cambridge has just allowed that too, so if it made the same two changes as Oxford, it might become possible for senior administrators effectively to take over the creation of Ordinances as a personal fiefdom, as has sometimes happened in Oxford with Regulations. This is not scare-mongering. The Sunday Times of 5 October carried an advertisement for a Head of Financial Systems here, 'to drive the relationships that the Finance Systems team have with the various university departments and in doing this agree on a strategic direction for finance and reporting systems'. 'Finance Systems' gets capitals, 'university' lower case. Says it all, really.
Back to the Statutes. I never thought the Oxford 'two-layer' plan would work in any case. Documents headed 'Regulations' have been circulated when their contents have never been published in the Gazette for potential challenge, and as in Cambridge a motley collection of guidelines and procedures exist with no clear status. The 'blue booklet' for Senior Academic Promotions referred to in the present Report (at 18.1) is an excellent Cambridge example of the danger of slippage occurring when legislative requirements are skipped. Was it not the view of the High Court only a few years ago that published 'criteria' were essential to fairness:
It will be recalled that in the Institute of Dental Surgery case,2 speaking obiter, the Court at the end of its judgement pointed out that it is today often necessary, in order to demonstrate compliance with the law, for competitive evaluations to be made according to a common set of relevant criteria, it being recognized that there is effectively no other way of producing parity of approach by the decision-makers and parity of opportunity among the candidates, both being fundamentals of any fair procedure.3
But now that promotion is no longer given when it is deserved but when it can be afforded, the published criteria have become meaningless. Many candidates fully satisfy them but why some are promoted and some are not remains as mysterious as when I took the question to the High Court.
Nevertheless, Oxford did carry out the overhaul of its Statutes now desperately overdue in Cambridge and I hope the Syndicate which must surely now be set up will learn from the Oxford attempt. Fundamental principles need to be established on which a clarification and simplification can be built. Current plans for reform of Statute U seem to be a very mixed bag from a 'first principles' point of view.4 Do we want (unionized) 'collective redundancy consultation' to replace the principle that it is the Regent House that should decide on any categories of staff to be made redundant? What is going to be the effect of abandoning the requirement to act with 'justice and fairness', in the light of the imminent removal of the protections brought in in employment law in October 2004?
And it will be essential for the Syndicate to try to foresee consequences and to be realistic about the tendency of administrations to treat the rules as 'obstacles only to be dodged - inhibitors at best, a dead letter at worst', to quote the Board's present Report. Just look at the oily smoothness of the responses to earlier recommendations of the Board published with this Report.
Short-cuts can be damaging too. Look at the business of the renaming of New Hall, with a Grace published in July with a mere Notice, and without offering the University a Report and Discussion of a potentially controversial move. In such circumstances, what confidence can be placed in the Vice-Chancellor's reassurances in her annual speech this year:
Could donors, encroach upon the University's freedom and independence by imposing conditions on their gifts that go beyond proper and reasonable accountability? Yes in theory, but such gifts can be declined, and so too can those that would support activities in which the University is not interested. 5
Only when we have overhauled the machinery of the domestic legislation is it realistic to hope that clarity can be achieved about the circumstances in which not only alumni but also business and commercial donors should be allowed to set the University's priorities and shape its culture.
That goes for almost all the concerns the Board of Scrutiny expresses in this Report; for they can mostly be brought under this umbrella. They proceed from a failure to treat the domestic legislation of the University as a unified framework which protects the structure and enables life to go on within it without unnecessary upsets, for students and for all categories of staff alike. That is not to say that there will not be disputes. There should be, for that is part of the proper freedom of academe. But it should be easy for everyone to see from the Statutes and Ordinances how best to deal with them. And the Old Schools must learn that it is not above the law. What better case could we make to HEFCE for the soundness of our constitution than to demonstrate that we take its legislative framework seriously?
1 Collection of Statutes for the University and the Colleges of Cambridge, ed. James Heywood (London, 1840), pp. 4-5. Visum est nonnullas leges, in hoc volumine inscriptas, quas nos in maximum vestrum commodum tulimus et sancivimus, illis dare, ut vobis tradant, ut, antiquitatis semibarbaris vestris et obscuris statutis, et, propter vetustatem, iam plerumque non intellectis, regiis deinceps legibus, et nostro latis auspicio, pareatis (Strickland, Statuta Antiqua, pp. 342-3).
