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Tuesday, 19 October 2004. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Reports:
Report of the General Board, dated 14 July 2004, on the establishment of a Faculty of Business and Management (Reporter, 2003-04, p. 988).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have never been clear why the relationship between the Judge Institute and Engineering was so cosy, or why Management should be regarded as essentially Technology. This Report (p. 988) provides a clue, mentioning the Engineering Faculty's 'initiation of the teaching of business and management in the University'. I have one main comment, and that relates to the imbalance between the Tripos work ('a one-year part taken after two or three years of another Tripos') , with an annual intake of 45 students, and the 500 presumably mainly postgraduate students in seven degree programmes and the 43 academic and 75 other staff (who are these please?) now attached to the Judge. I am a trifle uneasy about this animal with its enormous tail and its tiny body being made into a Faculty. It has already done some wagging with that tail. We have non-resident M.B.A. students and distance-learning degrees because we were promised a package, which came unwrapped in the post. The track-record of delivery is a little uncertain, and I thought Business Studies were rather keen on that kind of thing?
Professor Dame SANDRA DAWSON (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as Director of the Judge Institute. I apologize that I am unable to speak in person at this Discussion.
The academic study of Management began life in Cambridge as a small sub-section of the Engineering Department. Engineering then supported the free-standing Judge Institute in 1990. Since that date we have been overseen by a Syndicate of academic members from various interested Departments. Under the Syndicate, the Institute has grown vigorously and achieved an ever-rising reputation for research and teaching Now the Institute has over a hundred academic and other staff. The General Board's Review in 2001 recognized that it would be appropriate and helpful to progress to the conventional Cambridge structure of Faculty and Faculty Board and that this would afford opportunities for increased formal involvement by the Institute's staff in the decisions on the next stage of its growth.
The Institute is immensely grateful to its 'parents' who oversaw its first phase of development in Engineering, and to its 'guardians' on the Management Studies Syndicate who have guided the second phase. We hope the University will now approve the Syndicate's and the General Board's recommendation for evolution to the standard Cambridge governance arrangements which will secure more collective participation in the third phase of the Institute's development.
Professor R. J. MAIR (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as (external) Chairman of the Management Studies Syndicate.
From modest beginnings as a minor activity in the Engineering Department, Management has grown into a significant University subject with Tripos, M.Phil., M.St., M.B.A., and Ph.D. programmes for several hundred students, vigorous research groups, and international recognition for the Business School.
The organization of Management teaching and research has continually evolved as the subject has grown; and, following a General Board Review, it is now recommended by the Syndicate and the General Board that the conventional Cambridge structure of Faculty and Faculty Board be established. This will, in particular, permit greater participation by the Judge Institute's staff in its decision-making and facilitate good management of the next stage of the Institute's development. The Report also clarifies lines of accountability for certain parts of the Institute's work.
I commend these proposals to the University.
Report of the General Board, dated 14 July 2004, on the establishment of Readerships in the Departments of Pathology and Zoology (Reporter, 2003-04, p. 990).
No comments were made on this Report.
Report of the General Board, dated 14 July 2004, on the Faculty of Economics and Politics and the Department of Applied Economics (Reporter, 2003-04, p. 991).
No comments were made on this Report.
Report of the General Board, dated 14 July 2004, on the re-establishment of a Professorship of Ferroics (Reporter, 2003-04, p. 994).
No comments were made on this Report.
Report of the General Board, dated 14 July 2004, on the establishment of a Professorship of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning (Reporter, 2003-04, p. 1027).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, just to enquire whether this post is now going to be paid as a Directorship or at the reduced rate for a Professorship since the salary norms for the one are apparently about £30,000 greater than for the other (see my speech of last week published in the Reporter, 20 October), and the original post was constructed as an administrative one, in which an incumbent having the 'required academic standing' might turn out also to be Professor. As now.
Report of the Council, dated 9 August 2004, on the arrangements for University Composition Fees from 2006-07 (Reporter, 2003-04, p. 1064).
THE ADMINISTRATIVE SECRETARY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to mention one correction and one clarification of the recommendations of this Report. Both affect the drafting of proposed Regulation 13.
The correction is to the title of the Director of OFFA. The correct title of this officer determined by section 31 of the Higher Education Act 2004, is 'Director of Fair Access to Higher Education' and this phrase should be used in the eventual regulation.
The clarification is in relation to the rate N composition fee (the fee that is charged to undergraduates on years abroad). This should refer to half of rate A, on which the fee is calculated at present.
The Council are being advised to amend the draft Regulation 13 as I have indicated before the recommendation of the Report is graced.
It is worth noting that fees at the new rate N would not in practice be chargeable until the academical year 2008-09.
Mr W. P. W. STREETING:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, before I begin I would like to thank the Administrative Secretary for his clarification on the position of students in category N under the proposed arrangements for University composition fees.
As a student member of the Council and as the President of CUSU it will come as no surprise that I have great misgivings about this Report. I chose not to sign it and I chose to publish a Note of Dissent against it.
But before I outline my objections and concerns about this Report, let me make one thing clear: I do not believe that the University has any choice but to charge the full top-up fee from 2006. As someone who has spent the best part of two years campaigning tirelessly against the introduction of top-up fees by the Government, it is a difficult concession to make. But in the face of growing deficits, increasing competition nationally and internationally, and the ever-present need to maintain our status as a great teaching and research institution, the University simply cannot afford to turn down this new stream of funding.
However, the implementation of the fee arrangements set out in this Report cannot be at the expense of widening participation. According to UUK's own research, set out in its 'Attitudes to debt' survey carried out in 2003, three-quarters of young people from low-income backgrounds who decide not to pursue higher education cite lack of money and fear of debt as the main reason. The UUK report is not the only report to highlight debt aversion amongst the poorest students and we all know too well that Cambridge has its own particular challenges to face in terms of overcoming fears and misconceptions about the University. The Sutton Trust report on 'Entry to Leading Universities', published this summer, highlighted that entrance figures for Cambridge, Imperial, Oxford, LSE, and UCL show an 'exaggerated pattern of admissions in favour of independent schools'. The Sutton Trust believes this imbalance is due to two main factors: that 'a low proportion of suitably qualified less affluent students apply' and 'inadequacies in the admissions system which is in need of reform'. Each year 3,000 state-educated students meet or exceed the entry requirements to the top 13 universities but simply do not apply. So as we introduce a new fees system that will increase student debt dramatically, we must do so with the acceptance that, under the present system, access to Russell Group universities is grossly unfair.
So what must the University do about it?
The new Bursary scheme, announced during last year, will do much to alleviate student hardship; yet such a scheme will not in itself serve to dispel the myths and misconceptions that exist about Cambridge and about the cost of studying at Cambridge. Attitudes to debt and the reality of managing debt are two very different things. Students choose not to apply to Cambridge and other Russell Group institutions for a whole range of reasons. Debt and finance are important factors, but so too are the myths and misconceptions that still hang over the University, making it vital that we tackle those myths head-on and face-to-face with sixth-form and FE students.
I hope that Cambridge goes further than simply placating the toothless Access Regulator and re-examines every aspect of its widening participation strategy. Does the University even have a widening participation strategy? There can be no doubt that the University is terribly misrepresented by the media in terms of the sheer volume of outreach work that it conducts and the Cambridge Admissions Office and the Colleges rarely receive the praise they deserve for their efforts to widen access. But now, more than ever, those efforts need to be properly co-ordinated and directed and, most importantly, well funded. We must continue to reach out into the community to schools and sixth-form colleges, but we must also start earlier at the very beginning of secondary education if we are to truly raise aspirations. We should also be wary before introducing new admissions tests that we do not deter more students and we must also ensure that our interviewers are properly trained through a programme of compulsory interviewer training and are selected from diverse backgrounds. Why? Not to introduce a new bias against independently educated students as the hypocrites of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference would have the country believe, but to level the playing field. The principle of fairness may be alien to some independent school heads, but it is the principle that must underpin our admissions system, particularly in light of this Report.
Furthermore, my concern with this Report is not only related to undergraduate access, but postgraduate admissions too. I hope that members of Council have been noting, as I have, concerns expressed within the media and the HE sector about the impact of higher debt on graduate career choices. Cambridge students will graduate from Cambridge with debts of over £25,000 under the new system. These debts represent substantial financial pressures on students; they will encourage graduates to apply for more highly paid jobs. The 2003 Report of the Cambridge University Careers Service highlighted that 14.7% of undergraduates were continuing with their studies in the research field. A highlighted concern was that: 'over 50% of students surveyed [by the Careers Service] anticipated debts on graduation of £10,000 or more. This had implications for career choices.' I can tell you just from my personal experience that even my own peers, under the existing system, chose to opt for high-paid private sector jobs over lower-paid public sector jobs, simply to clear a debt of just £12,000. Now, more than ever, the University must do more to offer financial support to its postgraduate students and postdocs.
