|Previous page||Table of Contents||Next page|
A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor John Rallison was presiding, with the Registrary's deputy, two Pro-Proctors, and thirty-three other persons present.
The following Reports were discussed:
Report of the General Board, dated 3 June 2009, on the establishment of a Professorship of Musical Performance Studies (Reporter, p. 857).
No remarks were made on this Report.
Topic of concern: The unpublished report from the committee reviewing teaching and learning support services (Reporter, 2007-08, p. 526).
Mr J. P. KING (read by Mr J. WARBRICK):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, my name is Julian King, I am a member of the Regent House. I organized this topic of concern. I am also employed within the University Computing Service.
I started this process having realized that there had been a failure to operate under a sound open governance process. This was highlighted by the realization that the only way to find out what had happened was through a number of Freedom of Information requests.
I am sure that other speakers will raise many issues. Many of these issues will be concerned with specifics of the recommendations in the report. I am not concerned with these specifics. They may be right, they may be wrong. My concern is that there is no way for a normal member of the Regent House to be able to weigh up the evidence and come to a conclusion. The University is intended to be managed by the members of the Regent House, and if we fail to have an open process then this intent will clearly fail.
The General Board initiated a review into teaching and learning support services.1 The review did not consult widely enough as is apparent from the responses to the General Board when the unpublished report was distributed to even a relatively modest set of interested parties.2
It is likely that this happened because of the commonly identified problem of poor communication within the University.
Clearly the General Board could not have been aware prior to receiving these responses that the consultation was not wide enough. I suspect that due to perceived time pressures the decision was taken to press ahead with the implementation, rather than to check its conclusions.
The observation that there were significant failings in the process seems to be well supported by the documented evidence.3 It would seem appropriate that steps are taken to rectify these failings, not just for this particular process but for future processes. Indeed, given these failings, can anyone be truly surprised that the government is pressing us to reform our governance? If we wish to avoid ill-considered outside measures then surely we must take measured steps to change ourselves.
Thus I urge the General Board to issue a statement of intent that they will adhere to a much more open practice with regards major decisions in the future. Specifically, that they will always publish findings of future reviews in the Reporter, hopefully followed by a response to this by the General Board shortly afterwards. It would seem appropriate that the Council issued a parallel statement of intent.
Furthermore it would seem appropriate that the General Board and Council make all papers that could be requested under the Freedom of Information Act publicly available as a matter of course.
As for the specific matter addressed by this report, I am confident that this will be dealt with appropriately since the General Board, at the very least, will bring a Grace to the Regent House as per their statement of intent in this regard. Indeed, given the responses indicated that affected parties were disenfranchized, would it not make sense for the General Board to ask the review panel to restart the consultation process, before publishing an amended report?
2 Comments on the report were invited from: Councils of Schools, University Librarian, Director of the University Computing Service, Director of the Language Centre, Director of CARET, Senior Tutors' Committee, Education Committee, Committee on Libraries, ISSS. See http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/11169/response/30945/attach/3/FOI-2009-56%20-%20ISG2.pdf
3 A timeline to put most of the facts into context can be found at: http://www-uxsup.csx.cam.ac.uk/~mbb10/TLSS/analysis_of_responses_to_report.html
Mr N. M. MACLAREN (read by Mr J. WARBRICK):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the events that forced us to call for this Discussion are truly baffling, but not as baffling as the way this Discussion has been arranged. None of the report involves confidential matters, or even potentially embarrassing material. Why was it not published as a draft report for internal University access when the Discussion was scheduled?
This ridiculous level of secrecy has led to some serious flaws in the report, of which I shall mention just one. It is an omission of a very important area of pedagogic support, probably because the Committee and those it contacted did not think of it, and most of the people who might have reminded them did not see it.
It is common for research students and members of staff to encounter problems that need the academic skills of other disciplines, at a level that is taught in a Tripos, diploma or similar. Many of these are mathematical in nature, especially statistics, advanced algebra, numerical analysis, and several aspects of computer science. In some cases, a consultancy with an expert will be enough but, in others, the person needs to develop a solid understanding of the area (i.e. not just use formulae).
The provision of such support is clearly something that falls within the Terms of Reference of this report. Before considering the report, let me describe how it has been provided in the past.