2 R. v. Higher Education Funding Council, ex parte Institute of Dental Surgery  1 WLR 242
5 http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/v-c/speeches/20081001.html and http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2008-09/weekly/6122/18.html
Mr N. M. MACLAREN:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I was the system manager of the Cambridge-Cranfield High Performance Computing Facility from 1995 until I stepped down on 16 March 2006. I was the lead designer and author of the specifications and requirements of the original procurement document, and was responsible for organizing much of that procurement process, even after the new Director took up his position. I was also responsible for managing the actual disposal of the equipment, and ensuring the University complied with the law in doing so.
It is fairly widely known that I attempted to use the University's 'Whistle-blowing' Policy to get some of the irregularities investigated. I shall not describe what they were here, except to say that there were about half a dozen, and those to do with the actual procurement and disposal were not the most serious. The then Registrary chose neither to meet me nor ask for the evidence, despite several reminders, and did not contact the people I had asked him to; he then closed the matter on 30 June 2006 for lack of evidence. The Policy states that a formal record will be kept, and that I should sign it; no such record was ever shown to me.
I did not take that matter further, as the Audit Committee had by then decided to investigate. The Registrary and another member of that Committee were fully aware of the above, and I know that the Internal Auditors were informed of my position; by then, I was the only remaining University employee other than the HPCF Director with direct knowledge of most of the critical information. Most of the critical documentation had by then been passed to at least one member of the Audit Committee, but I do not know how much had reached the Auditors.
In the event, the Audit Report was incomplete and inaccurate, with several of its statements being demonstrably erroneous. In one place, I was mentioned by name and incorrectly claimed to have been negligent in my duty; despite my being named in that way, neither the Auditors nor the Audit Committee contacted me for my comments, let alone for my evidence to the contrary. I have heard from several independent, reliable sources that there were other, much more serious irregularities in the auditing process and the use of its Report, but I shall not break confidences here.
I did not take that matter further, as the Board of Scrutiny had by then decided to investigate, but I regret to say that its Report is little more thorough. Not merely has it chosen a narrower scope than the issues reported to it (which included the above assertions, and not just by me), but it has not mentioned certain relevant and well-documented facts. Nothing in its Report is wrong, but it is exceedingly incomplete.
In paragraph 33, the Board of Scrutiny correctly reports that the Auditors contacted neither the University Purchasing Officer nor anyone from Cranfield University, but does not mention the same was true of the only University officer with knowledge of the whole process, nor does it refer to the other demonstrable defects of the Audit Report. One can very reasonably ask whether they felt under any pressure to omit anything.
After the 'Whistle-blowing' process was over, several senior members of the University reminded me that I had the right to take the matter up with HEFCE; I did not do so for obvious reasons. Given the seniority of the people and Committees involved, I sincerely hope that the Council will respond with positive action to investigate the issues raised and make adequate changes to prevent such neglect of procedure recurring.
Professor D. J. FRAY (read by Mr R. J. DOWLING):
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I was the appellant in this case reported in paragraph 36 of the Thirteenth Report of the Board of Scrutiny and I believe that the Regent House should hear a précis of the events. Very briefly, the invention was made in the summer of 1996 but in spite of the inventors visiting companies in the UK, the US, and Japan, none of the companies were interested in the process. It was not until a Mr Hamilton was visiting QinetiQ, formerly DERA, that his attention was drawn to the invention. After performing due diligence, he invested about £0.4m, personally, in the idea via a contract with QinetiQ who had negotiated a licence with CUTS which, subsequently, became Cambridge Enterprise Ltd. Without Mr Hamilton, the start of the commercialization would never have occurred. In 1998, he formed British Titanium plc and, after consultation with Cambridge Enterprise, I became a Director. As the technology had much wider application than just titanium, FFC Ltd was formed and this subsequently became Metalysis Ltd. British Titanium raised considerable funds and had several contracts with US Government Agencies. A Technology Sharing Committee and a Patent Committee were set up between the University, QinetiQ, British Titanium, and Metalysis Ltd in which British Titanium and the University shared their knowledge with the other parties. This continued until Cambridge Enterprise gave its consent to the termination of the licence to QinetiQ and British Titanium. The fall-out from this action, which is well documented in the University Technology Appeal Report, includes the loss of investors' funds (around £2m) who thought that, as well as investing in the technology, they were investing in the high reputation of the University, the displeasure of the US agencies which had poured about £3m into the technology, and the transfer of the rights to a company which had yet to demonstrate that it could deliver the technology. In comparison, British Titanium had made very significant progress, as evidenced by the complimentary and documented comments of the US agencies. Furthermore, British Titanium had contributed about £0.5m to the University for patents and these were transferred, free of charge, to Metalysis Ltd and, as result, increased the value of the University's shares in Metalysis Ltd at the expense of the British Titanium shareholders.