As is noted in the Report, the Higher Education Act 2004 is not a panacea for the University's financial woes. I was surprised that the Act received such a ringing endorsement from this University when its Council had decided just two years ago to encourage the Government to seek other options, instead of proceeding with this manifesto-breaking mess. In the coming years, I am sure that the University will have student support as it attempts to increase benefactions through the 800th Campaign and I am encouraged by efforts in this area so far. But I also hope that, in the run-up to the 2009 review of top-up fees, the University lobbies tirelessly for a funding system that actually funds Higher Education, including the institutions beyond the Russell Group, and doesn't erect further barriers to widening participation. CUSU has, for many years, held a policy of Free Education, but we also rose to the challenge of presenting a whole range of alternatives preferable to the current system. It will simply not be good enough if, come 2009, the University complains that there are few options on the table from the Government if it refuses to lobby for those options between now and then. I also hope that the Council will amend clause 13 of this Report, so that the University is not bound to automatically increase the rate of composition fees at the whim of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, or as the Report should read 'the Secretary of State', rather than by the decision of the Regent House, as it should be.
In the run-up to 2009, CUSU will continue to campaign for a fairer system of funding. In the meantime, we will work with the University to tackle the challenges of the Higher Education Act head-on: to widen participation and raise aspirations. In her address earlier this month, the Vice-Chancellor stated that Cambridge must 'have the highest of ambitions, and face up to the tasks before us'. This is one the greatest tasks we face and I hope this Report does not defeat our ambition.
Ms J. F. AUTON:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to say that I believe it is unnecessary to state that this University will charge the maximum tuition fees possible allowed by the Government, when we should be setting the example to the rest of the country by taking students' needs into account. We should decide these things as a University and not simply take whatever is given to us. While it may be true that we will not be required to repay the fees until after graduation, this makes no difference to the knowledge that a university career will be concluded with a significant burden of debt. This in turn makes it more difficult for those, as Wes Streeting has pointed out, wishing to pursue postgraduate courses. My own sister who has recently finished a first degree has been prevented from continuing with a Master's degree as she cannot afford the extra debt. Does this University really want to decrease the pool of researchers and higher degree students? We want to have the best brains here in Cambridge, which must include people whose parents did not attend university, as the record of famous scientists such as Michael Faraday clearly shows, so why is the University so intent on projecting an image of unpayable debt that will only continue to increase as the years go by? I cannot agree that this is of benefit to potential students, because the period of graduation and getting a first job occurs precisely at the point where people want to get married and buy somewhere to live, so this additional debt is too much on top of that.
I would also like to remind the University that tuition fees are not the only debt to be paid by students - the student loan as it stands only covers half the living costs of the university year, and so there is also a significant overdraft that must be paid quickly by emerging graduates.
I believe that we must take care not to set our fees only according to the Government and not reviewing how they are set through the Council.
Mr M. C. VERNON:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it is claimed by the Government that students should pay for their time at university because graduates earn more than those without degrees. Since basic literacy and numeracy are far more important to one's employment prospects than a few letters after one's name, should we not instead be proposing to charge vast fees for primary school education, to be repaid as soon as the student is earning above the national average?
Perhaps aware of the thinness of their argument (Anne Campbell's 'speech' on why she was back-stabbing the students of Cambridge was a fine example), the Government has opted for the tried and tested 'divide and conquer' strategy, setting universities and students off against each other. Cash-strapped universities see an opportunity to offset some of their more 'ambitious' building programmes, and the student body is far too busy being indignant that they face being charged some £3,000 per year in top-up fees by the university. Neither party seems to want to think about what the right answer might be. In particular, the NUS's rather dogmatic 'grants not fees' approach simply reinforces the idea that students are simply interested in a free ride. Too few people are questioning the dogma that 50% of school leavers must go to university, wondering whether vocational qualifications might be more valuable to school-leavers or questioning whether continuing to devalue the Bachelor's degree by association with 'David Beckham Studies' is really a good use of public money.
Perhaps if universities and students combined to lobby Government together, a better answer could be reached. If we are to charge people for the benefit their education has had on their earnings, maybe simply charging those who earn the most a little more would be the way to proceed? I fear, however, that André Siegfried was right: 'A well governed people are generally a people who do not think much'.
Mr J. CAMERON:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, Cambridge has been widely criticized for both giving such wholehearted support to a bill that was not only a controversial issue nationally but also within its own walls and in particular for the unveiling of its proposed bursary system before any other university in the country. In this regard the University must ensure that it delivers on the commitment that it made in January this year to provide bursaries for the poorest students so that its efforts are not written off - as they were at the time by many - as a 'cynical political manoeuvre' to facilitate the passage of a contentious and widely unpopular bill. Indeed, unlike the Government, the University has not yet pledged to up-rate annually both the parental income thresholds at which students become eligible for its bursary system or the amount received in bursaries by students. The University must ensure that its bursary figures are pegged to inflation in order to avoid both a narrowing of those who are eligible for financial support and a depreciation of the value of that support in real terms.
It also lies with the University to ensure that the new bursary system is adequately publicized, both through the national press and its own publications. It is my view that the prospectus for 2006 should give financial support a higher profile than it has done in previous years in order to assuage the sincerely held fears of prospective students from lower-income households that they will not be able to cope financially at such a prestigious institution.
However, it is not enough for the University merely to provide money to those most in need; it must also provide real support to the highly effective and valuable access campaigns run by CUSU and College JCRs to encourage those from non-traditional backgrounds to apply to Cambridge. Many students reject Cambridge on hearsay, gossip, and myth, and these inhibiting factors will only grow in intensity once prospective applicants know that the best institutions will be able to charge more for attendance than those lower down the academic league tables. It is only through current students talking to those prospective applicants face-to-face that the misconceptions of Cambridge as an elitist and prohibitively expensive institution will be broken down. The University should therefore give the new CUSU campaign 'Finding the Missing 3000' its full support and assist in its execution through its considerable power within the national media that it used to such great effect during the passage of the Higher Education Bill.
The new composition fee may help the University to prop-up its chronically under-funded departments and attract world-class academics to a limited extent; yet if its commitment to attracting the nation's best from all backgrounds into its undergraduate population is neglected then its academic standing can only suffer as a result of the new funding regime.
Mr D. M. CLARKE:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am Dom Clarke, President of Trinity College Students' Union. A motion was passed at a TCSU open meeting, mandating me to speak at this Discussion on behalf of TCSU against this Report. I agree wholeheartedly with Wes Streeting's note of dissent and am regretful that a member of Trinity's governing body has chosen to be a signatory of this Report. I am particularly worried about the lack of detail in Paragraph 4 on bursaries. Cambridge must attempt to attract the brightest young minds, and with the imposition of the maximum fees, without exact details of the bursaries available to compensate those from poorer backgrounds, it is in danger of failing to do so. That is not to mention the psychological barrier of anticipated debt raised by simply introducing higher fees. I feel strongly that the University should redress these concerns before passing a Grace on this issue.
Ms S. WILKINS:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, I'm Sharon Wilkins, the Access Officer of Trinity College Students' Union. A motion was passed at a TCSU open meeting mandating me to speak at this discussion on behalf of TCSU against this Report. I believe that the implementation of this fee arrangement will have an adverse effect on access and as such cannot lend any support to it.
Mr J. P. SKITTRALL:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, when examining Reports in order to prepare remarks for Discussion, it seems appropriate first to establish the points made with which one can express agreement. It is rather unfortunate, therefore, that in the case of this Report, despite repeated examination, I can find only one observation with which I can agree on its own merit. There are some others with which I shall agree, however, inasmuch as they struggle to mitigate the effect of the remainder. Indeed, the only paragraph with which I can agree in toto and wholeheartedly is the note of dissent attached to the end of the Report.
Before I begin my detailed appraisal of the contents of this Report, I wish first to observe that the Council, when taking into account the speeches made on this Report, certainly ought to consider that neither it, nor the Cambridge University Students Union, has publicized effectively this Report and its contents to the student body, in order that the student body might lend to the Regent House its particular expertise of and opinions on student affairs such as this. Students have not even received an official reminder of their right to speak at Discussions, which, given how rarely this right has been exercised recently, might have been appropriate.
Turning to the text of the Report, the final sentence of paragraph 1 begins 'If Cambridge adopted the new national scheme '. Cambridge has no choice but to adopt the new national scheme: the Higher Education Act has been passed! It seems that whoever wrote this Report has been at best careless in the distinction between students no longer having to pay fees in advance, an outcome that will occur regardless of what the University does, and the imposition of an extra financial burden upon those same students in the form of greater indebtedness through levying the higher fee. The terminological inexactitude is compounded by the similarly partially redundant first sentence of paragraph 3, and the similarly partially inaccurate penultimate sentence of paragraph 6. It may be that there is some confusion here between the implementation of the Higher Education Act 2004 (which will happen) and the imposition of the higher rate of fees (which need not); if the repeated remarks are directed towards the latter action, then surely, Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'a policy based on assertion and belief is hard to justify'.1
I should like now to expand upon a number of other claims as they appear reading through the Report.
In paragraph 2, it is noted that '[the additional income] would be allocated through the approval of the annual Allocations Report'. Whilst this might be true from a pedantic perspective, it must be remembered also that if the higher fee amount is charged, then the provisions of the Higher Education Act 2004 mean that there would be an external check on the Allocations Report in the form of financial penalties should the Report deviate from the requirements of the University's 'plan', and the freedom of Regents to propose alterations to the allocations would be similarly perturbed. The 'expectation' of the Council must surely therefore be regarded in this case as a stronger statement of how monies would actually be allocated?