The first step is clearly a student's supervisor or colleagues within the same Department. However, that often fails because there is nobody with both the relevant skills and the time and inclination to help out. This is particularly common when the person is pursuing an innovative line of research - surely something that we should be encouraging.
Beyond that, the support has been provided from two sources. One is to find a helpful expert in another Department, who is unlikely to get any credit for the effort involved. A few people have formally taken on such tasks, such as Dr Altham of the Statistical Laboratory and Dr King of the Computer Laboratory, but not many; the former has retired and the latter is about to. The second is the Computing Service, which may surprise some people.
From about 1970 to 1985, the Computing Service provided formal advice on and teaching of statistical and numerical analysis, some other branches of mathematics, and what was later to become computer science; several people were appointed specifically to provide such support. For various reasons, the service was reduced, but we have never entirely stopped providing it on a 'best efforts' basis, and often uncredited.
So much for the history and background. What does the report say? It does not seem to mention this area, and the Committee seems to be unaware of this pedagogic requirement.
Section 3.3 paragraph 1 quotes the Language Centre's mission, which includes this, but says no more. Section 3.2 paragraph 1, section 5.2 paragraph 4 and section 6 point (7) refer to the Computing Service only as a provider of infrastructure and courses on software. Section 3.4 paragraphs 1 and 2 state that CARET's aim and function are in the support of teaching, not its provision, and section 6 point (4) recommends its transfer to the University Library. Section 3.5 paragraph 2 and section 6 point (8) state that the Human Resources Division has some teams supporting this area.
The 'Next steps' entries of the Implementation Steering Group's summary confirm that the report's recommendations have been accepted, and that there should be a review of the Computing Service. There is no mention anywhere of how teaching and advice at the level I am referring to would be provided, or even which organization would take responsibility for it.
I sincerely hope that the General Board do not consider that research students and members of staff should be able to teach themselves other disciplines to degree level or above without assistance. If that were reasonable, we could dispense with most of our teaching and simply tell the students to learn what they need to!
It is fairly obvious that CARET and the Human Resources Division have a role in enabling teaching, learning, and advice, but will not have the specialist skills to provide it themselves. Is the intention to outsource such support? And, if so, to whom? If we can improve our services by outsourcing graduate and staff level teaching and advice on our own disciplines to an external body, why don't we do that for all of our teaching?
So what should be done about such pedagogic support? There are many reasonable options, and the General Board should take action to ensure that they are considered in a revised report.
Mrs A. N. KING:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I want to take this opportunity to outline the Language Centre's position on the General Board review and its recommendation vis-à-vis the Language Centre. This paper represents the view of my Management Committee, and has the full support of the Chair of my Management Committee.
The Language Centre would like to reiterate that it is not in favour of becoming a sub-department of the University Library (UL) for the main reason that there is little academic synergy between these two organizations, and neither has much to gain by association with the other. The UL is not fundamentally in charge of developing (i.e. writing and commissioning) academic materials but of hosting them.
On budget issues, it has been suggested that the budget of the UL is large, and some could perhaps be diverted for the Language Centre initiatives. There would, however, be no guarantee that this would happen, as the UL has different funding priorities and is unlikely, in our thinking, to be inclined to divert funds to the Language Centre.
On management issues, it has also been argued that having the Head of the University Library as line manager of the Language Centre would give the Language Centre a voice, albeit indirect, on senior decision-making bodies such as the Resource Management Committee. However, there is no reason why the UL, with its main commitment to information provision, would have any particular sympathy with, or understanding of, the pedagogic function of the Language Centre.
We do have a position, we're not just against - we have ideas in the Language Centre: The Language Centre instead favours the formation of a Directorate of Teaching and Learning, which, like academic Schools, would have a Head, a Council, and a budget. The Directorate should embrace all teaching and learning support services, and the Head would be specifically asked to ensure that they worked together to ensure optimal delivery of support services.
The review raised a number of points regarding the Language Centre which may give a misleading impression and we feel that it is essential to rebut these.
it has not so far been possible to develop a sustainable funding model which can be extended to cover a large range of languages
Let me put that in context: we do have online provision for six languages. The online provision has been developed by Language Centre in-house staff, and contract staff, and the funding has been sought and found externally. As it stands, this comment must be true under any realistic scenario - it will always clearly be impossible to extend face-to-face teaching to cover even a substantial fraction of the 170 languages for which online resource support is offered. There is no way, neither would it be possible, nor would it be effective, to do that. It is certainly true that there is not enough income from the General Board to fund all core posts, and that some are funded on soft money. We do not see this as a point of criticism but rather as evidence of necessary entrepreneurship in the face of funding difficulties.
