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Report of the Council on the construction of a new building for the Computer Laboratory at West Cambridge: Notice

15 March 1999

The Council have considered the remarks made at the Discussion of this Report on 19 January 1999 (Reporter, p. 309). They have referred the remarks to the General Board, the Planning and Resources Committee, the Computer Science Syndicate, and the Information Technology Syndicate. Comments made by these bodies have been taken into account in this response.

The issues raised fall under four general headings:

(1) The need for a new building for the Computer Laboratory
(2) The development of West Cambridge
(3) University policy for collaboration with industry
(4) The agreement with Microsoft

Concern was also expressed that the capital budget was barely adequate at £17m. The total budget, including unavoidable VAT, is now £20m, which is believed to be adequate. Discussion is continuing over aspects of the detailed design. The Council agree with the Computer Science Syndicate that it is in the interest of the University that the building should be of high quality. The Council have noted that relatively few remarks were made about the proposal for the building per se, which was formally the subject of the Report under the provisions of Statute F, I, 2.

The Council are considering ways in which the Regent House can be consulted at an earlier stage in future over similar projects which might be thought to raise issues relating to the form of an industrial collaboration or the character of a proposed collaborator.

In this response the Council have sought to respond comprehensively to the many contributions to the Discussion, though they have not referred specifically to every point made. They believe that it will be helpful to group their comments under the four headings mentioned above.

1. The need for a new building for the Computer Laboratory

1.1 Several comments were made at the Discussion about the need for a new building for the Computer Laboratory. There was little or no denial of this need, though the disadvantages of moving - especially moving out of the city centre - were mentioned.

1.2 The arguments mentioned for moving, and in particular for adopting the proposed plan, can be summarized briefly:

1.3 On the negative side, Dr King and Mr Stibbs suggested that the separation from the University Computing Service and the greater distancing from the Department of Engineering (at their present locations) will reduce the useful collaboration which occurs at present. This may be so to some extent, but the Council are satisfied that with modern means of communication close collaboration between Departments does not depend entirely on physical proximity. In any case the Council believe that the arguments for the need to expand outweigh these possible disadvantages.

1.4 Dr King also pointed out that separation from the Computing Service will entail a loss of the efficiency of joint services - including reception, building management, printing, and stores. The Council note that last year the General Board received a paper from Professor Milner quantifying the increased needs of the Computer Laboratory (Teaching and Research) that would be caused by the separation. The Council have been advised that the Computer Science Syndicate and the Information Technology Syndicate intend to bring forward joint proposals for additional staff posts in the Easter Term 1999. The Council will take these costs into account, but believe that they will be justified by the long-term gain of establishing the Computer Laboratory as an independent academic institution (see paragraph 5 below).

1.5 Dr King urged that 'teaching is best taken to the market place', and that, since students live (in general) near the city centre, the Computer Laboratory's teaching should all continue to be given there. Of course if adequate accommodation on a single site could be found and funded for the Laboratory in the centre of the city, the Laboratory could both achieve integral growth and remain close to the homes of its students. This is virtually impossible. The proposed plan allows for interaction between research and undergraduate teaching where it is most productive, i.e. in the last two years of the Tripos and the Diploma course, which will be taught at West Cambridge. In fact, since research and teaching will take place in the same building, interaction in the last two years of the course will improve. The additional travel that will be required of students is a price that the Council believe is not excessive. The Council intend to consider ways of improving both cycle access and cycle storage.

1.6 Dr King also implied that after the move of the Teaching and Research (T&R) side of the Laboratory to West Cambridge, the undergraduate teaching currently carried out by members of the Computing Service would be lost. At present two members of staff undertake teaching in a personal capacity. The Computing Service has no formal commitment to carry out this teaching and would be under no obligation to provide alternative teachers if either of the members of staff concerned were to decide that they did not wish to continue. This teaching is therefore vulnerable in any case, but there would seem to be no reason why, if the staff concerned so wish, they should not continue to give lecture courses after T&R has moved.

1.7 Computer Science students are heavy users of the undergraduate computer classrooms in the Old Music School. The Information Technology Syndicate have said that these facilities are not wholly adequate, and the Computing Service intends to move them to Arup floor 2 when this space is vacated by T&R. This facility will continue to be available to Computer Science students and will be convenient if, as currently planned, the Part I teaching remains on this site.