British Titanium is now in liquidation and the liquidator, in his report to the High Court, has to apportion blame as to the cause of the failure of the company. I do not think that the University and Cambridge Enterprise have heard the end of this debacle.
On the termination of the licence, several of the shareholders felt that I must have been aware of the pending termination at the same time as I was encouraging them to invest. As Cambridge Enterprise were unwilling to write to the investors telling them that I was not aware of the pending termination, I made an appeal to the University Technology Referee but this appeal was rejected. It was only when the University Technology Appeal Tribunal persuaded the University to publish their report in full that my name was finally cleared.
I think this is a very sorry tale that should serve as a caution to others when they are dealing with Cambridge Enterprise, especially when the inventors are at the forefront and best placed to raise investment, research funds and, especially, when their reputations are at stake.
This technology has been described by Cambridge Enterprise as having the potential to become a world scale business. From the excellent report by the University Technology Appeal Tribunal the details of this case are known but it is worthwhile comparing the performance of Cambridge Enterprise with the organization's public pronouncements.
The published mandate for Cambridge Enterprise is to:
aid the transfer of knowledge from the University via commercialization; aid staff and students in making their ideas more commercially successful; and produce a financial return for inventors, Departments, and the University. To meet this mandate, Cambridge Enterprise Ltd's focus is to be a trusted business resource to the University of Cambridge academics who are interested in distributing their ideas through commercial channels, and who are working on cases with significant potential for societal or financial impact. Cambridge Enterprise Ltd will work with these researchers to find an optimal route to commercialize their ideas via licensing to existing companies or consultancy.
From the University Technology Appeal Tribunal report, it is obvious that Cambridge Enterprise has failed, in this case, to observe the mandate and has not acted in accordance with Regulation 24 of the Grace of 15 October 2005. Furthermore, it has not acted in accordance with the Assignment document between the inventors and CUTS, signed in 2000, which stated that
8. CUTS will keep the Inventors reasonably informed about the progress of exploitation and will at their reasonable request consult with them and take account of their views in relation to any proposed licence or licences entered into by CUTS.
9. CUTS will not sell or assign the Invention except after notifying the Inventors in writing.
10. In the event of the termination of any licence or licences entered into between CUTS and a third party or parties, CUTS undertakes to consult with the Inventors about alternative ways of exploiting the Invention, Know-how, and the Intellectual Property Rights.
As Cambridge Enterprise inherited the obligations of CUTS, it has failed to observe clauses 8 to 10 of the Assignment document.
Unfortunately, Cambridge Enterprise do not seem to accept that anything wrong has occurred and, as a result, no changes in procedure have been announced. I feel that, at an absolute minimum, an apology is merited.
With regard to the procedure of the complaint, it has taken a considerable time, as the application for the Appeal was made in early 2006 and the result was finally published in mid 2008. I appreciate that this is the first case of its type but to take more than two years cannot be regarded as satisfactory.
It is also very important that all the documents that pertain to a case should be made available and not just for one of the parties to claim that some of the documents are confidential. I appreciate that it might not be appropriate for the participants in the case to see certain documents, but the documents should be made available to those passing judgement.