Paragraph 3 contains the one observation with which I can agree, namely the statement that the University's problems will not disappear as a result of extracting from students the sums proposed. The phrase 'because the rate of fee chargeable is limited' seems a good point at which to raise the question of the direction in which the University will be headed should the proposals contained in this Report be approved. I shall return to this question when commenting upon the alterations to the Ordinances the Council has recommended. Later in paragraph 3, I fail to see exactly how the 'Cambridge campaign for the University's octocentenary' has a 'significant part to play in relation to the HEFCE grant for teaching and research'.
Paragraph 4 seems to say very little. Certainly, it would seem unreasonable to be satisfied by the paragraph that a bursary scheme could be at all effectively implemented, as part of a vain attempt to mitigate the catastrophic effect of the Report's recommendations. In fact, one is left with the impression of an attempt to placate students by promising something good in future, if only we would be quiet about today's grave proposition. I am sure the Council will be able to respond to the effect that their intention was not to give this impression, and that it is merely the case that nothing more concrete could be offered in the way of bursary arrangements. I do wonder, however, in which order it is intended that the 2005 Allocations Report be approved by the Regent House and a new bursary scheme be announced? I also wonder whether actual figures will show that there can be meaningful and effective division of fee income (that is, division such that each partition of the income is still meaningfully large) between a fund to pay for bursaries and other areas of need (and I note that the Board of Scrutiny seems to wonder about this as well2).
Paragraph 6 seems to suggest that implementation of a fee scheme is in the interests of potential students, from the point of view of financial planning. But such planning will not be possible until all financial arrangements for such potential students are in place: this includes bursary arrangements, which, as this Report notes, are not complete. Surely it is worse than the current situation of knowing nothing for the potential student to be informed that he will be charged the maximum fee amount, but that we do not know what level of bursary, if any, he might receive?
In paragraph 7, the Council asks the Regent House to approve something the Council admits it does not know, namely the higher (fee) amount. It also asks the Regent House to abrogate its power of review of the fee amount in future years, with the result that if, for example, the amount were increased in 2010 beyond £10,000 (say), the Regent House would have no automatic power to prevent students from being charged this amount beyond the 50-member Grace. This seems particularly bizarre given that throughout the time when the fees paid by students have been fixed by Statutory Instrument, the Regent House has been asked to approve by Grace the increases in the fees with inflation.
In yet another instance of slightly inaccurate wording, it has been left as implicit that 'the form set out in the Act' means 'the wording the Act uses when referring to higher fees'.
Moving on to paragraph 8, I welcome the decision not to create an obvious market in the choice of Tripos subject through fee differentiation. Of course, the idea that no such market exists fails as soon as one realizes that not all courses are the same length, but this is not a new problem.
I should now like to consider the wording of the recommended amendments to the regulations for University Composition Fees; I shall consider paragraph 9 of the Report within this.
There are some elementary drafting errors in the recommended amendment further to those already corrected, which ought to have been observed before signature and publication.
The explicit reference to 'the Secretary of State for Education and Skills' is ill-advised and probably mistaken, although admittedly fallacious. Titles of individual Secretaries of State change at will with reshuffles. The proper legal form as in Acts of Parliament is to refer to the Secretary of State - being a single legal office of which multiple people hold parts, and of which each office holder has the full legal powers although by convention he only acts in his particular area.
The second definite problem with the recommendation seems to be rather more serious. Regardless of the aspirations expressed in paragraph 9 of the Report, the fact is that the proposed amendment fails to deal with deferred entry students in accordance with s.25 of the Higher Education Act 2004, with the result that if the amendments are made and then no further Grace relating to the issue of University Composition Fees is passed in a timely fashion, then the University will be liable to financial penalties in accordance with s.24 of the Act. This seems a rather unsatisfactory way to arrange matters, especially given the timely reminder in the form of a Report3 that the passage of a Grace is not always entirely straightforward. It is not unknown for temporary provisions to be put in Ordinances, and it would be much clearer to ensure the Ordinances were in a form that were in accordance with the law in the first place, rather than relying upon the Regent House to approve a subsequent Grace in order for the University to be in compliance with the law. Indeed, I believe a case could be made that if a Grace passed the recommendations in their current form, it could be argued in a representation under Statute K, 5 that the Regent House has contravened the Statutes and Ordinances, or in a referral to the Commissary that the Regent House has acted ultra vires, in that the powers conferred upon the Regent House by the Statutes and Ordinances by virtue of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act 1923 cannot be construed to empower the Regent House to enact Ordinances that contravene later Acts of Parliament.
Finally, I wish to remark upon the wording that 'the rate of University Composition Fee charged to students shall be the amount determined as the higher amount'. Whilst I have made already the majority of my remarks upon this wording, there is one final one that fits clearly within the realm of good drafting (and I very much hope will stay there): this wording would become a little 'interesting' should Parliament ever decide that the higher amount charged to students should be unlimited.
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, I welcome Mister Streeting's note of dissent, although in contrast to him I do believe that the University should seriously consider the option not to charge the higher fee, for reasons I shall explain in a moment. Mr Streeting's mention of the interest of potential students is particularly apt, as it serves as a reminder that the students here today are not the ones who stand to lose personally as a result of these proposals. I am speaking on this Report because in comparison with what is proposed, I have enjoyed a relatively modest scheme of charges, and I should not wish others to suffer worse. Indeed, superficially it would appear that I should welcome the University obtaining monies at the expense of somebody other than myself; however, I believe that such steps will be detrimental in the longer term to the University by reducing its ability to attract and select students based on ability alone, and not also the level of debt aversion, not to mention the dangerous precedent that would be set by allowing Government-controlled university funding to be effected in this manner and with such conditions. These proposals can only reduce the academic freedoms enjoyed within this University: I urge the Council and the Regent House to consider the true cost of implementing this scheme.
1 See Reporter, 2001-02, p. 1269
2 See Reporter, 2003-04, pp.1083-84
3 See Reporter, 2003-04, pp.1073-81
Mr M. V. LUCAS-SMITH:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak in support of the excellent note of dissent by Mr Streeting of the CUSU and hence against the Report as a whole.
That the University intends to raise home student fees to a considerably higher level than at present, at a time when its access record is considerably worse than what it should be, does not send out the right message. Such a decision will deter yet further many more of the most able students in this country, a great number of whom it seems are already not applying. Cambridge must not underestimate the additional deterrent effect that top-up fees will have.
The Higher Education Act gives Cambridge the option - and it is no more than an option - to charge fees anywhere between zero and currently £3,000 a year. One can only assume that the Council propose the highest end of this simply 'because they can'. I ask the Council, to what extent has a lower fee (between these extremes) been considered? Can the Council please respond? Indeed, having a lower fee than other leading universities, would go a long way in helping to dispel the myth that Cambridge is expensive - a myth that sadly in recent years is turning into a reality.
As the Report itself notes, it would be wrong to believe that the new fee income proposed will resolve the University's financial difficulties, even if the equally important issue of access were to be put aside. Indeed, while the current deficit in the millions of pounds is clearly of major concern, it is still a relatively small percentage of the University's overall turnover. (Of course, it cannot be denied, however, that the deficit in academic salary rates increases the underlying deficit much further.) This deficit is of course not helped by the excesses and mistakes of the Administration, some mistakes for which potential students are effectively now being asked to pay.
It would be instructive for the Regent House to receive a breakdown of the mismatch between overall income and expenditure in the various areas of the University's activity. (The RAM would be instructive in this regard were it currently in place.) Research grant overheads, for instance, strike me particularly as one area heavily subsidized by the Chest.
All this is not to say, however, that the University is not necessarily making a loss on its teaching account. However, this has to be balanced with the disastrous effects on access which the effect of anticipation of debt by many potential students, will have. This issue is not dealt with in the Report.
This deterrent effect will be particularly acute for those able students who come from lower socio-economic and debt-averse backgrounds, exactly the group which Cambridge is least successful in attracting even now. Whilst the proposed bursary scheme will help alleviate hardship of those who are lucky enough to get a place here, this will not mitigate the effect of top-up fees on applications, i.e. access, which is a separate issue.
The one part of the Report on which I can agree is that there should not be differential fees between subjects, although it is possible that the RAM will in future years force us into such a state of affairs. Students should not be deterred from studying the subject they wish to study, not the subject which they can afford with least difficulty. Less vocational subjects might particularly suffer from subject-differential fees, as students come to view education more as an economic resource rather than for its own intrinsic benefits. Hence, I am pleased that, at this point in time at least, subject-differential fees are not proposed.
An unaddressed financial issue in the Report is that students paying higher fees will naturally expect to be treated more like 'customers', whether we like it or not. After all, it is reasonable to expect that if students collectively are paying more, they will expect to receive more. Cambridge is arguably not set up to deal with such a culture change, one which will inevitably result in higher expectations of levels of service provision and hence higher costs. To take an example, already overstretched departmental Computer Officers will, quite reasonably it seems, face ever increased demands on our time from students who have run into problems.
Next, the suggestion that the Administration be left to determine fees in future years - once the fee cap is inevitably progressively lifted by Government - is unacceptable. (Indeed, such a proposal is symptomatic of an increasing trend more widely in the governance of this University.) How difficult would it really be in future years to grace fee increases?