The Centre also undertakes activities intended to serve audiences outside the University, and whilst these are invariably worthy, there is a concern that they divert resource from its core purpose
This comment appears to refer mainly to the Junior CULP programme. CULP, for those of you who may not be familiar with it, stands for Cambridge University Language Programme. It is an institution-wide language programme for language learning for local schools, taught on Language Centre premises on a few Saturdays. We would like to stress once more that the non-core activities serve the local community, particularly local schools, on a cash flow neutral basis. Other external activities provide the funding that supports the core activities.
The provision of Junior CULP, which, by the way, is an award-winning programme, appears to us to represent a valuable outreach activity which could be used to defend the University against allegations of elitism.
Furthermore, the Centre's recent successful biddings to become the East of England Regional Language Support Centre for schools and FE Colleges within the DCSF-funded Links into Languages Project, and be a major partner within the Open School for Languages DCSF-funded Project, have again emphasized that the Language Centre's expertise and experience of supporting teaching and learning have been recognized nationally, and indeed internationally. In addition, the Centre will be raising much needed revenue from these two recent initiatives. I don't think you can be entrepreneurial enough, if you see what I mean.
There is potential for developing closer links between the UL, CARET, and the Language Centre. CARET could provide the necessary technical services, and the Language Centre continue to develop innovative courses, whilst the UL take on a role overseeing the development of pedagogic support
Our answer? We agree that a closer link with CARET in the provision of online resources could be useful. The UL, however, has no experience in developing new language teaching packages, if this is what is meant by the 'development of pedagogic support'.
the Centre is struggling to replicate online materials across a large range of languages and it does not have the resources to support service delivery beyond the innovation phase
It is true, we say, that the Language Centre has always relied on attracting external funding to develop its online provision, and the Centre should be congratulated for this, and not hit on the head. That said, the Centre has established an enviable reputation nationally (2007 Dearing Report) and internationally (CUTE Project for teaching English in Chinese universities) as a developer and provider in this field. To date the Language Centre has developed online provision in Chinese, French, Italian, and Spanish. It is updating its German online provision and thanks to both DCSF-funded projects cited above, we will have the necessary funding to develop Arabic and Japanese.
Finally, we note that there is much reservation about the proposal from other University institutions, not least from the UL itself, which states in its 6 November 2008 response to the General Board review (point 5) that:
The Syndicate wishes to record its reservations regarding the reassignment of the Language Centre to the umbrella of the UL. The report lacks evidence as to the existence of any clear synergy between the UL and the Language Centre, either currently or on any easily imaginable future scenario. Concern was expressed that this proposal could be construed as an attempt to deal with an operational issue in the University, rather than the result of strategic thinking about the development of teaching and learning support services.
I have a few more quotations, which I think are extremely revealing. Here are other reservations:
From the response of the School of Arts and Humanities on 28 October 2008:1
General unhappiness among members of the Council concerning the appropriateness of establishing the Language Centre as a sub-department of the UL.
From the response of the Department of Architecture on 3 October 2008:2
What does not appear to have been considered is the UL's suitability as an organizational umbrella for teaching organizations like the Language Centre which works closely with those who use its services. The report acknowledges that 'one of the strengths of the smaller organizations is that they are small, hungry, able to move fast and take risks', but conspicuously fails to show how these qualities would be preserved.
From the response of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies on 3 October 2008:3
The UL does not seem a natural place for the Language Centre, although it does appear right that its activities are better integrated with other teaching support agencies in the University. The relation of the Language Centre and other institutions which provide language teaching, such as FAMES, should also be included as an issue in further discussions.
From the response of the Chairman of the Faculty Board of English on 2 October 2008:4
We would support with vigour moves that put the funding of the Language Centre on a more secure long-term basis. However, I am not convinced that in its understandable eagerness to capitalise on the possibilities of electronic, online, and virtual leaning environment initiatives, the Review Committee has kept fully in view the paramount needed to integrate these developments with traditional, face-to-face, interpersonal methods. My own view is that the model developed by the Language Centre, to which the principle of integration is central, is one from which other Faculties and Departments could learn a great deal, even if it is not directly transferable. The Language Centre provides learning opportunities in all languages but not the least important is the language in which students must conduct their everyday academic work. In this respect the Language Centre's programme 'English for Academic Purposes' is of immense significance, in that it provides the live cultural experience without which their work (and life) cannot flourish.