I think it is perhaps not appropriate that judges, solicitors, and QCs have to be involved as this brings an additional stress and expenditure to the proceedings which are then run as court. I found myself at a disadvantage at the hearing before the University Technology Referee so I had a solicitor to assist me at the University Technology Appeal Tribunal whilst Cambridge Enterprise was represented by a solicitor and a QC.
I also question the quality of advice given by Cambridge Enterprise as I had their approval for the directorship that I had undertaken but when things started to go wrong, the only advice given was that I needed to contact a solicitor. Furthermore, the University lawyers present at meetings, where I was sworn to secrecy, must have known that I was unwittingly breaking my fiduciary duties as director but they urged me to do so.
In this case, there also appear to have been many conflicts of interest, including my own. Other examples include the Chairman of Cambridge Enterprise being the Chairman of Metalysis and the consultant, whose report still remains secret but upon which Cambridge Enterprise claims to have based its decision, who I understand may have had close association with at least one organization that has invested in Metalysis.
Lastly, I should perhaps finish by explaining that I strongly supported the Intellectual Property Rights Grace when it was first proposed and, as Head of the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, encouraged the academic staff to vote in favour of the Grace. Those who demurred were happy with the Grace but had concerns regarding its implementation.
Professor R. J. ANDERSON (read by Mr R. J. DOWLING):
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as Regents know, I opposed the University's appropriation of teaching officers' patent rights. I argued that this would neither help innovation, nor bring any net financial benefit to the University.
This sad tale of British Titanium and Metalysis is just the sort of thing we feared. A significant innovation by University staff went unexploited because of patent wrangles that were not solved by the University, but caused by the University. In fact it is significantly worse than we feared. The patent licence was transferred from a company that had the know-how to exploit it, to one that did not but in which the Chairman of Cambridge Enterprise has an interest. Had I, or any other opponent of the IP policy, predicted such an outcome, we would have been laughed to scorn. I expect that fewer investors will back Cambridge Enterprise projects in future, and that more academics will exercise their right under Regulation 21 to exploit their own ideas rather than entrust them to Cambridge Enterprise. I also support the Board of Scrutiny's recommendation that future regulations should allow for 'more substantial redress'. Meantime, following the Technology Appeal Tribunal's judgement and the Board of Scrunity's Report, I call on the Chairman of Cambridge Enterprise to resign.
Second, as we move into the 2008-09 planning round in a time of economic uncertainty, I believe we can no longer keep on feeding operations such as Cambridge Enterprise at the expense of core University functions. When it was set up we endowed it with about two million pounds a year from existing patent royalties, most of them from Campath. It now gets another two million a year from the Chest.
It is growing vigorously and planning to hire new staff to fill its grand new premises at the East Forum. Yet it offers no reasonable prospect of profitability, and prefers to measure its successes by expenditures such as the number of patents filed. Council hoped that once it was a company it would be profit-maximizing; the organization we have now is subsidy-maximizing. Worse, its memorandum of understanding with the University lets it advise the Research Services Division on research contract terms and other matters that should have remained a matter of policy-making by central Committees. It not only wastes our money, but makes it harder for us to get research grants - even in areas where the prospect of commercial exploitation is zero.
In short, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the subsidy we pay to Cambridge Enterprise is not a good use of our charitable funds. I would rather see that four million a year spent on Ph.D. studentships.
Mr R. J. DOWLING:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, we hear much about governance of this University, but precious little about its management. All the Regents who care about how this University is run should take the time to read the Technology Appeal Tribunal's report. It tells a story of staff within Cambridge Enterprise acting with no real thought for Professor Fray's wishes. It tells a story of administrative staff being dangerously detached from the academics they are supposed to serve.
It is this detachment that is the real danger to the University. Regents should be motivated by the Tribunal's findings, as reported in the Board of Scrutiny's report, to look for signs of this detachment in all their dealings with the University's management, and to push back when they find them. If they don't, the behaviour reported in the Board of Scutiny's Report will become the norm, not the exception, and that would be disaster.
Professor Sir RICHARD FRIEND:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak today in my capacity as Head of the School of the Physical Sciences. Paragraphs 30 to 35 of the Board's Report discuss the University's High Performance Computing Facility (HPCF) and I wish to respond to the Board's comments.