Indeed, I see nothing in the Report to prevent the possibility that, if some future Government chose to make the upper fee level unlimited, the University might charge what it wants without reference to the Regent House. I think it is no exaggeration to suggest that Cambridge would effectively wander into quasi-privatization by the back door; yet many of us do not wish to see Americanization of Higher Education at this University or in any university in this country.
Ensuring that the Regent House should vote on each rare occasion that the Government changes the range of fee options available to the University would prevent such problems.
Indeed, the University has been denied a say on the matter of top-up fees for far too long. It is a shame that those with access to Government have not used the University's status to argue against a system which will have a damaging effect on access. Mr Streeting is astute in highlighting the support that top-up fees received in the past year from certain quarters without reference to the Regent House, now effectively leaving us with a fait accompli.
I speak as a former student, less than five years ago, of the University who was lucky enough to be in the final cohort of students not charged tuition fees and for whom maintenance grants were available. Now a member of the Regent House, I think back to my sixth-form days, coming from a state, non-selective, non-fee-paying background, as many of those who we should be attracting are.
The thought of running up literally tens of thousands of pounds of debt by the age of 21, through being charged tuition fees of £3,000 per year plus the costs of living, with no guarantee that I would have received a bursary under the proposed scheme, may well have put me off. It certainly will put off many of those from less fortunate backgrounds.
Of course, Cambridge is not alone in being presented with the question of whether to charge top-up fees. Many universities will do so. However, Cambridge has additional access issues which dissuade many students from applying. We should take the opportunity not to charge the full fee, to help deal with the access issue.
Given all the above, I urge the Regent House to force a ballot on the issue of whether to charge considerably higher fees. The fact that the Government has made the option of top-up fees available does not mean that we have to choose it, or indeed the highest possible amount allowed, especially given the University's special responsibilities with regards to access.
It is important that what proportion of the University disagrees with higher fees is given the opportunity to say so, even if it is sadly a minority, so that the public can be assured that the University is not entering into its decision lightly.
Indeed, a vote would ensure that Cambridge does not blindly wander into what is arguably one of the most fundamental changes to the University's teaching function in its history.
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, I hardly know why we are here, so much has this been made a fait accompli. The Guardian of 21 September, 2004 had us at the top for generous bursaries, way ahead of other universities, though I do not recollect our ever taking the decision to charge top-up fees, let alone to give very large bursaries which must, in the nature of things, mean fewer bursaries. I wish I was clearer exactly where we are with the planning. In her speech on 1 October, the Vice-Chancellor said that 'we have developed a needs-based bursary system for undergraduates'. Perhaps she could point us to where 'we' did this so that I can familiarize myself with what 'we' did. She announced the setting up of two working groups which will 'begin examining the University's international role', and which 'will give thought to increasing the proportion of Cambridge undergraduates admitted from overseas'. Again, I do not see any announcement about the setting up of these groups, let alone any invitations to serve upon them, and most particularly to ensure that there is student representation. For will not the admission of more undergraduates from overseas mean the admission of fewer from the UK, with still hotter competition on the 'fair access' front?
Did not the Vice-Chancellor say in the same speech both that she has concerns about 'the institutional consequences of growing much bigger' and that she is backing expansion into North-West Cambridge with 'innovative ways of creating College communities' with more 'beds'?
This is where we start down the slippery slope if we formally agree to charge top-up fees and to go as high as we can get away with. The same Guardian article of September this year had the Vice-Chancellors of England laying bets on just how soon the Government would renege on its promises and the gleeful cry, 'The sky's the limit', be heard in the land.
The Board of Scrutiny points out in its Report to be discussed next week, that there are going to be RAM-raids on the available student intake as Departments compete for their cash-value to themselves. It reminds us that 'the University should not expect top-up fees to solve our financial difficulties' (17) (Reporter, 11 August 2004, p. 1084). The Board of Scrutiny also points out that we have not begun to cost our actual needs accurately. It will occur to Admissions Tutors quite quickly that there is not going to be all that hassle with the Government if they take overseas instead of home and EU students, and the money will be better. The Board notes that 'the projections of growth in overseas student numbers at undergraduate and postgraduate level do not appear to incur any additional associated costs.' 'It is hoped that these, particularly the real cost of provision of accommodation, are being investigated and that a thorough analysis of the costs and benefits is undertaken' (Board of Scrutiny Report (42), Reporter, 11 August, p. 1086). And since, as the Board points out, 30 of the 31 Colleges appear to be in similar deficit to the University, 'it should not be assumed that they can find the necessary finance' (Board of Scrutiny Report (42), Reporter, 11 August, p. 1086).
One of the reasons for the Board's warning is that so much of the money which comes in from this additional fee income is to go partly to the funding of bursaries (para.2). Shan't we be storing up justified resentment in the student body for the future? (My parents earn only £1,000 a year more than yours. The way they award these bursaries is opaque. It isn't fair that you've got one and I haven't.) The Vice-Chancellor admitted in her speech to the All-Party University Group on 16 March 2004 that the intention is to 'provide some support to students from families with up to £35,000 of family income', but 'we'll watch the applicant pool carefully, and adjust the system as necessary if we find a drop in applications from students with family incomes just above the cut-off for support'. So it won't even be consistent and predictable from year to year, or possibly from month to month. And who's the 'we', this time - the admitting College or the University?
This bursary scheme, she admits, is just to cover living costs, 'since the payment of their fees can be deferred'. But I thought the Government was worried about the disincentive to students from disadvantaged backgrounds which the fees themselves constitute and the idea of bursaries was possibly (who knows) to relieve that anxiety by covering that cost? And this Report is about composition fees, not maintenance.
And we can all see that this whole bursary game depends for its success on a level of dispassionate and disinterested co-operation among the Colleges which they do not seem able to achieve in any other arena. The Oxford Corporate Plan (6), published in the Oxford University Gazette, 23 September, can affirm that 'the collegiate university' has 'agreed to a common set of principles which will be used to govern the design of the bursary scheme', when we can given no clear account of what we are doing and how. 'The final details cannot be confirmed' (Reporter, 11 August, p. 1063).
No one, I am sure, will imagine that I am against providing financial support for students. But I do object to this being rushed through at the eleventh hour, in a Report which gives me vertigo with its spin, when it is not in dispute that the first principles have not been thought through properly and the costings have not been done and it all depends for its success upon a pattern of conduct of which the University of Cambridge has proved again and again that it is not capable, and cannot be capable with 30 grabbing Colleges looking out for themselves and the RAM-driven Faculties now doing the same.
It isn't even going to pay. The balance between the burden on the student and the benefit to the University is wholly disproportionate. In her speech to the All-Party Parliamentary University Group on 16 Mach 2004, the Vice-Chancellor said, 'Higher fees will bring in an additional £20 million. £20 million is a whole [her italics] lot better than nothing, but we will spend several millions on our bursary scheme and even £20 million is just under five per cent of our total central income'. Drop in the ocean of our financial mismanagement, surely? But not for the students who will have to pay.
And is the claim that we shall be keeping ourselves out of trouble with the Government by going down this road really tenable? At a conference on fair access on 14 October at which almost every university in the UK was officially represented except Cambridge, I heard Stephen Schwarz, the Government's very favourite Chairman, assert that the Office for Fair Access is going to concern itself with bursaries and not admissions. Today's Guardian Education Section carries a full report. This new line does not seem to chime very well with what it says in the Higher Education Act 2004, but, hey, that's the Government for you. If Cambridge scuttles about trying to please the Government and compromising its own principles in the process in the face of common sense it will have only itself to blame for the consequences.
The new Director of Fair Access is to be Martin Harris, formerly Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, who is I believe a good thing. But even a good thing is likely to become a puppet with broken strings in the hands of the present political regime. On the other hand the Code of Practice of the Quality Assurance Agency relating to recruitment and admissions might be a very sensible place for us to start, as the Schwarz Report emphasizes (Paras D8, E2, and E3, Appendix 3 twice). There (www.qaa.ac.uk) (with revisions due in the summer of 2005) may be found a methodology and principles to ensure that we do fairly and consistently whatever it is we are going to do when the Council has rushed this Grace through regardless (as you bet they will).
Report of the Faculty Board of Clinical Medicine, dated 13 July 2004, on amendments to the regulations for the Final Examination for the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (Reporter, 2003-04, p. 1065).
No comments were made on this Report.
Review of arrangements for voting in University elections and on policy and legislative proposals: Report of the Review Committee (Reporter, 2003-04, p. 1073).
Dame VERONICA SUTHERLAND (read by Dr A. CLARK):
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, the two main conclusions of the Review Committee are, we hope, straightforward and the recommendations follow from them:
First, on voting methods, the Committee undertook a thorough review, with the benefit of advice for which the Committee are grateful. All voting methods put before the committee had advantages, and disadvantages, summarized in the report. The balance of advantage and disadvantage was not such as to persuade the Committee that the University should be advised to move from STV, which has proved generally satisfactory in the University, and has not produced results which had been unacceptable or controversial within the University.
Second, with regard to the formulation of propositions for voting in the Regent House, the relatively new regulations which govern voting on legislative and policy issues have proved inadequate. The Vice-Chancellor, as elected presiding officer in Regent House voting, should have the normal responsibility attaching to such a position of ensuring that propositions for voting are put before the voters in a clear and coherent manner; for example that duplication, anomalies, and contradictions are eliminated, and where necessary individual propositions are voted on separately, on a yes-no basis. These are the normal responsibilities of a presiding officer in such a process, and do not in any way curtail or restrict the established processes of self government of the University through the Regent House.
