Cambridge University Reporter

Report of the General Board on the restructuring of the Faculty of Oriental Studies and Topic of concern: The future of the study of the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and the Ancient near East in the University: Notice

30 April 2007

The Council has considered the remarks made at the Discussion of this Report and the Topic of Concern on 23 and 30 January 2007 (Reporter, p. 385) and has referred them to the General Board who have commented as set out below. The Board have agreed to amend the proposed date of implementation of the recommendations in their Report to the date of their approval by the Regent House and have accordingly added their signatures to these comments.

1. Introduction

The General Board are grateful to the contributors for their remarks, many of which range more broadly than the proposals of the Board's Report, and, as indicated below, they have agreed certain modifications to their review procedures and will also be giving further consideration to the general issues raised. Since many of the remarks, on the Report and the topic of concern, overlap the Board have drawn up a single response.

Before proceeding to respond to the concerns raised in the Discussion, the Board wish to make two preliminary observations. First, the Board are in no doubt about the enormous importance of the regions encompassed by the Faculty of Oriental Studies. The last three Vice-Chancellors have endeavoured to build links with the Arab-speaking world and with India and East Asia. Some of these links have long historical roots, some are more recent. They are made through Heads of State and governments, through alliances between universities, through the work of Trusts, Cambridge University Press, and Cambridge Assessment, through industrial links, and through alumni, both British and international. The ties are strengthened through the innumerable journeys and contacts made by members of the whole University, as is appropriate for one of the great universities of the world. These activities extend far beyond the boundaries of the Faculty of Oriental Studies and there are no grounds for suggesting that their importance is diminished by the proposals in the Board's Report. Secondly the Board note the references by speakers, including Professor H. J. J. van de Ven, Dr A. K. Bennison, Professor R. J. Bowring, and Dr R. Sterckx to the support in the Faculty of Oriental Studies for the implementation of the fundamental recommendations of the Review Committee, namely the constitution of two Departments within the Faculty and Tripos reform; these are widely seen as positive developments whose acceptance has been assisted by the external scrutiny afforded by the review process. Nevertheless, it is clear that the implementation of the recommendations of the Board's Report cannot take effect from the date of 1 March 2007, as envisaged. The Board, after consultation with the Faculty officers, have agreed that the recommendations should take effect from the date of their approval by the Regent House.

2. Process and timing

Various speakers made observations concerning: the purpose of the review; the processes followed by the Board's Full Review Committee and their Advisory Group; the composition of both of those bodies; and the subsequent effects of their conclusions on certain members of the Faculty.

Professor R. L. Hunter's remarks in the Discussion of the Board's Report indicate why the Council of the School proposed a Full Review, as a necessary part of the preparation for the School's strategic and financial planning. At the time the Faculty welcomed the Review as an opportunity to set out its academic role in the University and beyond. The Board note that the timing of the Full Review was as proposed by their Preliminary Review Committee, which reported in 1999 and which had raised a number of issues for the Faculty's attention to which the Full Review of 2004 was obliged to return.

The General Board recognize that perceptions of the integrity of Review exercises are a significant element in their outcomes. The membership of the Full Review Committee (listed in section 1 of the Board's Report) followed the standard pattern, including two current members of the General Board, two members proposed by the Council of the School concerned, and external members with appropriate expertise. In recognition of the breadth of subject coverage within the Faculty the number of external members was greater than the minimum necessary, at the suggestion of the Council of the School.

The Board note Professor Bowring's comments concerning his experience of the arrangements in place for review at the University of Oxford, in particular the extensive use made of reviewers from outside the UK and the absence of members internal to the University. The Board accept that in certain circumstances the appointment of a Review Committee member from outside the UK may be appropriate, but would wish to confirm that in this case the external members brought extensive and invaluable knowledge of the Faculty's position nationally and internationally. The General Board consider it important for such reviews to include some internal members from cognate areas who have a reasonable knowledge of the institution under review. At the time the Committee was constituted the Board had no reason to believe that the membership proposed by the Council of the School was at all problematic to the Faculty Board. However, in the future, they will ensure that the relevant Faculty Board or comparable institution has an opportunity to comment formally, via the Council of the School, on the proposed composition of a Review Committee, not only for the reassurance of the institution concerned but in the interests of members of review committees (who are expected to devote a considerable amount of time to such exercises).

