Cambridge University Reporter

Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academical year 2006-07

1. Introduction

1.1. The General Board present this Annual Report summarizing their activities during the academical year 2006-07 to the Council. Major tasks completed in the course of the year include:

Work to support the University's submission for the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) and an Institutional Audit by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) in February 2008 is on schedule and will continue into the first half of 2007-08. Further progress has been made towards integrating the academic plans of the Schools, and other institutions, into a single high-level planning statement for the University as a whole. The Board welcomed the opportunity to meet jointly with the Council to consider strategic position papers on education, research, and the Collegiate University. The Board recognize the importance of this work and the need for further joint discussions as this programme develops. In 2007-08, the Board will be undertaking a review of developments in the University's teaching and learning support services.

1.2. The Board continued to meet three times a term, supplemented by a procedure for handling more straightforward business between meetings by circular. These arrangements enabled the Board to devote more time to strategic issues, including giving detailed consideration to the academic and financial plans of the Schools, and the outcome of major reviews of Faculties and Departments.

Academic standards, quality and review

2. Internal and national arrangements for quality assurance

2.1. The system of 'Learning and Teaching' Reviews is a key component of the University's quality assurance arrangements. The following institutions were reviewed: the Faculties of Divinity, Social and Political Sciences, and Education; the Departments of Chemical Engineering, Geography, and Zoology; and the Institute of Continuing Education. The reports of the following reviews were considered and the recommendations arising from them taken forward: the Departments of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, Veterinary Medicine, and Chemistry; the Centre for International Studies; and the Institute of Criminology.

2.2. Procedures for considering the reports of External Examiners on all taught courses have been strengthened so that the Board's Education Committee now consider all such reports, including those for M.Phil. examinations, and institutional responses to ensure that any concerns have been properly addressed.

2.3. The University's arrangements for collaborative learning and teaching provision involving other institutions were reviewed by the University's Internal Auditors whose report assisted the Education Committee in identifying matters needing to be addressed in this important area which, across the sector as a whole, has been of particular interest to the QAA.

2.4. The next QAA Institutional Audit of the University will take place in February 2008; preparations led by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) and the Education Committee are in hand. It is anticipated that the audit process will be less intrusive for Faculties and Departments than the 2003 audit and will require the preparation of only a limited amount of documentation specifically for the purposes of the Audit.

2.5. A number of the University's teaching programmes are subject to scrutiny by various professional statutory and regulatory bodies. During the year the Board were pleased to note the positive reports from the Royal Society of Chemistry (on Chemistry's provision within the Natural Sciences Tripos) and the British Psychological Society (on the Social Psychology strand within the Social and Political Sciences Tripos). The most recent Ofsted Management and Quality Assurance inspection of Secondary Initial Teacher Training in the Faculty of Education was equally positive.

2.6. Part of the publicly available data about universities, which is of growing importance, is the National Student Survey (NSS). In the 2007 survey, despite strong encouragement to final-year students to participate, the overall response rate for the University (47%) fell below the threshold for publication of university-wide data (50%) and below the national average (59%). Responses in eight subject areas, however, did meet the threshold for publication and will appear in the 'Unistats' website (to be launched in Autumn 2007). The Board recognize the importance of achieving higher participation in future surveys and will continue both to urge the officers of Cambridge University Students' Union to change their stance on NSS and to press for changes to the Survey that will enable it more appropriately to reflect the experience of students in the University.

2.7. The Education Committee has begun to review the implementation of the final report of UUK's Group on a common credit framework for higher education in England. This will entail a significant amount of work for the University, including revisions to programme specifications, admissions materials, and examination transcripts. More significantly it raises fundamental questions for the University's policy on a number of broader issues, including Tripos progression, the length of M.Phil. programmes, the nomenclature of a number of postgraduate awards, and the implications of the raised national profile of credit transfer and student mobility. The University's position will need to balance the maintenance of the high quality of the University's provision with work on access, and ensuring the attractiveness of the University's courses to potential students of high potential.