From the response of the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages on 6 October 2008:5
The Faculty shares the view of the Director of the Language Centre that no genuinely convincing case has been made for bringing the Language Centre, with its extensive teaching role, under the wing of the UL.
Ladies and gentlemen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to conclude by reiterating that we are not in support of the General Board recommendation to reassign the Language Centre within the UL for all the reasons outlined above. However, we support a Directorate of Teaching and Learning to ensure optimal cooperation amongst all University pedagogical providers.
1 http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/reports_of_the_implementation_gr#incoming-30945 under FOI-2009-71 (Beckles).pdf
Mr R. J. DOWLING:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a member of Council but I am speaking here in a personal capacity as a member of the Regent House.
Our story begins in the Reporter of 20 February 20081 with a Notice from the General Board that it had set up a committee to review teaching and learning support services in the University. The Notice gave terms of reference, membership, and a request for comments.
So far, so good. This is how reviews should be launched.
But now we move forward to the Reporter of 2 December 2008 and the Annual Report of the General Board.2 Section 3.1 says that the Review Committee was set up in October 2007, but I can forgive them some delays as they sort out membership etc., and quotes its five principal recommendations. This section 3.1 dominates the teaching, learning, and assessment element of the Annual Report. It is no small deal.
But where was the report? It had not been published, and perhaps I should have raised these concerns at the Discussion. I apologize for my oversight.
The section of the Annual Report closes with the sentence that
The Board will consider comments on the proposals and make substantive recommendations, where the University's approval is required, in the course of 2008-09.3
But where was the report? Presumably comments were only welcome from the people the report was sent to.
Also note that the Board gave notice that it would seek the University's approval where it was required on individual actions. Each would be discussed in isolation. The Regent House was denied the right to see the greater picture that linked these actions together.
Where was the report?
I do not understand the General Board's decision not to publish. It has inspired only suspicion. Nobody would have blinked if it had been published in the Reporter. A few extra comments would have been made in Discussion, and the Board would have proceeded on with the full set of comments from the Regent House as well as its favoured committees. Such a Discussion could be referred to in any future Graces deriving from the report. It would only have brought benefits. So why didn't they publish it?
Publishing the reports of review committees is the default action. It must have been a conscious decision of the General Board not to publish. Will they please tell us why?
Dr J. P. MCDERMOTT:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, my name is Dr Joseph McDermott, of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. I also serve as Honorary Keeper of Chinese books at the University Library. The 'Report of the ad hoc Faculty Library Committee' makes sad reading. Its authors claim to have written it up after a review of informed opinion in the University on the future of library services for senior and junior members. When actually reminded that a large number of un-consulted Faculties and Faculty members shared serious doubts about its broad conclusions, the Committee then held an 'open meeting', to which it invited librarians of concerned Faculties. It next heard their views, the majority of them dubious or negative, and then it did nothing but say that it had heard their views. Its original conclusions stood, as if nothing had happened, as if the entire process of critical reflection on an issue vital for the next generation of our students and teachers had had zero impact on their conclusions. No reasons for the continuation of this stance were given, and one was led to conclude that the Committee had reasons it either could not or would not air even at an 'open meeting'.
It is not only this rushed and abridged process of decision-making, however, that saddens me. Libraries constitute an irreducible core of any serious university's facilities, and yet they clearly are not receiving the attention and funding they merit from the central administration and this Committee. We all know that the traditional services and functions of libraries around the world are being challenged today by new forms of information technology, databases, and other types of digital information that require funding previously expended solely on printed materials. The University Library, obliged now to purchase electronic versions of materials it had grown accustomed to acquiring free of charge thanks to its status as a copyright library, faces serious financial troubles that refuse to diminish. Instead, however, of taking this critical opportunity to review the University Library's options, and to lay out reasoned policies for dealing with these challenges in the future, the Committee has issued a series of rushed and ill-considered recommendations worthy merely of a government in chaotic decline. In fact, the Library Syndicate has written it a polite reply strongly advising it to reconsider key recommendations about library services, expertise, and book holdings.