The Review Committee spent two full days in the Faculty, with a series of meetings with the (then) Chairman of the Faculty Board, the Faculty's Professors and other senior members, the Faculty Subject Co-ordinators, its support staff, groups of undergraduate and postgraduate students (chosen by the Faculty), Junior University Teaching Officers, Language Teaching Officers, the Deputy Chairman of the Faculty, the Faculty Administrator, and those responsible for the Faculty's graduate education arrangements. The Full Review Committee also spent considerable time meeting representatives of other University institutions with interests cognate to the Faculty or with experience of interaction with the Faculty; these meetings informed certain of the Committee's recommendations. The Board regret that members of the Faculty found the review process demoralizing. They acknowledge that a Full Review is a substantial undertaking for both the institution under review and for a Review Committee, and that this one was particularly demanding given the complexities of the institution reviewed.

Having considered their review procedure further, the Board have agreed that in future an institution to be reviewed should be given an opportunity formally to comment, via the School, on a Full Review Committee's terms of reference and timetable for the completion of their work. Likewise, the institution under review will have the opportunity to decide, at the outset, what lines of communication with the Review Committee would best serve its particular circumstances, in the interests of concluding the business in a properly structured and timely fashion. The Council of the School of Arts and Humanities will also be reviewing its procedures in the light of the present review and subsequent General Board recommendations in due course.

Professors Bowring, P. F. Kornicki, and van de Ven expressed criticisms of the approach taken by the Advisory Group appointed to work with the Chair of the Faculty Board on the implementation of the recommendations of the Review Committee. The establishment of an Advisory Group to help an institution deal with significant change is a relatively recent development. Extensive discussion with successive Chairs and other members of the Faculty took place. Those discussions became particularly productive, in the Advisory Group's view, when the Faculty Board itself eventually agreed to set up a small group to represent the Faculty. The General Board consider that, in the case of any future advisory group, the institution concerned should be invited at the start to determine what lines of communication would best serve its particular circumstances. Again, for the reasons given above in respect of the Review Committee, an institution that has been reviewed should be invited to comment on the proposed membership of the advisory group should one be set up. The Board acknowledge that the overall process leading to the Board's Report to the University has been a lengthy one. However during the Advisory Group's deliberations it became clear that, although the goals set out by the Full Review Report had to be reached, complex local considerations were going to have to be taken into account in mapping the path towards them. The complexity of the issues with which the Review Committee, the Advisory Group, and the Faculty had to grapple and the need for extensive consultations inevitably contributed to the protracted nature of the exercise.

3. The Faculty's educational provision

The Review Committee in its Report acknowledged that the Faculty offers educational provision of a kind unmatched by any UK university other than Oxford and that it makes a very significant contribution to the study of major non-European cultures. At the same time it felt that there were issues to be addressed in the nature of its teaching provision, and the delivery of that provision, if it was to continue to prosper, to remain at the forefront of its discipline nationally and internationally, and to play its full part in the University's engagement with the regions it covers. The Committee's aim in its recommendations for a rationalized Tripos with a rebalancing of classical and modern approaches was to delineate a reinvigorated, streamlined, and academically viable teaching programme which in its view would achieve those ends.

Some speakers expressed concern about the Review Committee's apparent criticism of the weight of language teaching in the Faculty. The Board wish to clear up what seems to have been a misunderstanding here. They accept that language learning must underpin the proper study of other societies and their cultures, and fully acknowledge the value and distinctiveness of the Faculty's emphasis on language/text based teaching. Whilst recognizing the introduction in recent years of some papers on the modern world in the areas covered, the Review Committee was not convinced that the current Tripos fully met the needs and interests of today's students. A student survey presented to the Committee showed that students in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies would welcome the opportunity to take more papers in Modern Arabic Studies, for example. The Committee felt that a better balance between the Faculty's traditional curriculum and courses with contemporary cultural and interdisciplinary reach (including shared courses) would be attractive to prospective applicants. At the same time it would further the Faculty's stated aim of greater integration with the work of other institutions and enable it to demonstrate its relevance to contemporary study of the geographical areas it covers. The Committee therefore recommended that these and other related issues form part of a radical review of the structure and content of the Tripos. The General Board welcome the very productive overhaul of the Tripos that has already taken place in response to the concerns of the Review Committee and, in consultation with the Schools concerned, will endeavour to facilitate the interdisciplinary approach advocated by the Review Committee.