3. Teaching, learning, and assessment

3.1. Following detailed consultation with Faculties, Departments, and the Colleges, the University's Learning and Teaching Strategy has now been approved and can be found at The Education Committee has put in place an action plan for implementing the recommendations arising from the Strategy.

3.2. The Education Committee, together with various other bodies, has been considering the University's matriculation requirements and widening participation. A Report to the University is expected to be published in the Michaelmas Term 2007.

3.3. The Undergraduate Admissions Committee (UAC) has given particular attention to access and widening participation activities, bearing in mind (a) the challenging admissions milestones (including an increase in the proportion of the undergraduate intake from the state sector to c. 60-63% by 2010) which are part of the University's Access Agreement with the Office of Fair Access, and (b) the reduction in the proportion of the 2006 undergraduate intake from the state sector to 56% (from 58% in the previous year). These activities fall into three categories: Cambridge-specific; collaborative work with other universities; and general aspiration-raising activities in support of particular disciplines. The UAC has taken a number of steps to refine and prioritize Cambridge's strategies in this area. A more effective Schools/Colleges database has been established to improve internal monitoring of initiatives, including their cost-effectiveness. A number of areas for statistical research in this area are being taken forward. The following strategic aims, supported by agreed action plans, have been agreed:

4. Degrees, courses, and examinations

4.1. The Board approved numerous proposals for the revision of teaching programmes; this reflects the close and continuing attention given by Faculty Boards to ensuring that provision at both undergraduate and graduate level is fit for purpose and responsive to the needs of the student body. A new Education Tripos was approved to commence in October 2007, replacing the current Education Studies Tripos offered by the Faculty of Education. A Joint Report of the Council and the Board on the introduction of a part-time route to the M.Phil. Degree was published in June 2007. A further Joint Report on the introduction of a degree of Master of Finance was published in August 2007.

4.2. The most significant changes to Tripos regulations were the introduction of Assyriology and Egyptology in the Archaeological and Anthropological Tripos, and changes to the structures of Parts IA of the Computer Science, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences Triposes, in order to distinguish better the courses that prospective students could apply for.

4.3. At postgraduate level M.Phil. provision in a number of Faculties and Departments was revised as follows: the Departments of Archaeology, Architecture, Biological Anthropology, and Land Economy, and the Centre for International Studies. Other new postgraduate courses approved during 2006-07, were: an M.Phil. course in Politics; a two-year M.Phil. programme in Environmental Design in Architecture (involving a significant placement period); an M.St. course in Social Enterprise and Community Development; a Certificate in Postgraduate Study in International Studies; and an Institute of Continuing Education Postgraduate Diploma in Property Investment. Regulations to enable students to progress from a Postgraduate Certificate in Education to study for the M.Ed. Degree were approved. The Board also considered a number of new or revised programmes offered by the Institute of Continuing Education.

4.4. The Board have strengthened arrangements for (a) consulting the Councils of the Schools where course proposals have particular resource implications, and (b) setting broad timetables for decisions on significant changes to undergraduate provision.

5. Policy consultation and development

5.1. The future strategy of the Council for Lifelong Learning has been considered by the Board and its Education Committee, and has been the subject of consultation with University institutions and relevant intercollegiate bodies. The Board will work with the Council for Lifelong Learning on refinement of the strategy and an action plan for its implementation in 2007-08.

5.2. The Board are pleased to note considerable progress by the Committee of Management for the Cambridge Interfaith Programme (CIP) on the project, the vision of which is to develop new educational resources and a programme of teaching that will enable Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to be better understood in centres of intellectual, religious, and cultural influence, and to help create a closely affiliated centre for public education in London.

5.3. Following further consultation, proposals to enhance the role of the Chairmen of the Councils of the Schools, to more appropriately reflect the weight of their responsibilities, and formalize the responsibilities of the Councils, was approved by the University in May 2007 (Reporter, 2006-07, p. 230); approval of the statutory amendments is awaited.

