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Promotions to senior academic offices: Notice

2 March 1998

The Council have considered the remarks made at the Discussion of this topic on 20 January 1998 (Reporter, p. 342). They have referred the remarks to the General Board, who have commented as follows:

1. A number of the remarks made at this Discussion were of a general nature. The Board deal with these before turning to comment on details of the arrangements outlined in their Notice of 3 December 1997 (p. 246).

2. With regard to the remarks made by Dr Edwards, the Notice of 3 December 1997 was intended to serve as a progress report, and also to provide a further opportunity for members of the Regent House to comment on the General Board's proposals. The Board's thinking was based on the consensus views which had emerged from extensive consultation. It was the Board's intention that detailed proposals should be brought forward subsequently for approval by the Regent House; this was stated in paragraph 27 of the Notice.

3. The Board have gone to great lengths to consult as widely as possible in the University and to take account of all relevant opinion in order to devise fair, transparent, and practicable proposals based on a consensus view. A considerable amount of time has been devoted at meetings of the Board to discussion of the issues and the responses to the consultative questionnaire. The Notice of 3 December had the support of the whole Board; all members of the Board would have signed it had they been asked to do so.

4. Several speakers referred to a decline in morale, and attributed this to the general low level of pay in the Higher Education sector. The Board agree that current levels of pay are a fundamental problem, and recognize that increasing the number of promotions will not provide a solution. Promotion does, however, provide a means of recognizing an officer's contribution to the work of his or her institution. The Board do not see any way of addressing the problem of low pay without either a substantial increase in the University's income or a reduction in the overall number of staff. Recommendation 50 of the Dearing Report asked Higher Education employers to appoint an independent review committee to report on the framework for determining pay and conditions of service. The Board note that such an independent review committee is to be set up.

5. The Board believe that the proposals set out in their Notice of 3 December, taken in conjunction with the arrangements recently introduced for promotions to personal Professorships and Readerships, provide a means of recognizing contributions across the full range of duties of members of the academic staff of the University. Dr Whitehead referred to the likely consequence for morale if the proposed scheme is operated on a competitive basis. The Board expect that, under the arrangements proposed, and given the high quality of the field of applicants, the great majority of University Lecturers would attain the grade of Senior Lecturer in the course of their careers.

6. Professor Dumville suggested that, while Senior Lecturers should be allowed to apply for personal Readerships and Professorships, such applications should not be restricted to those who have already attained the grade of Senior Lecturer. The Board do not, and did not, intend that any such restriction should apply.

7. The Board do not advocate (as Dr Whitehead suggested) that the scheme currently in operation for awarding discretionary payments should be adopted for determining promotions to Senior Lectureships. It is suggested that the preferred scheme (designated Scheme 2 in the questionnaire and in the Notice of 3 December), if adopted, ought to involve the phasing out of the current discretionary payments scheme. However, the requirements of Scheme 2 bear little relation to those of the current discretionary payments scheme: the criteria and the evaluative approach are more detailed, the documentary evidence required is more comprehensive, the scheme involves Faculty Appointments Committees, and it also allows for formal feedback and appeal.

8. Dr Whitehead also raised the issue of discrimination. The Board are committed to equal opportunities in the University and to the elimination of all forms of discrimination. Appointments, promotions, and the award of discretionary payments are monitored closely, and the Board receive statistical reports on a regular basis. The Board were concerned at the apparent lack of success of women applicants in certain Schools in the 1996 discretionary awards exercise. The figures for the 1997 exercise, however, show a distinct improvement in the success rate of women applicants. (Cumulative data can be found in the third-year progress report on Opportunity 2000; see Reporter, p. 421). Steps have already been taken to collect statistical data on applications for personal promotions under goal (iii) of the Opportunity 2000 goals, and the results will be published in the Reporter in due course. The information requested by Dr Evans will thus be made available as a matter of course.

9. On points of detail raised by several speakers, most of which concern the evidence required for determining promotions, the Board comment as follows:


10. With regard to the inclusion of College teaching as part of the evidence for assessment, referred to by Dr Thompson, the Board recognize that this is a difficult issue. The majority of the respondents to the consultative questionnaire took the view that College teaching should be excluded from the assessment, and reservations were expressed by a number of Faculty Boards; in the light of these expressions of opinion, and in view of the uncertainty surrounding the future of College fees, the Board believe that they should adhere for the present to the position set out in their Notice. However, they will keep this matter under review.

11. With regard to Dr Whitehead's point about innovation in teaching, the Board stated in their Notice that the criterion would be sustained excellence in teaching. Evidence of innovation in teaching might be a way of demonstrating sustained excellence.

12. Mr Horswell stressed the importance of allowing student feedback about teaching and teaching skills. The Board agree that it is important that student opinion should be taken into account. However, a substantial number of respondents to the consultative questionnaire, as well as a number of Faculty Boards, took the view that summaries of student questionnaires should not be included, and this indicates the unease felt about the reliability of student questionnaires as evidence. The Board are of the view that questionnaires may not at present provide reliable evidence of teaching skills; questionnaires would need to be more uniform, to be used more systematically, and to be returned in greater numbers across the University if they were to be relied upon in assessing a case for promotion. The Board would, however, welcome the possibility of obtaining sufficiently representative feedback from students for use as part of the evidence for assessing teaching ability.

13. The Board accept Dr Whitehead's point that it would be inappropriate to impose a three-year restriction on previous work which could be taken into account; however, it is not intended that applicants should be required to provide a comprehensive survey of their achievements over their whole career.


14. Dr Cowley questioned the proposal that there should be only one internal reference for promotion to a Senior Lectureship; the Board will give further consideration to this feature of the scheme.

Evaluative criteria

15. With regard to Professor Dumville's comment, the Board will give further thought to the definition of the evaluative criteria.

The next stage: comment by the Council and the General Board

Dr Johnson expressed the hope that the Council and the General Board would not take forward the proposals outlined in the Notice of 3 December 1997, but would ask the Regent House to establish a Syndicate to consider in greater depth an appropriate career structure for academics in Cambridge. The present proposals for reform have emerged from extensive consultation, and the Council and the Board believe that the momentum gained should not be lost. They do, however, agree that the low level of pay is a general underlying problem (see paragraph 4 above).

In the near future the Council and the General Board will have to determine within the resources available to the University the relative priorities of finding funds to meet the cost of pay increases for all staff, including academic, academic-related, and assistant staff, for promotions to personal Professorships and Readerships, for upgrading from University Assistant Lectureships to University Lectureships, and for all promotions to more senior academic-related offices. The cost of implementing any new proposals as outlined in the Notice of 3 December cannot be exempted from this process of prioritization. When the Council and the Board are clear what their priorities should be within the resources available, they will bring forward detailed proposals for approval by the Regent House.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 11th March 1998
Copyright © 1998 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.