Undergraduate numbers in the Faculty have more than doubled in the last ten years or so although numbers across all three residential years in 2004-05 remained extremely small in Hebrew (5) and in South Asian Studies (9). The Review Committee recognized that very small student numbers raise issues of sustainability: large numbers of papers had been offered on the basis of insufficient resources - 15 in Hebrew and 28 in South Asian Studies - numbers which are hard to justify given the low student numbers. It also recognized that it was unrealistic to suppose that all existing activities and areas of expertise could be maintained alongside expansion into other areas. At the same time it envisaged that the formal establishment of two Departments within the Faculty would not only encourage the development and rationalization of educational provision, facilitate effective decision-making and institutional links, and allow for flexible and strategic deployment of resources, but could give a measure of protection to language areas rendered vulnerable by lack of demand.

With regard to the overarching structure of the Faculty's Tripos, also raised in the Discussion although not mentioned in the General Board's Report on the restructuring of the Faculty, the Review Committee made no recommendation about its future because it took it for granted that the existing Faculty-wide Tripos would continue under the Faculty's new name. When the Board's Advisory Group noted the assumption in the Faculty's Progress Report of September 2006 that there would be two separate Triposes, one for East Asian Studies and one for Middle Eastern Studies, they strongly took the view that there should continue to be one Tripos, but with two separate pathways and some shared elements. This, in their view, would reinforce the Faculty's identity as a cohesive and coherent academic unit with consistent policies, standards and arrangements (including a single stint system) and minimize administrative overlap - in accordance with the recommendations of the Review Committee. The recommendation of the General Board's Education Committee, when the Faculty submitted its Tripos reform proposals for preliminary consideration, that the Faculty Board set up a Faculty-wide education committee to oversee educational provision, reinforces the logic of a Faculty-wide Tripos. If the Faculty Board wish to pursue this question further, a fully argued proposal addressing the reasoning of the Advisory Group and setting out the perceived advantages of a split Tripos over a single Tripos with two pathways should be submitted for further consideration by the Board.

4. Provision in South Asian Studies

Several speakers, in particular Professor Kornicki, Dr E. G. Kahrs, and Dr J. D. Smith, were critical of the approach taken to the future provision in South Asian Studies. The Report of the Review Committee recommended that the Department of Asian Studies should include the existing Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian Sections, and the Department of Middle Eastern Studies should include Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (MEIS), Hebrew, and Ancient Near East Studies (ANE), with the addendum that in the case of ANE relocation was an alternative possibility. The Faculty Board in its response to the Report of the Review Committee accepted the recommendation for the creation of two Departments along the lines proposed. However, it was unable to propose an appropriate location for South Asian Studies within the two-department structure. The Advisory Group therefore advised the General Board that, since South Asian Studies did not have the critical mass to constitute a viable third Department, the future of South Asian Studies be considered in the context of South Asian Studies across the University as a whole.

The Board are in no doubt about the central importance of the Indian Sub-continent, geographically and historically and of the long-standing ties between the University and South Asia. The University's wider interests in South Asia relate to its research agenda, its ambition to develop relationships with its alumni, most of whose interests range more broadly than the study of the sub-continent itself, and its determination to establish new connections with internationally renowned research institutions and sister universities. For these hopes to prosper, it is necessary that the full range of research and teaching activity in Cambridge, which extends far beyond the boundaries of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, is nurtured and actively promoted.

Some speakers feared that, by suspending a thinly populated undergraduate Tripos option in Sanskrit and Hindi, the University would be signalling a lack of interest in studying languages and cultures which are central to the modern world and seriously undermine our ability to engage with that world. However students wanting to engage with India, and China, Japan, and Central Asia as well as the Middle East, do so via a range of disciplines and not necessarily through the in-depth study of language as a starting point. Professor van de Ven and others spoke of the value of interdisciplinary approaches, laying out the vision of a pervasive, interdisciplinary approach to a knowledge of China. Such an approach would seem the best way to strengthen Indian Studies at Cambridge. The Board note that the demand for graduate supervision and examining now far outstrips the provision made for it: the Annual Reports of the Centre of South Asian Studies show that for more than twenty years graduates doing research degrees on South Asia (including the Anglophone countries of South East Asia) have held steady at around 70-80 in residence at any one time. To this must be added a significant number who study aspects of South Asia in taught M.Phil. courses. The Board therefore concluded that the important task now is to maintain and develop a lively cross-disciplinary postgraduate presence for South Asian Studies built around the Centre of South Asian Studies, on the grounds that this would constitute a greater recognition of the geo-political importance of South East Asia than the tiny number of undergraduates formerly taking the Tripos was able to achieve. It is not correct, as asserted by some speakers, that the Board acted ultra vires in agreeing to suspend the South Asia option in the Tripos.