State-of-the-art computing resources are vital tools in the advancement of research across many disciplines in physical sciences, life sciences, and engineering. Local computing resources (the UNIX box on the desktop) largely supplanted the central computing facilities of the 1970s and 1980s, and continue to provide for many research computing needs. However, we now again need centralized facilities, to provide closely coupled clusters of processors that allow massively parallel computation. The technical challenge of getting efficient computation from such clusters is far from straightforward, but Cambridge has several outstanding groups who have achieved the highest level of success in this.
The High Performance Computing Facility (formerly the Large-Scale Scientific Computing Initiative) came into existence in 1996 and was for almost ten years run successfully by a small number of technical staff under the guidance of a part-time Director who was a member of the academic staff. In January 2005, the Management Committee of the High Performance Computing Facility submitted to the Council of the School a business plan requesting SRIF funds for a replacement machine. It also asked permission to establish a full-time Director of the High Performance Computing Facility for three years in the first instance. The management and users of the Facility recognized that implementation of the business plan required far more input from a Director than was possible under the existing arrangements, correctly anticipating that the introduction of Full Economic Costing would bring opportunities for funding of the High Performance Computing Facility. The Council of the School fully supported these changes and in November 2005 recruited a full-time Director to manage the tendering process for the new machine and thence to evolve the service into a University-wide High Performance Computing Facility.
I am pleased to report to the Regent House that this enterprise has been a real success. It has moreover achieved the challenging objectives that the Council of the School of the Physical Sciences set it.
Firstly, the system design and performance obtained by the replacement machine was groundbreaking, placing Cambridge ahead of all other UK academic supercomputing sites by a large margin, including the National High Performance Computing service (HPCx) with a capital budget 25 times that of our HPCF. Cambridge reached position twenty in the world ranking of supercomputing systems - an outstanding achievement. For an investment of £2m (not £1.5m as the Board states in its Report); this represents excellent value for money and the HPCF and Director should be commended for this achievement. We have achieved a six-fold increase in computing power over the previous system bought for £6m in 2003. In comparison with similar projects elsewhere in the UK, our system was procured and set up remarkably quickly (the other three large systems procured at the same time, also from SRIF funds, at Cardiff, Bristol, and UCL, have only recently entered full service, some twenty months after Cambridge).
Secondly, we recognized that we needed to broaden the user base. The previous system had provided an excellent resource for a limited number of users, but was not easily accessible to newcomers. I am delighted to report to the Regent House that the High Performance Computing Facility is now widely used in the University, with the number of research groups using the resource now up at 35 (from seventeen previously), and with system utilization measured over the past couple of months at 83%. In the last eighteen months, 270 new users have signed up to the system, spread across a wide range of Departments and Schools. Thus, the HPCF has been transformed from a machine serving a small number of groups to a system serving a wide user base. It is important to state that the HPCF by itself is just a tool, and that its successful use requires an infrastructure for training and development so that new researchers can learn how to get effective use of this resource. Within the School we are therefore setting up a Centre for Scientific Computing, around which we shall arrange such training. We have involved our colleagues in contiguous Schools, because of course, this activity needs to be accessible across the University.
Thirdly, we have had to adapt to Full Economic Costing - the new regime for research funding. We must now bid to be funded for the full cost of doing research (of course we currently receive 80% of this from Research Council grants). If we fail to ask for the full costs, then cross-subsidies have to be found from elsewhere and activities at the margin probably suffer (libraries, museums, other central facilities, and so on). Computing services have rarely been charged against research grants in the past, but failure to do so now simply short-changes the University. We have therefore arranged that the HPCF be costed, and approved with RCUK as a Major Research Facility. This makes it possible for significant users of the HPCF to charge the full costs (capital depreciation, electricity, technical support) against their research grants. I am delighted to report that there has been a steady build-up of such grant income; the total now stands at £1.1m. This is a very important step towards establishing a sustainable model for long-term support of computing. Indeed, with industrial sponsorship currently at £0.5m, we are able to start the next hardware upgrade.