1.8 Dr Dodgson pointed out the danger that a new building may not tempt students, even graduate students, to work in it unless good catering facilities exist. An initial disadvantage will be that staff and students will have little choice but to rely on whatever catering can be provided economically in the new building itself (since facilities in the Cavendish are already at full stretch). This point is addressed in section 2 below, where plans for common facilities on the West Cambridge Site are discussed.

1.9 The Council have been advised that the Computer Science Syndicate are of the view that the move of the Computer Laboratory to West Cambridge will be seen to be appropriate as further scientific and technological Departments move there over the next twenty-five years, and the second phase of the Computer Laboratory development will enhance opportunities for collaboration with commercial laboratories. The long-term benefit outweighs the short-term disadvantages.

1.10 Split-site teaching creates problems which require careful examination. No solution is entirely satisfactory, and any arrangement will involve some additional lecturing (until all teaching can be done at West Cambridge). The design of the building appears to allow as great a variety of possible solutions as it reasonably could. The Department has already begun to design its teaching strategy; in doing so it will take account of Dr Norman's paper 'Teaching and a move to West Cambridge', a paper written for the Computer Science Syndicate. It is evident that the problems can be overcome, since the Department of Physics, involving a much larger number of students, has operated successfully from the West Cambridge Site since 1974. The Departments of the Faculty of Mathematics, which are currently devising their own solution, will also be consulted. The Council emphasize that the problems are not trivial, but they have been assured that workable solutions will be found.

2. The development of West Cambridge

2.1 The West Cambridge master plan was subject to lengthy and detailed consultation both within the University and outside. It was approved by the Regent House by Grace 8 of 14 May 1997, and is the subject of an application for outline planning consent which is currently under consideration by Cambridge City Council. The master plan incorporates extensive infrastructural support, including, for example, common areas, open spaces, and common facilities for catering. It also includes residential accommodation as an essential component. Proposals for the overall development of the West Cambridge Site are the responsibility of the West Cambridge Development Group, which is chaired by the Vice-Chancellor and reports to the Planning and Resources Committee. While it was originally expected that the development of West Cambridge would be phased over some ten to twenty years, the present proposal for the Computer Laboratory building, together with the possibility of substantial funding through the Joint Infrastructure Fund for other major buildings at West Cambridge, suggests that there is a real possibility of substantial development of the master plan in the next five years. The Council have therefore agreed, on the recommendation of the West Cambridge Development Group, that planning should be put in hand forthwith for the eastern 'forum'1 and that a University-funded position of West Cambridge Site Manager should be filled as soon as possible, for an initial three-year term. The Group will be giving early consideration to sources of funding for infrastructure development, including the possibility of commercial development of catering and residential accommodation. For their part, the Council recognize that the integrity of the development of West Cambridge must be maintained, that individual proposals for buildings for academic Departments should not go ahead piecemeal, and that adequate consideration must be given to the provision of the necessary support services.

2.2 Professor Milner spoke of the need for University computing facilities to be provided on the West Cambridge Site and to be managed by the Computing Service. In his remarks, Dr Sayers agreed that this would be desirable and said that the Computing Service would be happy to provide them, given adequate resources.

2.3 The Council note that the Information Technology Syndicate believe that a teaching classroom equipped to the same level as those available in the Old Music School is desirable as part of the 'central core facilities' on an expanded West Cambridge Site. The Syndicate also hope that the Computing Service will be able to deploy some support staff, particularly from Unix Systems support, at West Cambridge, using the accommodation generously offered by Professor Milner in the Computer Laboratory building. The Syndicate will bring forward detailed proposals in due course, including proposals for resources.

3. Collaboration between the University and industry

In successive Annual Reports the Council have drawn attention to the University's success in collaborating with industry. The Council continue to regard such collaboration as essential, in part for the financial support that it offers to research in the University, and in addition for the opportunities that it provides for intellectual collaboration with leading-edge research in industrial laboratories. The Council recognize that there are general University interests to be safeguarded in any third-party relationship. The eight points outlined by Professor Newland provide a framework within which the Council have asked the General Board to develop a robust policy and procedures, seeking the advice of the Committee of Management for the Wolfson Industrial Liaison Office.