The proposals in this report should not, the committee hope, be controversial, and the Committee commend them to the Council and the Regent House.
Dr D. A. GALLETLY:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, may I begin on a positive note by thanking the Voting Review Committee for meeting with me to discuss the issues raised by the evidence I submitted, particularly with regard to the voting systems which might be considered to be optimal in different circumstances. Unfortunately, the resulting report now before us contains little to suggest that my carefully thought out points, either written or verbal, were taken much to heart by the Committee. I have a few comments to make concerning some parts of the report, followed by a major point which sums up the fundamental lack of understanding of the underlying issues by the Committee.
Paragraph 3.1 states that the STV system has proved to be 'generally satisfactory', while paragraph 3.2 attributes any divergence from this general satisfaction to the way in which issues have been presented, rather than to any deficiency in the voting system. The theme returns in stronger form in section 6, where all the blame for strange results is laid at the door of poor presentation of options, while STV is completely exonerated. This is a nice theory, and one that is convenient for the University, but not one which has much concrete basis in fact. It is true that, on the most recent occasion that bizarre results were achieved, the issues were presented in rather a perverse fashion, thus exacerbating the problems. The same cannot, however, be said of the previous occasion (in 1990). When the voting on the number of signatures required to call for a ballot gave a result that met with outrage, being widely perceived to be counter-intuitive, the issue had been presented in an extremely simple and clear-cut fashion.
Furthermore such complacent dismissal of STV's potential problems is dangerous, particularly due to the inherent instability of its single-winner version. One could perhaps describe it in engineers' terms as 'imperfection-sensitive' - a small change in initial conditions (how the votes are cast) can lead to a large change in resultant behaviour (the outcome). I should hope that most people realize that this is far from ideal; an example of such can be seen if one attempts even a cursory analysis of the results of the ballots on Graces 5 and 6 of 20 November 2002 - see also the evidence I submitted to the Committee.1
Moving on now to paragraph 4.2: 'Nor is there any evidence that this method of voting has caused difficulty in relation to decisions on legislative issues'. This statement galls on two levels. Firstly, as just stated, there have been occasions on which people have considered the results to be counter-intuitive. That this in itself does not provide hard evidence of real problems leads to the main reason for my annoyance: there is no hard evidence (within the University at any rate) because no one has cared to look for any. To dismiss the possibility of such investigation as too time-consuming, and then to reject the offer of help from people who, while acknowledging the time-consuming nature of the task, were nevertheless willing to expend (unpaid) time on it, and then, further, to claim that there is no evidence seems to me to be disingenuous in the extreme. In an academic environment such as this, one might expect people to have an understanding of appropriate research methods, and how to draw useful conclusions; this statement in paragraph 4.2 appears to give the lie to such an expectation.
I shall return to the discussion of different voting systems presented in section 5 in due course, as this is where much of the misunderstanding is concentrated, but first wish to make a few extremely brief points about the rest of the report.
Recommendation 11(a) appears innocuous but conceals a double-edged sword, which could be interpreted as attempting to reintroduce by the back door the proposal that 50 signatures be required for an amendment to a Grace. Firstly, the proposers of an amendment will also have to request a ballot for fear their amendment be deemed inadmissible, and thus swept under the carpet. Alternatively, it might be deemed to be a Grace originating from the Regent House - for which 50 signatures are already required. This requires clarification - and surely the assurance that if 25 people support an amendment to a Grace, there must be sufficient discontentment with it that a ballot should automatically be called without their having to protest in duplicate. The issue of who should be responsible for deeming amendments inadmissible, and for their redrafting, I expect to be tackled adequately by others.
I turn now to the major point that typifies the lack of understanding of the Committee. Paragraph 5.2 provides abbreviated definitions of different voting methods, but fails sufficiently to emphasize the crucial points (please take note; this is the most important thing I shall say this afternoon):
1. STV is useful for filling multiple positions so as to represent the breadth of views of a diverse population (so is good when electing committees);
2. Condorcet tries to find the common ground amongst the same diverse population (so is good when one option only may be chosen, for instance when electing the chair of a committee - or the Chancellor of a University - or when enacting legislative reform).
The natural conclusion from this is that we need to use different voting systems for different types of ballot. This is not just my conclusion; the wider psephological community (and indeed the first economist to be awarded the Nobel Prize - one of our own experts who failed to make it onto the Committee, despite having published on the subject2) concurs. Paragraphs 5.4 and 5.5 consider and reject this conclusion, using as justification that people would not wish the voting system to become any more complicated than it already is. The premise is sound; the conclusion, however, is fallacious. The two voting systems in question are STV and Condorcet. For the voter there is no discernible difference between the two systems, as the manner in which voting papers are filled out is identical. The difference comes at the point of tallying the votes, and thus only the Returning Officer would be required to understand the mechanics of the systems - and were electronic voting/counting not considered anathema, his job could be simplified greatly, even in its current state.
Thus there is no valid justification for the conclusion reached by the Committee that we should stick with the status quo. A possible indicator of why it concluded as it did is given in Appendix B, where it is suggested that a consensual legislative solution might not be desirable. There is no evidence or justification presented for this view, and it runs counter to the current emphasis on goodwill and trust. Surely in a community of scholars such as this, the best solution is one that antagonizes the least number of people, not one which commands almost equal liking and loathing. The latter almost guarantees instability (as injured parties decide to stand for Council to re-fight past battles); the former (while perhaps slowing the pace of reform a little) ensures that rash changes and reverses are minimized. It is often considered wise to move at the pace of the more cautious members of a community.
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, two kinds of difficulty have been raised about the way we conduct our voting, for everyone could see that some of the outcomes of recent voting were bizarre and might not express the will of the community. Indeed where they were contradictory, they logically could not do so. The first difficulty concerned the mathematics of single transferable voting. I do not propose to comment on that here, for others are far better equipped for the necessary number-crunching than I. But even a mathematical babe-in-arms can see that there is something badly wrong with the setting up of a committee with (apologies to Dr Reid) scarcely a mathematician upon it, and a discourteous exclusion from it of Dr A. W. F. Edwards and Dr Diana Galletly. And when that committee declares that our present system 'does not require amendment', a toddler in arithmetic feels inclined to throw a tantrum and drum his heels. All we are to get is a 'simple explanation of the operation of the system' (5.7). If the one at Appendix D and E is what they have in mind, I must confess to be no clearer after reading it than I was before. But at least carrying on with the same system would leave us no worse off, though an opportunity has been lost to look at the different ways in which some important things might have turned out with a different voting system, and give the options the rigorous consideration they manifestly needed.
It is in a second area that a non-mathematician must really sound the alarm bells. There have been quite a lot of amendments in recent years; this has happened mainly because the administration would not listen but charged on regardless. The restrictive arrangements under which the Vice-Chancellor may at present interfere with such an amendment are set out for us here in paras. 6. and 6.3. Then comes the mealy-mouthed para 6.4. 'These provisions do not sufficiently enable the Vice-Chancellor, as presiding officer for voting, to determine the presentation of material for the convenience of voters.' Just remove 'for the convenience of voters' and we have our Chief Executive Vice-Chancellor after all.
For at 6.5 we see that the Vice-Chancellor (for which of course read the cabal of Pro-Vice-Chancellors and senior administrative officers which now rules the University) is going to be able to bide her/their time and if she/they do not like our attempts to challenge what is proposed, she/they can withdraw the Grace beyond the time by which a vote has to be called. So we shall no longer be able to call a vote, let alone put in an amendment, because all the Vice-Chancellor and her entourage have to do is pull the rug from under us and reintroduce the Grace in an amended form at a time of year when people are less likely to notice, perhaps just in the Grace list and without even a Notice. There is precedent for doing that.
Then look at 6.6. It all sounds so reasonable. On the face of it, it makes provision for something we have called for, the taking of what is in effect a straw poll so as to see better what we should really be voting on. But that sensible idea has become almost buried in a welter of options which may be selected from in pursuit of 'clarity' of presentation, which I fear will be, in practice, the reverse.
I prophesy with some confidence that two things will happen. One is that they will get the logic of the trail of consequences confused by mistake and our latter state will be worse than our first from the point of the view of clarity. The internal logic, the chains of 'if then', will become tangled.
The other is that they will (or certainly could - let me put it no stronger than that) exercise themselves in the recasting with the result that we may not notice what we are agreeing to. And that can happen. Remember the envelopes of multicoloured sheets which have come round recently, been cancelled because of some technical error, re-sent, and left some of the best minds in the world unsure where to put their crosses.
To 6.7. The collective Vice-Chancellor will be able to decide what is immaterial or trivial. This decision will not be challengeable. How can we possibly trust the administration of this University to play straight on this one? Are these profound changes themselves not being presented to us here as minor adjustments simply to enable things to run more smoothly?
The Oxford University Gazette on 23 September contains proposals for changes to voting arrangements there, which are not at all easy to follow. I confess to having read them several times and still do not understand them fully. But it would surely be sensible for those with an interest in the survival of the direct democracy of Cambridge to look at the protections on offer in Oxford. Or what today's Guardian merrily calls the Vice-Chancellor's 'non-job' may become quite presidential after all.