In the light of my remarks above, members of the Regent House may be perplexed by the Report of the Board of Scrutiny. Indeed I have to ask whether all members of the Board were aware of the information that I have presented above, because neither I nor the School Secretary, nor the Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (which has hosted the HPCF) were contacted by the Board. I do not propose to respond to the various criticisms made - but had more careful enquiries been carried out I have no doubt that the Board would have considered these issues to be either unsubstantiated or based on inaccurate information.
The current HPCF of course is 'work in progress' and both future needs and future mechanisms for delivery will change. It is the case that our radical approach has not pleased all parties all of the time, but in my judgement (widely shared within the School) we have delivered excellent value for money and have set the course for world-leading research. In the longer term, it may be appropriate to move the management of the HPCF from within the School of the Physical Sciences to a central service, because the user base will grow to become broader. However, the entrepreneurial environment that is needed at the present stage of development is better found in our School.
I end by stating very clearly that the responsibility for the implementation and operation of the HPCF rests with me as Head of the School. However, I do not claim its success, for that I wish again to express our thanks to the Director. Though it is very important that the Board of Scrutiny should feel free to enquire and criticize as they feel fit, they must also be aware that their Reports have consequences. Their remarks in respect of the High Performance Computing Facility have been demoralizing to those who have worked hard and have damaged the standing of an outstanding and central part of our research infrastructure. However, they have a more insidious quality of putting pressure on us in the longer term to become more risk averse. If we follow that careless course we will not compete internationally in the future.
Dr N. J. GAY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I refer to Recommendation 18.1 in the Board of Scrutiny's Report, that the procedures relating to Senior Academic Promotions, currently contained in the so-called blue booklet, should be enshrined in Statutes and Ordinances. Although I am in favour of this suggestion, my experience of the promotion process suggests that as currently constituted it is not fit for purpose and needs to be radically revised before it is suitable for incorporation into Ordinances.
The problems associated with the promotions procedure are serious and systemic but I shall here address only the ranking system, the procedural framework of the General Board's main Committee, and the provisions for feedback.
The current system emerged after an extended campaign by Professor Gillian Evans and others in the late 1990s that culminated in litigation. The principles that guide it are set out in a judgement by Lord Justice Stephen Sedley of Professor Evans's application for judicial review.1 In the judgement, Lord Justice Sedley remarks:
It will be recalled that in the Institute of Dental Surgery case the Court at the end of its judgement pointed out that it is today often necessary, in order to demonstrate compliance with the law, for competitive evaluations to be made according to a common set of relevant criteria, it being recognized that there is effectively no other way of producing parity of approach by the decision-makers and parity of opportunity among the candidates, both being fundamentals of any fair procedure.
To comply with this requirement of public law the General Board introduced into the process a set of six evaluative criteria against which applicants are rated as having clear evidence, satisfactory evidence or doubt.
Following my unsuccessful application for promotion this year, I used the Freedom of Information Act to extract rankings and evaluations for candidates in the Biological and Medical Sciences, information that the General Board would prefer to keep secret. To my surprise this revealed that essentially all of the applicants had clear evidence evaluations on all the criteria for promotion. This means that the evaluative criteria introduced to comply with the law are redundant and have been replaced by an opaque and secretive secondary system of ranking. Contrary to the impression given by the guidance booklet it is this unspecified procedure that actually determines who is promoted and who is not. Thus, decisions about promotion are no longer being made in relation to a common set of relevant criteria but instead by subjective and arbitrary assessments, the nature of which is not known to the candidates. It is perhaps this consideration that has deterred the Board from including the criteria for promotion in Statutes and Ordinances - that is to say, the criteria that really count are either secret or they do not exist at all.
Another serious flaw in the procedure revealed by the ranking information I have obtained is the current practice of the General Board's main Committee of re-ranking lists produced by the expert Sub-Committees. In my case, for example, a candidate ranked below me by the Sub-Committee for Biological and Medical Sciences was promoted and I was not. It is not possible to determine how often the General Board's main Committee interferes with Sub-Committee rankings, or why it is done because they refuse to give reasons. As the main Committee does not have the expertise to make objective evaluations, in the interests of fairness, surely they must rely on the rankings provided by the Sub-Committees. In this regard, the advice of the Commissary, Lord Oliver, to the Vice-Chancellor in the case of G. R. Evans1 is instructive. He noted that the promotion system in order to be fair must be 'the same for all candidates'. Similarly, the guidance for the Sub-Committee assessment warns against the importing of additional criteria (blue booklet, 9.16). If, as it appears in these cases, criteria unrelated to academic merit are imported at the main Committee stage, and applied to some candidates but not to others, then the decision-making process becomes in the legal sense hybrid and therefore intrinsically liable to generate unfairness.