5.4. The principal changes in the structure of Faculties and Departments approved in the course of the year were:

6. Graduate education

6.1. The Board's Review Committee for Graduate Education, jointly chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Education and Research, reported to the Board, with initial recommendations across its terms of reference:

6.2. The Report's fundamental recommendations concern:

6.3. Following their acceptance of the Review Committee's recommendations, the Board have established a Steering Committee to consult widely and oversee implementation of the recommendations, which will be a major project for the central offices, Faculties, and Departments. The Board recognize the significance of this work and the need quickly to carry it forward.

7. Academic Services

7.1. The Board have responsibility for the oversight of a range of academic services, including the University Library, the University Computing Service, the Language Centre, and the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET). In the course of the year, the Board, initially through the Education Committee, have begun consideration of the future developments, and oversight, of these areas taking account of the growth in the use of electronic media and the need for better co-ordination of pedagogic support. The pace of technological development, and the potential scale of investment to ensure that provision is at the leading edge, requires both a forward looking strategy and clear governance structures. A full review will be undertaken in the course of 2007-08. The Board endorsed the proposal for the integration of the work of the Information Technology Syndicate and the Information Strategy Group, under the proposed Information Services and Strategy Syndicate.

7.2. The Board were pleased to acknowledge the position of the University Library as a national leader in the development of digital repositories through the DSpace Project. Through the Committee on Libraries the Board recognize the continuing success of the scheme for the co-ordination of journals, piloted in the Schools of the Biological and Physical Sciences and now extended to include the Schools of Technology and the Humanities and Social Sciences. Discussions are ongoing about the duplication of journals between the Colleges and between the Colleges and the University.

7.3. The Committee has also noted substantial progress in two other areas: the ebooks project for developing delivery of undergraduate study materials has seen rapid expansion over the past year; and on the matter of professional development for librarians, a pilot one-day conference for library staff was held in June 2007.

7.4. The Committee has continued its rolling programme of visits to Faculty and Departmental libraries in the University, and is pleased to report continuing evidence that a very good service is being provided, notwithstanding resource constraints.

8. International matters

8.1. Work has begun on implementation of the two Working Party Reports on international matters (Reporter, 2005-06, pp. 614 and 623) and in particular on the forming of strategy for overseas collaborations. Presentations on this developing strategy were made both to Councils of Schools and to Heads of Institutions. This strategic work is underpinned by the expansion of the role of the International Office, including the development of an international links database. Collaborative agreements have been signed with the National University of Singapore, with A*STAR in Singapore, with the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, the Universidad Chileno-Britanica de Cultura in Chile, and with the American University of Sharjah.

9. University Finance and Planning

9.1. The Board, through the Planning and Resources Committee (a joint committee of the Council and the Board), were closely engaged in the consideration of the annual budget and the financial planning process. Guidance for the next planning round indicates a tightening of the level of available resources, and the need for clear scrutiny of plans and prioritization of aspirations for new developments.

9.2. While the financial representation of plans, and their reconciliation with available funds, is a significant exercise, they are rooted in plans developed by Schools and other bodies. The Board take the opportunity annually to review the content of the plans, which on this occasion was based on a summary prepared by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Planning and Resources), which was also used as background material for the Council's Strategic Directions discussions. Schools have been given a clearer template for the next round to enable them to provide narrative information in a common format which can be readily adapted for the preparation of a University-wide statement.

9.3. Arising from their discussion the Board will consider the following issues further:

10. Capital programme

10.1. Much preliminary planning work was undertaken during the year in anticipation of the release by HEFCE of capital funding for 2008-09 onwards. However, because of changes in the way that HEFCE will administer these funds (, the funding announcement is not now expected until early 2008.

10.2. The Board endorsed an updated draft Estate Strategy, which will form the context for planning over the next two years, particularly in relation to development of a number of central sites. The Board strongly support the development of a capital investment plan, integrating key academic developments on the New Museums, Old Press, Sidgwick Avenue, and West Cambridge Sites, which are essential to the realization of the Estate Strategy. Such a plan will be the basis for the future allocation of University capital resources and the identification of fund-raising priorities.