Let me not be entirely negative. Someone on this committee has spotted the very useful statement of intention which ought to govern the General Board's use of its powers to make Ordinances without reference to the Regent House, under Statute C, I, 2. Into this category fall the creation of promotion procedures. Once we gave them that power by Grace we lost the right to be asked each year as more and more provisions are inserted. It is proposed that standing orders should now include the requirement (the verb is 'will') that if controversy looms the General Board should initiate a Grace on which the Regent House may vote. One suspects that under the new Personnel proposals controversy may indeed loom.
Professor R. J. ANDERSON (read by Dr D. R. DE LACEY):
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have a small problem with this report, and a large one. The small problem is that the Committee dismissed electronic voting with the bland assertion that 'Sufficient security arrangements are not at present in place to permit secure electronic voting'. For several years now, one of the project topics I have set my second-year undergraduates is an electronic system to implement the University's voting rules. This project has always been completed successfully, within a time budget of 50 hours per student for a team of five to seven students. If we can accept alumni donations by credit card, we must surely be able to accept and count votes - they are simpler.
The larger problem is the expansion of the Vice-Chancellor's powers. A contested vote in the Regent House usually arises because a Grace proposed by the Vice-Chancellor is unacceptable to so many Regents that it stands a real chance of defeat. The Committee helpfully proposes to give the Vice-Chancellor the power, in such cases, to rewrite amendments. The Vice-Chancellor will also acquire more power to withdraw a proposed Grace should enough Regents propose to amend it into something the administration doesn't like.
The Committee argues from the confusion surrounding recent governance ballots. I am not convinced by their arguments. As both economists and computer scientists know, there is a large research literature on elections. Kenneth Arrow taught us over fifty years ago that there is no ideal way to run an election with three or more choices; the Committee should have been aware that there is no way, in general, to fix all the problems complained of. This is undergraduate stuff. More recently, Gibbard and Satterthwaite taught us that every non-dictatorial voting method in which every preference order is achievable, and in which there are more than two outcomes, is susceptible to tactical voting. This is more subtle, but is something of which anyone with experience of local government or trade union politics is surely aware.
One way of coping with the problem is to have an arbiter. However, that does not mean that we should make the Vice-Chancellor the judge in her own cause.
As an example, the election of the current Speaker of the House of Commons was widely remarked on at the time as having been determined by the then Father of the House by using his power to decide the order in which amendments were tabled. (Interested Regents may find online a November 2000 report by the Electoral Reform Society, entitled 'Electing the House of Commons Speaker'.)
Exactly the same methods could be used by a co-ordinated minority to rig a Regent House ballot. Imagine that the next Report on a controversial topic, such as intellectual property, is put as a Grace next term, and suppose that dissatisfied Regents propose a liberal amendment. Thereupon some supporters of the proposition that the University should assume ownership of more of its employees' intellectual property put up a spoiling amendment. The Vice-Chancellor is now in a position to act as Edward Heath did to secure the election of the current Speaker of the Commons, and use her power to determine the order in which the amendments are put. Worse, she has the power to rewrite both amendments, 'to determine the presentation of material for the convenience of voters,' as the committee so sweetly puts it.
This is only one example of what could go wrong. If we adopt this measure, I am sure that other things will go wrong in due course. The basic problem is that conflicts between A and B should not be refereed by A, but by C.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, what I propose instead is that we amend the Ordinance to provide a more neutral referee. Where more than one amendment is put to a Grace, the order of amendments should be determined by this referee. The referee should also undertake any necessary redrafting that becomes necessary to produce a coherent menu of alternative amendments, but only to the extent that this is strictly necessary.
Who should be the referee? One possibility that has been discussed in the governance newsgroup is the Commissary, who is a legal officer and thus qualified to take a view on subtle matters of drafting.
However, as tactical voting is at heart a political matter rather than a legal one, I tend toward the view that the Senior Proctor is the officer most suited for the task. He or she attends both the Council and the Board of Scrutiny, and is thus aware of the background to all issues likely to come to a ballot. Proctors are officers of this House; they are (in theory at least) elected; and they are charged with defending academic freedom in the University.
But whoever we choose, these new expanded powers of arbitration cannot be safely entrusted to the Vice-Chancellor. I must emphasize that I thereby intend no disrespect to the current holder of this office. Voting mechanisms are put to the test not when our leader is popular and in touch with academic views, but in more troubled times. We have suffered such times within living memory, and prudence requires us to assume that they will return someday. Indeed, if we weaken our democratic checks and balances, then we may well hasten their return.
Mr N. M. MACLAREN (read by Dr D. R. DE LACEY):
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this Report starts with an excellent description of why the single transferrable vote mechanism needs careful use, so as not to produce unrepresentative results, but falls off sharply thereafter. The proposals for improving the clarity of Graces are at least reasonable, as mechanisms, but seem to have missed the underlying reasons why the Regent House wanted a review.
Paragraph 5.8 states bluntly that electronic methods are too insecure, but provides no evidence, and does not address the insecurities of the current mechanisms. One of the worst is in the counting of calls for a ballot on a Grace, because there is no check whatsoever if they fail to reach the required number, including the likely simple error of misdelivery and the unlikely one of deliberate under-counting. In which respects is electronic mail less secure?
Paragraph 6.4 and the suggested amendments give the Vice-Chancellor powers to reduce confusion, but would equally well allow some future Vice-Chancellor to confuse, sideline or even suppress an amendment. Such powers are probably appropriate for administrative Graces, but are totally inappropriate for legislative ones. We may well need someone with the powers of a presiding officer for those, but such a person should be demonstrably independent of the management of the University.
Perhaps the worst failing of this Report is an omission from paragraph 5.9, given the fact that it has been raised in a Report of the Board of Scrutiny and was made explicitly to the Committee. That is the apparent manipulation of the timetabling of Graces and votes in the recent past.
The terms of reference for this Committee included 'the statutory and other provisions for voting on matters of policy and legislation, and in particular how possible amendments and alternatives to legislative and policy matters should be placed before the Regent House in order to obtain clear decisions.' All reasonable people will understand 'provision for voting' to include such matters as the timetabling. As everyone will know, manipulation of that is one of the most useful perquisites of the office of Prime Minister when it comes to general elections.
My brief comment to the Committee was not intended for publication but, as it has been ignored, I need to repeat its main point here.
I feel, however, that statutory provision (and I probably do mean statutory) be provided to prevent manipulation of the voting mechanism, as most people believe was done with the change of Statute to include external members of the Council (see the Report of the Discussion of 4 November 2003). This is particularly important for changes to Statutes and Ordinances.
For example, such changes could and should be required to have a longer period before they are accepted automatically, and to be required to be presented such that the whole of that period falls within Full Term. I agree that this will cause inconvenience, but the above was very strong evidence that the existing mechanism was abused, whether consciously or subconsciously. As I said, it was in flagrant disregard of the spirit of Statute A, chapter VIII, paragraph 4; nobody appealed it, because the proposal was not actually bad in itself, just less than optimal. But such an appeal was considered.
Regrettably, I feel that I need to remind people what was said at those Discussions.
The Board of Scrutiny stated in the Discussion of 27th May 2003 'Such confidence as may initially have been felt in the reform proposals was undermined by the tactics the Council then adopted to persuade the Regent House to vote for them. As everyone presumably recalls, the Council first called the vote on the proposals over the Christmas vacation, a period when the University Messenger Service would be closed for part of the time, and the voters otherwise occupied for most of it - and, in disregard of the University Statutes, the Council initially implied that any amendments would not be welcome. In the face of protests from (among others) the Board of Scrutiny, it then called off the ballot and rescheduled it for Term time, and allowed amendments. But this change of heart did not destroy the impression that the Council was trying to rush the proposals through by using dubious methods.'
In the Discussion of 4 November 2003, I said 'The Council did not see fit to respond to this remark, and the Grace that added these external members was published in the last Reporter of the year, on 6 August 2003, at a time when a large proportion of the Regent House was away from Cambridge. It is harder to imagine an action further from the spirit of Statute A, chapter VIII, paragraph 4. I think that the Board of Scrutiny should investigate this matter, using its powers in Statute A, chapter VII, paragraphs 2 and 6, and I beg the Council to listen to its constructive, if sometimes acerbic, comments.'
The Council responded on 17 November 2003 'The Council do not accept Mr Maclaren's apparent suggestion that a Grace published in early August is in some way hidden from the Regent House and do not believe that the business of the University can be held in suspense each summer.' This was a serious misrepresentation of my remarks, as the context was that of a change to Statutes, which is a very different matter from normal University business. The Board of Scrutiny did not choose to take up my suggestion, possibly because they felt (as I do) that this issue is subsumed in some of their more general points.
Their Eighth Report paragraph 69 said inter alia 'The Board expressed the view that any further legislative proposals on governance reform should come from a body that is independent of the Council. The appropriate mechanism in the Board's view is that of an Occasional Syndicate established under Statute A, VI, 1(c). Support for this position was expressed at the Discussion, and the Board remains firmly of the view that further proposals for legislative reform should emerge from such a process.'