The third area of concern I wish to address is the current provision for feedback to unsuccessful candidates. Presumably this is also something that the Board of Scrutiny would like to see incorporated into Ordinances. The framework for this in the current procedure is also provided by Lord Justice Sedley's judgement in the following terms:
For unsuccessful candidates, as is nowadays widely recognized, it is of great importance to know why they failed. First and foremost, it will tell them where to concentrate their efforts Above all, perhaps, the giving of reasons demonstrates that proper care has been taken over something of critical importance to the standing and career of each candidate.
The methodical use of such an evaluation process is likely to answer the two major concerns raised by Dr Evans's application it will permit a disappointed candidate to be told, if he or she wishes it, how they have been rated by the Committee.
Guided by these principles, the blue booklet states the purpose of feedback as follows: 'to provide an unsuccessful applicant with a clear sense of what he must do to raise the level of his work to the standard required to obtain promotion'. Clearly, if all of the evaluative criteria have been met then the feedback as currently constituted cannot fulfil this purpose. It is perhaps only the members of the General Board who cannot understand the sheer absurdity of telling candidates on the one hand that they have reached the required standard and on the other hand what they need to do to 'raise the level of their work to the standard required to obtain promotion'.
In conclusion, I wish good luck to all those who have floated their aspirations on this year's promotion exercise - as they say, if you don't play, you can't win. Do not, however, delude yourself that the process is either objective, fair or, as Lord Justice Sedley would have it, in compliance with the law.
Mr D. J. GOODE:
Deputy-Vice Chancellor, I speak today as President of the Cambridge University and College Union (UCU).
As with previous Reports, Cambridge UCU welcomes the Thirteenth Report of the Board of Scrutiny, and thanks the members of the Board for their labours. Today I wish to deal with only one aspect of the Report: 'Financial Matters', and particularly paragraph 13 and its associated Recommendation, which seem particularly pertinent in the current economic climate.
The phrase 'current economic climate' is something of a cliché, I know, but it is difficult to avoid using it in, well the current economic climate.
And it seemed to me - as I was sitting reading The Times last Saturday morning - that the current economic climate is going to be looked back upon as a watershed, the point at which things changed, and after which economies and capitals and markets and what have you were never quite the same again.
The Report points out that careful presentation of the University's Accounts indicates a healthy surplus. However, once the recently consolidated - and competitively commercial - Cambridge Assessment's accounts are stripped out, things are not nearly so healthy as they might at first appear.
Furthermore, today is the day on which the Government announced the Retail Price Index (RPI) figure of five per cent - exactly double the minimum award agreed - for September 2008, and which will - as long as promises are kept - determine the final part of the three-year pay award for all University staff to be back-dated to the beginning of this academical year.
Which brings me back to last Saturday's Times. In among the horror stories of local authorities and NHS trusts and other august public bodies which had invested large sums of money in failed and failing Icelandic banks, there was a small mention of investment funds managed by the likes of the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, but no further detail.
I'm no investment expert, nor am I an economist, but I can see that any large organization with high overheads and little or no surplus is going to be relying on income from investment to some extent or another. So, I was not all that encouraged to see our name in the Times's piece as having been caught up in the specifics of the Icelandic banks crash, as well as in the more generally unsettled conditions of the current economic climate.
I therefore urge Council to heed the Recommendation of the Board of Scrutiny associated with paragraph 13 of the Report, and also to hasten preparation and publication to the University of the suggested report from the Investment Office on exactly how and where our money is invested, how much of it is tied up in failed or failing banks and other financial institutions, and with realistic information about how the University's investments are doing at the moment, what our exposure is to risk, and also how they are likely to do in the future.
And the sooner this is done, Deputy-Vice Chancellor, the better.
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Cambridge University Reporter 29 October 2008
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.