Provision in Hindi and Sanskrit will be maintained for postgraduates and others who wish to use or know those languages. The Board's proposal to concentrate provision at the graduate level envisages the Centre of South Asian Studies serving as a hub, providing library resources, and the co-ordination for programmes taught by staff with a strong connection to a wide range of Faculties and Departments. The M.Phil. being planned for South Asian Studies will include a language strand to cater for those who need it.

The Board have given further consideration to the proposed assignment of offices and posts in South Asian Studies, in the light of further consultation with the Faculty Board of Oriental Studies. As proposed in the Report the offices concerned, two Readerships in Sanskrit, the Language Teaching Officership in Hindi, and the Assistant Directorship of Research in Pali, will be assigned to the Faculty and their interests represented by the Chair of the Faculty Board. The Board recognize that leaving the posts assigned to the Faculty, outside the Departmental structure, is not ideal. The Board will review the matter in three years' time, when the present cohort of undergraduate students have completed their studies, in consultation with the Councils of the Schools of Arts and Humanities and the Humanities and Social Sciences. When Dr Smith retires from his Readership on 1 October 2007, the filling of the consequential vacancy will be determined in accordance with usual process, through the Faculty Board and Council of the School.

5. Ancient Near East

Professor J. N. Postgate, Professor J. D. Ray, and Dr A. M. McMahon all expressed concerns about the proposed transfer of offices in ANE to the Department of Archaeology. The relocation of these offices to the Department of Archaeology, as proposed in the Report, would not deprive undergraduates in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies (MES) of access to ANE in the Tripos nor would it lead to the withering away of ANE languages. ANE papers would be borrowable by MES students and provisions are set out in paragraph 9 of the General Board's Report to safeguard the future of ANE language-based teaching in all years of the Archaeological and Anthropological Tripos. The Board draw particular attention to the provisions that will (a) safeguard the language-based offices and (b) ensure, through a special Appointments Committee, that the interests of the Faculty of East Asian and Middle Eastern Studies are taken into account in the future filling of the four offices. However, they remain of the view, for reasons stated in paragraph 9 of the Report, that all four offices should be assigned to a single institution. In response to the views expressed by Dr McMahon and others, they do not believe that a system of joint appointments, within which the institutional affiliation may change according to the interests of the holder of the office, would be satisfactory or in the interests of achieving cohesiveness and continuity of provision. The General Board are aware that there are already informal arrangements to ensure cross representation on the two Faculty Boards. They will consult further with a view to formalizing such linkages through membership of the Faculty Boards of Archaeology and Anthropology and Oriental Studies in class (e).

6. The Resource Allocation Model and financial considerations

A number of speakers commented on the Resource Allocation Model (RAM) and the influence of financial considerations on the proposals in the Report. The RAM is a model which should be used as a planning tool at School level to recognize the financial implications of plans, proposals, and actions. The Board are clear that, while academic decisions should not be driven by financial considerations, such decisions should be made with an awareness of their financial consequences. Even if the RAM did not exist resources would still be limited and it cannot serve the long-term interests of the University if decisions are taken in the absence of a full understanding of the financial consequences. Nevertheless, the Board are emphatic that the RAM is not a driving force behind these proposals. The Board's principal concern has been to create a structure and environment in which the subjects concerned can flourish and look forward to a healthy future. In developing the five-year cycle for academic and financial planning, the Board have been concerned both to enhance the capacity for longer-term thinking, through the Councils of the Schools, and provide a secure funding base; in the context of the School of Arts and Humanities the Board recognize the need for a broader strategic view of the implications of the RAM. There are no grounds for the suggestion in Dr S. F. Daruvala's remarks that the proposals reflect short-term thinking.

7. Interdisciplinarity and the area Centres

It was suggested in the Discussion that bringing the area Centres, including the Centre of South Asian Studies, within the School structure would frustrate interdisciplinary work. The General Board's view is that the Centres need to be within a School: (a) to reinforce the linkages to Faculties and Departments in the 'hub and spoke' model described above; and (b) to ensure that their needs are properly addressed and are accorded appropriate priority through the annual funding and planning cycle. They do not consider that bringing the Centres within a School will be to the disadvantage of interdisciplinary work. However, in relation to the case of the Centre of South Asian Studies, the Board will review the satisfactoriness of the arrangement as part of the review referred to in section 4.

The Council has considered the views expressed by the General Board above and has agreed to submit a Grace to the Regent House (Grace 2, p. 637) for the approval of the recommendations of the Board's Report, to take effect from the date of approval of the Grace.