Their Ninth Report, paragraph 66, expresses a similar view, and its Recommendation XVI states 'Any proposals for substantial change in the governance of the University should be developed by a body independent of the Council, preferably an Occasional Syndicate under Statute A.'
Yet this Report recommends changes that would increase the powers of the Vice-Chancellor and Council over future legislative proposals, precisely the converse of what the Board of Scrutiny recommends, without making reference to the issue, and despite having had the matter brought to the Committee's attention.
Dr D. R. DE LACEY:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this is an appalling report. It is not clear that the Review Committee understood the complexities of voting systems; it is clear that they have misrepresented the issues.
Their terms of reference are given as '(i) whether any changes should be made to the present STV arrangements in respect of elections; (ii) the statutory and other provisions for voting on matters of policy and legislation, ...' (1.2). Yet the Committee formulated for themselves the very different question of how to clarify the present system, as well as how to present legislative issues (2.1).
Admittedly there is apparent justification for this in the statement that there is no evidence for change (3.1). Well, that rather depends. There were at least two independent and sustained attempts to elicit data from the returning officer which could have provided such evidence. Both were carefully couched in terms which made clear that little effort was needed to provide the data, and no breach of the DPA would be involved. Both were refused. Further, in my own submission to the Committee I tried to demonstrate that the 'general lack of understanding' of which 3.1 speaks is itself evidence of a need to change: if there are three vacancies in a committee it is the impression of many electors that they are voting for three candidates, and while this impression might indeed be altered by a rubric, it might be better to interpret the impression as the will of the electorate. The issue is never addressed in the report (even though I believe that Dr Galletly had arguments in favour of the status quo which the Committee might have adduced, if only they had understood them). The Committee also state that STV is fine 'in that the results of elections have not been challenged' (4.2). Coupled with a repeated statement that the same method should be used in both elections and decisions on legislation (see specifically 5.5, though no justification is given nor probably could be, as Dr Galletly argues in her remarks), this argument is at best disingenuous.
The Committee do not appear to realize that there are different flavours of STV available. Although they acknowledge that supplementary voting is 'a primitive version of STV' (Appendix B), in the report as a whole they use 'STV' to stand for 'our version of STV', a usage which appears to muddle both the report and their own minds. Thus in the proposed clarification in 4.3 there is a reference to 'the' STV regulations, rather than to 'ours' (with a link to where they may be found).
The Committee did not consider other voting systems in general, only those specifically recommended to them. I was not aware, when I made my submission, that I was expected to do their homework for them. I assumed there might be experts appointed to the Committee for precisely that purpose. I am not a psephologist. However, if asked I would probably have recommended they look at Condorcet, so it is interesting to see how that fares at their hands. It is rejected by a most extraordinary piece of logic. STV is praised in 5.2 as 'especially valuable' in that it 'would tend to reflect different ranges of opinion' - a phrase to which, even after much consideration, I can attach no useful content. Per contra Condorcet provides consensual results 'even though other propositions may have majority support', a statement which hangs oddly with the claim in 4.1 that part of the value of STV is that the 'effect of the use of this rule is to permit the election or approval of candidates or propositions which have significant minority support'.
The report as a whole is rather thin on justifications for the positions adopted, which makes 5.4 all the more important. Why, in the 21st century, should 'simplicity of operation' be a criterion? If the implication of 5.8 ('Electronic counting is a matter for the presiding officer') is that the presiding officer does not know how to use a computer that is an argument for sacking him or her, not one for dumbing down the election process.
The rejection of electronic voting is as summary as it is ill-informed. Our Computing Service has only just introduced an excellent security system (the 'raven'): has it really been weighed and found wanting? I rather fear, if the Committee made themselves aware of its existence at all, that it is more likely the issues were found difficult to understand and not assessed at all. Current security arrangements are, of course, risible.
The statement of case concerning legislative issues in Section 6 is fair enough, though I would have several caveats at details (for instance, why no arguments to support 6.8? Why no suggestion of expert input at 6.9?); but the proposed Ordinance goes way beyond any arguments presented. The powers to be allotted to the Vice-Chancellor are draconian and unwarranted, and inimical to good governance. They will mean that, given the possibility that amendments may be summarily dismissed, members of the Regent House will feel constrained to act negatively (call for a non placet), rather than constructively (suggest improvements). 7.2 calls for an atmosphere of trust. We are seeing a lot of that word at the moment. Once again the message seems to be 'Trust us - but we cannot trust you'. I request that the wording of any proposed Ordinance be amended to ensure that the proposers of an amendment, or a truly impartial third party, be involved in its fate, and approve any wording to be put to a vote. Now that we have consultative reports - a most welcome development - it may be that this is in any event not the way to handle such issues. But as they stand the proposals of the Review Committee are ill-formed and without solid basis, and should be rejected by the Regent House.
Dr J. S. MYERS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'There is no ideal voting system.' (report, Appendix B). Alas this statement is presented as a platitude, for although there is a sound mathematical basis for such a statement, the report does not mention it. The mathematical basis, to which I drew the Review Committee's attention, is Arrow's theorem, which lists certain properties of an ideal voting system and says that they are mutually contradictory if there are at least two voters and they are choosing between at least three alternatives. There are several variations on the theorem with different lists of desired properties of a voting system.
Starting from such a contradictory list of voting system properties, some must be discarded until a voting system exists that satisfies the remaining properties. It would have been possible for the Review Committee to consider the available voting systems against the criteria commonly used to evaluate voting systems, and decide which criteria to discard, but instead of any such evaluation the report just discusses characteristics of voting systems in vague terms without considering such serious flaws in STV as that described by Dr Galletly in her speech of 11 March 2003 (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 756).
Closely related to Arrow's theorem is the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem which states that any voting system satisfying rather fewer conditions must be susceptible to tactical voting; that is, there are circumstances in which a voter will gain a better result by stating their preferences insincerely than by stating them sincerely. The attention of the Review Committee was drawn to this theorem in connection with the statement on the ballot papers (Regulation 4 of the Single Transferable Vote Regulations) that 'Under no circumstances can a later preference count against an earlier preference'. As this is not a formal mathematical statement, it is difficult to tell whether it is intended to mean that tactical voting would be futile, or simply the weaker condition that monotonicity applies and moving a candidate lower will not cause them to win, nor will moving a candidate higher cause them to lose. As Dr Galletly pointed out, STV fails monotonicity, so even with that weaker interpretation the statement is misleading; and with no plausible voting system is it true with the stronger interpretation. The text of the report mentions additions to the instructions on the ballot paper, but no specific changes to the Single Transferable Vote Regulations are proposed, so we must suppose that this misleading statement is to remain unchanged.
I do not seek to encourage the use of tactical voting by members of the Regent House and of the Senate, but I do not consider it appropriate for the ballot papers to mislead voters.
The Report allows the Vice-Chancellor to determine the presentation of matters for voting. How matters are split into separate ballots can inevitably bias the result, causing a conflict of interest between the Vice-Chancellor's role in the origination of proposals going to ballot and the Vice-Chancellor's role as presiding officer. Perhaps the Vice-Chancellor's powers in this regard should instead be given to another officer (for example, to the Proctors) to avoid the appearance of such a conflict of interests. In any case, two recommendations I made in my submission to the Review Committee seem to have been ignored but are relevant in this regard. First, submitters of amendments should be consulted on how they are presented for ballot; and second, the draft ballot paper or papers should be published in advance of the vote for comment. It is surely better to have a slight delay caused by such publication than to have to withdraw defective ballot papers and start a ballot afresh because of flaws that could have been detected earlier.
I must comment on the proposal regarding 'trivial or immaterial' amendments. I very much doubt that such amendments have ever been proposed, and if 25 members of the Regent House propose an amendment then that is clear evidence that it is neither trivial nor immaterial.
Appendix D presents an alternative arrangement for the ballots on Graces 5 and 6 of 20 November 2002. This arrangement is indeed much improved on that actually presented to the Regent House. Quite how much improved, indeed, this report does not make clear. The actual layout of the confusing ballot papers was not published in the Reporter. (I must urge that all ballot materials provided to voters should be published afterwards, including the layout of ballot papers and the personal statements made by candidates for election to the Council.) However, the salient features were that the numbers of signatures were not listed in numerical order and the options for 10 signatures had completely different wording from the options for 25 and 50 signatures. In that the newly proposed papers put the options in numerical order, they are an improvement.
However, this Appendix rather glosses over the other problems with Grace 6. The Appendix says the new papers 'could have been issued' under the new procedures. Indeed, they could, but this supposes rather greater care taken to present Graces in legally valid form than was originally taken. The new wording correctly notes that a change to the number of signatures required for amendments involves an amendment of Statutes. The authors of the original Grace 6 completely failed to notice this, presenting a Grace to amend Ordinances alone which was ultra vires Statute A, II, 1 by virtue of amending Ordinances in such a way as to contravene Statutes. I identified this problem on ucam.change.governance. There is nothing in the new proposals to make it more likely that such defects in Graces of the Regent House are identified in advance rather than subsequently by members of the Senate. This problem having been identified, the Council submitted Grace 6 of 26 February 2003 (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 629) in an attempt to fix it. Rather than admitting that the original Grace was defective with a Notice of apology, the only explanation of the new Grace was in a footnote in small print. The Vice-Chancellor then withdrew the new Grace on 3 March 2003 with no further explanation (p. 682). The Board of Scrutiny remarked on this manner of handling things in their comments in the Discussion of 11 March 2003 (p. 744), as did Professor Edwards (p. 747). Perhaps wisely in view of Professor Edwards's remarks at that Discussion, when another version of the Grace was submitted it was not numbered 6 but instead was Grace 1 of 24 April 2003 (p. 824) and was accompanied by a Notice (p. 800). All these problems could indeed have been avoided, but as you have heard in the discussion of top-up fees of legal defects in proposed Ordinances being identified by undergraduates, there is little sign that such problems will in fact be avoided.