4. The agreement with Microsoft

4.1 The Framework Agreement between the University and Microsoft was the subject of a number of comments in the Discussion. The Council have identified a number of key points relating to the Agreement in order to clarify the issues which were raised. The Council are aware that the Agreement has been reviewed by the General Board in the light of an independent assessment of its provisions by Professor Cornish. The General Board have indicated that they regard the provisions of the Agreement as acceptable and that they do not find them unnecessarily onerous.

4.2 Dr Robinson was concerned that the Agreement may circumscribe the working practices of members of staff of the Laboratory. One such practice is the freedom to form individual professional relationships, such as consultancies with companies. The Agreement does not preclude this; indeed it cannot, since it is entered into by the University and not by individual members of staff. Another practice is the freedom to initiate University collaborations with companies, in particular with Microsoft. But the Framework Agreement dictates no terms for such specific collaborations, each of which is to be negotiated freely.

4.3 A large part of the purpose of the Framework Agreement is to protect the interests of individual members of staff and those of the University and Microsoft in a situation where significant intellectual property is created by informal collaboration outside any formally agreed project. This is a risk often faced in discussions between academics and companies, but it can arise more easily in the case of an embedded laboratory. The Agreement attempts to lessen the risk. In a case where the University (and not merely individual members of the University) is involved, i.e. when it intends to mount a collaborative project with Microsoft in which the University will administer resources specific to the project, the Agreement indicates a procedure for agreeing terms for the collaboration. An important point is that, when agreement cannot be reached, this process will terminate, each party enjoying equal rights to develop the intellectual property already created.

4.4 Dr Dodgson, Dr Norman, and Dr Robinson suggested that the presence of Microsoft in an embedded laboratory may deter other collaborators. It is true that one industrial collaborator may always deter another, when academics have multiple collaborations, but the risk may be greater in the case of an embedded laboratory. The Framework Agreement explicitly recognizes the possibility of multiple collaborations, and gives no exclusive intellectual property rights to Microsoft. This lack of exclusivity, when understood by potential collaborators, should remove the deterrent effect. The Council note Dr Norman's request for an official document explaining the relationship with the embedded laboratory. The Council wish to do all that is possible in this direction, but the company's consent is required for the publication of details of a research agreement. The University's plans for a more uniform policy for links with industry, especially on IPR issues, are relevant to Dr Norman's request and are discussed in section 3 above. Dr Robinson remarked that separate buildings can provide clear physical boundaries, which may be obscured in a shared building. In reply to this point, the Council note that the design of the new building allows the respective private spaces of the Computer Laboratory and Microsoft in the building to be secured from one another by card-access; this will ensure privacy of discussion with each collaborator.

4.5 Some speakers in the Discussion mentioned the constraint agreed with Microsoft that no part of the Computer Laboratory building will be occupied by another commercial company during Microsoft's tenancy, or until Microsoft have constructed their own free-standing building. In this connection the Council note that, while the Computer Laboratory's part of the building is intended principally for academic use, it will also offer the chance (impossible in the present accommodation) to accommodate visitors on secondment from industry, and even to house for five years the Centre for Communications Systems Research, a research institute of up to thirty members fully supported by multiple industrial funding. Furthermore, the space vacated when Microsoft's lease is terminated, if not required for academic purposes, can be available for leasing to other companies.

4.6 The Council note that the Microsoft Laboratory has a mission to undertake fundamental research, and employs many researchers with well-established international reputations, in many cases ex-academics. They also note that the tenancy of embedded space for use by Microsoft for up to ten years has enabled the University to finance a materially larger building for ultimate full use by the Computer Laboratory than would otherwise have been possible. These factors weigh significantly in favour of the proposed plan.

5. Resources

In their submission to the Council the Computer Science Syndicate commented that the separation of the academic side of the Laboratory from the University Computing Service will necessitate additional recurrent expenditure. The Council understand that detailed proposals are to be submitted to the General Board via the Council of the School of Technology. The Council will ensure that funds are made available in the University Education Fund for the Board to meet clearly established needs.

6. Conclusion

In the light of these considerations, the Council are satisfied that the scheme proposed in their Report is sound. They are accordingly submitting a Grace to the Regent House (Grace 9, p. 482) for the approval of the recommendations of the Report.

1 See the account of the master plan annexed to the Council's Report of 9 December 1996, Reporter, 1996-97, p. 261.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 17 March 1999
Copyright © 1999 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.