11. Establishment of Professorships

11.1. As a result of generous benefactions raised through the 800th Campaign, or other external funds, the Board proposed the establishment of the following Professorships:

11.2. The following Professorships were established, or re-established, as a result of success in gaining prestigious competitive awards from the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust:

11.3. In addition, the following Professorships were established supported on general University funds by the reallocation of recurrent funding within the Schools concerned:

11.4. A single-tenure Professorship of Materials Science was established in advance of the retirement of an existing Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy as part of the planning for the 2008 RAE.

12. Research policy and the Research Assessment Exercise

12.1. The Board have closely monitored the planning of the University's submission to the 2008 RAE. There has been continuous interaction between the central RAE administrative team based in the Old Schools and the Unit of Assessment Committees in Faculties and Departments to oversee preparation of individual submissions in accordance with the University's RAE Equality Code of Practice. To accompany the launch of the Funding Councils' web-based RAE data collection system in March 2007, training sessions, attended by some 80% of staff responsible for preparation of submissions, were organized. Faculties and Departments have found this system to be reasonably user-friendly and the University is on schedule to meet the deadline for submission. Prior to submission the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) will review and sign off each submission with Chairmen of the Councils of Schools.

12.2. Following responses by Higher Education Institutions to HEFCE's 2006 consultation exercise on the future of research assessment in the UK, it is probable that a metrics-based exercise will be run in 2009 for most STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and medicine). HEFCE have announced that further consultation with the sector will take place towards the end of 2007. It is expected that the results of this exercise will inform funding decisions on a phased basis between 2010 and 2013. It is planned that a modified peer-review assessment exercise will take place for all other subjects in 2013. The Board have concerns about the implication of these proposed arrangements for the University and the short timescale for implementing them, given the lack of specificity about the operational requirements. These will be communicated through the consultations and other appropriate channels.

12.3. A significant matter of continuing concern for the Board's Research Policy Committee is reviewing the impact of fEC (full Economic Costing) in terms of numbers and values of research applications and awards, as a result of which the Committee has established a small working group to consider the impact of fEC on industrial funding, to report in 2007-08. The Committee also regularly reviewed progress made in specific interdisciplinary projects and major bids.

12.4. In 2005-06 the Committee established a small working group to identify the scope and number of research ethics committees across the University, which reported to the Committee in 2006-07. Its main recommendation to the Board was to set up a University-wide ethics panel to deal with exceptional matters which could not be dealt with by the established local committees, which were shown to be working well. This will be the subject of a Report to the University.

13. Personnel

13.1. During the year the assimilation of staff to the single spine/new grading structure has continued to command the attention of the Board, with an interim report on outcomes from the exercise being published (Reporter, 2006-07, p. 612) and other elements of the national Framework Agreement being taken forward in partnership with the trades unions and in consultation with institutions. In recognizing the considerable progress in the development of the single spine and policies underpinning the University's position as a good employer, the Board are in no doubt of the need for further work to strengthen the University's position to recruit and retain staff in a highly competitive market for many academic and support staff. Balancing these considerations with future financial projections will present a considerable challenge for the University.

13.2. Work has also continued on the introduction of the Cambridge Human Resources Information System (CHRIS) and on a wide range of matters including disability and gender equality schemes, pension provision, age discrimination, fixed term working, and on leadership and management skills development programmes to be introduced in 2008.

14. Health and Safety

14.1. The Board receive regular advice on performance in health and safety principally through the Health and Safety Executive Committee (HSEC), whose Annual Report was published (Reporter, Special No. 19, 10 August 2007). Safety auditing, workplace inspection and surveys, an extensive safety training programme, testing of several thousand items of equipment, environmental contaminant measurements, and hazardous waste collection all contribute to providing assurance of compliance for the Board.

14.2. The number of visits received from the enforcement agencies remained at a consistently high level compared to other universities, and an Improvement notice was served by the Health and Safety Executive in respect of manual handling training for a workshop situation.

14.3. The growth in interdisciplinary activities, which is not exclusively a safety issue, represents an area where core competencies may need to be carefully assessed and Heads of Institutions need to be particularly vigilant.