Finally, there is one point to welcome in this report, which is the proposed review of practical arrangements for voting in the Senate. The last time there was a ballot of the Senate, when one was called on the Nomination Board Graces in 1994, the Council had to change the arrangements for fly-sheets in a hurry (Reporter, 1993-94, p. 590) as it was not practical to send them to all members of the Senate. Although this was implementing a recent proposal (p. 387), that proposal postdated the original objection to the Nomination Board Graces (p. 324) so it still looks rather like a reaction to events. I am glad to see that this time a review is proposed which will hopefully conclude in good time before such a ballot need be held again.
While the practical arrangements for ballots of the Senate are being reviewed, perhaps one closely related piece of unfinished business from around that time could be addressed? The annual updating of the Register of the Senate stopped, following the recommendation of the Third Report of the Statutes and Ordinances Revision Syndicate (Reporter, 1992-93, p. 769), and in the Discussion of that Report (p. 1016) it was requested that in that case the publication of the List of Members of the University be added to the Statutory duties of the Registrary. This was initially rejected (Reporter, 1993-94, p. 169) but after another such request in Discussion (p. 329) citing the principle that a voting body should have a published Register available to its members, the Syndicate undertook to propose the addition of the publication of the List of Members to the Registrary's duties under Ordinances. The point was raised again (Reporter, 1994-95, p. 922) and the undertaking repeated (p. 1010). The Council then took over reforms relating to the Unified Administrative Service, and with them presumably the undertaking, but it has yet to be fulfilled.
This would be a minor point were it not that the List of Members has ceased being published despite this pending undertaking. The edition to 31 July 1998 (published December 1999) includes a note that 'The form, if any, in which such information will be made available in future is under discussion.' As far as I can tell, there has however been no Notice, Report or Discussion concerning the cessation of publication; just a unilateral decision. The Addendum from 1 October 1998 to 4 January 2003 in the University Library Reading Room includes a letter from the University Draftsman saying that 'In future the complete List of Members will not be published and will not be available for purchase, ...'. As this Addendum does not include details of those who are to be removed from the List of Members as having died, it cannot fulfil the requirement of a register available to members; this raises the possibility of a member of the Senate turning up to vote and finding that, regardless of how they may prove their identity, they are recorded as having died or otherwise been deprived of membership of the Senate at any date since 1998, which they could not possibly have found in advance for lack of a published register.
Dr N. HOLMES (read by Dr J. LITTLE):
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, while I remain a member of the Board of Scrutiny, I must make it clear that my remarks today are made in a personal capacity.
In my view the present regulations give the Vice-Chancellor the power to arrange the structure of ballot papers in a sensible manner. While I am happy to agree that some of our recent ballots could have been constructed in a clearer and more logical way, I believe that it was in the then Vice-Chancellor's power to have produced a ballot paper along the lines suggested in Appendix D. Nevertheless, I am content with the more explicit statement of the Vice-Chancellor's powers provided by the suggested amendments to Regulations 9 and the new 11(c).
Where I disagree with the Committee's recommendations is over Regulation 11(a). I think the existing Regulation 11(a) whereby if the Vice-Chancellor rules an amendment incompatible with the purpose of a Grace, a request for such an amendment is treated as a request for a ballot is absolutely appropriate. The fact that 25 members have called for an amendment which is incompatible should not be allowed to pass without action. If they have proposed such an amendment it is clear evidence of their dissatisfaction with the Grace, any lack of skill in drafting on the part of the proposers should not allow this fact to be ignored. I believe that, had they known that the Vice-Chancellor would rule their amendment incompatible, the proposers of the amendment would have either reworded it or called for a ballot on the Grace. It seems quite wrong that the Regent House should not have the opportunity to express its view of the matter.
An irrelevant amendment is different. Here it does seem reasonable to allow such an amendment to be separated and put as a Grace in its own right.
Now let us consider the position of Regulation 6. The committee recommend that the Vice-Chancellor be empowered to withdraw a Grace for up to 3 weeks after the submission of the Grace if a vote is requested or an amendment proposed by 25 members of Regent House. I think that is a sensible improvement. However, it should not be possible for the Council to resubmit a Grace which has been withdrawn following a request for a ballot or proposition of an amendment without calling for a vote under Regulation 7.
You may accuse me of a lack of trust here. But I think it only fair to remember that the Council will already have considered the matter carefully and no doubt submitted the original Grace considering it to be the best possible course. While there will perhaps be some occasions when they will change their minds following the expression of views represented by the proposers of the amendment or ballot, there will surely also be occasions on which the Council will decide that it was right after all and wish, quite properly, to resubmit the Grace in its original form or something very much like it. I believe in such circumstances, it would be appropriate for the Council to have a duty to provide Regent House with the opportunity of voting on the Grace.
Does the Notice presently in Ordinances cover the situation? I believe not. While I welcome the Review Committee's recommendation that the Notices by the Council and the General Board currently in Ordinances be incorporated into their standing orders, the wording of the Notice is somewhat ambiguous. For myself, I feel that it can be interpreted as saying that the Council will submit Graces to the Regent House for approval of decisions if they believe them to be controversial, even where those decisions do not require the approval of Regent House. I do not read the Notice as committing the Council to calling a ballot under Regulation 7. If that is what it is intended to say, then perhaps it could be made more explicit.
I do not mean to say that I think that the Council should not use its power to call ballots on controversial proposals. Indeed, I think they should do so.
In any case, I consider that if Regulations 6 and 8 are revised as suggested by the Committee, an additional regulation should be inserted to deal with the situation whereby the Council feel it necessary to reintroduce the withdrawn Grace. I accept that such a regulation is difficult to formulate. What I would want it to express is the aim that the Council would hold a ballot unless they have altered the Grace so as to render the original amendment irrelevant or the reasons for the original ballot call moot. But in the case of a call for a ballot only the proposers know their reasons. I can think of two ways forward.
One possibility is to place a duty on the Vice-Chancellor to determine whether the original ballot request or amendment is still relevant and in such circumstances a vote would automatically be held on the resubmitted Grace. Alternatively one could enact a regulation whereby the Council have to consult the proposers of the ballot or amendment, and hold a ballot if those proposers still think it to be necessary. Once 25 members of Regent House have submitted a request for a ballot or amendment, it should not be necessary for them to have to scan the Reporter to find that the Grace has been reintroduced and then go about the time-consuming business of recollecting their signatures.
Mr J. P. SKITTRALL:
Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, I shall begin by remarking that I am sure considerable time could have been saved today if the submissions to the Committee had been published in the Reporter. Given the likelihood of rejected opinions being aired in Discussion and thereby published in the Reporter anyway, it cannot be claimed that much paper will have been saved overall. Perhaps the contention that there are enough appendices to the report already is understandable, but equally this would seem to support the contention that the publication of submissions would tend not to diminish the Regent House's understanding of the Committee's deliberations, but would tend to enhance such understanding.
On the subject of understanding the Committee's deliberations, I should express the opinion that confidence in the Committee's recommendations regarding voting systems would have been increased by a somewhat more rigorous analysis of the systems. A straightforward way of conducting such an analysis would have been to include a statement of Arrow's theorem, listing a set of attributes desired in the 'ideal' voting system not all of which can be achieved simultaneously (such a statement can be easily tailored so as to be accessible to a layman), analysing which attributes are lacking in the different voting systems, and then determining which attributes are most desired in the voting arrangements in question, by implication selecting a voting method. The consideration of how 'complicated' a voting system is seems unnecessarily subjective, as well as not entirely relevant: to draw an analogy, I do not need to know about the intricacies of car engine design to know how to drive a car (although I may of course notice differences in performance when so doing).
The aspect of the recommendations that gives most cause for concern, however, is the proposals that give the Vice-Chancellor quasi-judicial authority with respect to the selection and presentation of propositions and amendments. Given the Vice-Chancellor's role in the formulation and submission of proposals to the Regent House, this would seem to violate the principle of nemo iudex in sua causa. The combination of such proposals with Statute D, III, 7 (which allows the Vice-Chancellor to depute duties or matters to any member of the Regent House) could be quite undesirable, and the Regent House should not be legislating in a way that would allow such an undesirable combination.
I wish to remark further that it should be recognized that it is not always possible to eliminate 'anomalies and contradictions' from amendments, and that the selection and ordering of amendments has the potential to affect voting. As an example of such an issue I too refer listeners to the speculation surrounding the order in which candidates for election to the position of Speaker of the House of Commons would be selected the last time there was more than one candidate for the position. (That system has now been changed.)
I wish to express my agreement with all of the points made in Dr Myers's speech.
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Cambridge University Reporter 27 October 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.