At a time when a thoughtful full-scale report on Cambridge University libraries would be welcomed by the academic community at large - when the global position of this University and its library system could thereby be recognized and re-affirmed - we instead have received a report with proposals that, if implemented, will do serious damage to the University Library's ability to function effectively and efficiently for its readers. I strongly urge the Vice-Chancellor to set up a committee that will undertake a far more thoughtful review of the future of the Library's services, the traditional as well as the new, and that will lay out a reasoned policy for their development over the coming century. Otherwise, I fear we will go the way of Oxford and Stanford, universities similarly anxious to reduce cost and duplications, and yet in the end oblivious of the scorn and opprobrium that have rightly greeted their ill-considered and wasteful responses to these universal challenges.
Professor P. F. KORNICKI (read by Professor R. P. GORDON):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I share the view of those who have called for this Discussion that the report arising from the review of teaching and learning support services in the University carried out in 2008 is a matter of such importance to all who teach and study in the University that it ought to be published and properly debated. Why all the furtiveness if there is nothing to hide? Why engage in a consultation process that was so transparently designed to restrict the time available for comment and consideration by sending the review document to Secretaries of Schools in August? And why state in the covering letter that the recommendations had already been 'approved in principle' by the General Board, before any responses from Faculties had actually been received? These procedural peculiarities can only arouse disquiet, as does the fact that the Chair of the Review Committee is now acting as Chair of the Library Syndicate.
But there is more to this than procedural oddities, disquieting enough though they may be. The report itself, which I first saw as a member of the Library Syndicate, is marred by the failure of the Review Committee to come to grips with the various ways in which teaching and learning support services are provided across the University, or with the needs which Faculty libraries strive to meet, and it is precisely for this reason that it has come in for considerable criticism, not least from the Library Syndicate itself. The General Board have described the received responses from the Schools as offering a 'broad level of support', but this interpretation of the responses does not reflect the clear discomfort expressed. A few examples out of many will make this clear. The Department of Architecture stated that:
Generally, however, we felt a lack of sympathy with the strategy recommended by Professor Cliff's committee;
the Department of History and Philosophy of Science that:
The report takes little account of the important role that Departmental libraries currently play in information provision generally, thereby overlooking a dimension that should be central in planning changes in library provision. It also ignores the benefits associated with Departmental libraries;
and the Department of Engineering that:
The consultation concerning library service provision appears to have had input from the University Library alone, with none from Faculty and Department librarians.
If criticisms like this can be described as 'broad support', then clearly the General Board have mistakenly taken a leaf out of Gordon Brown's book.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the matters covered in the report are far too important both to those who provide, and to those who depend upon those services, in other words virtually the whole University, to be treated in the rather cavalier fashion that we have seen. I am not impressed by a kind of consultation that pre-empts criticism by stating that the recommendations have already been approved in principle, or one that attempts to airbrush out the criticisms by describing them as 'broad support'. A major rethink is needed here, otherwise it is clear to me that both teaching and learning in this University will suffer, and none of us want that.
Dr S. KEARSEY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Director is unable to be here this afternoon, but as the Deputy Director I would like to say, on behalf of the University Computing Service, that we welcomed the report on the review of teaching and learning support services last year. We are currently working towards implementing those recommendations pertaining to the Computing Service itself and we are working closely with the University Library to help make further progress in this area.
We would have no objection to the publication of the report, if that were felt to be in the interests of the University.
Professor G. R.EVANS (read by Mr M. B. BECKLES):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in July, both attendance and readership of the published account may be expected to be down in comparison with normal term-time impact. But I hope the speeches made today will be read and carefully pondered. This Discussion implicitly raises not one but two topics of proper concern for the Regent House, both of supreme importance. The first is some apparent slippage in the operation of the decision-making process in the University, which has led to the 'report' in question remaining unpublished. The second is the future of those 'learning resources' which used to be known as libraries in Cambridge, and their relationship with other 'resources', particularly the electronic.
The last century has seen a number of adjustments to the decision-making process. The Wass Syndicate which gave Cambridge its present constitution was not the first body to flag up the problem that democracy is slow and hard to control, and administration (or 'management') is eager to get on and have things decided in the way it wants them decided. The proposals in the unpublished report (and the eagle-eyed will notice the lower-case initial 'r' when this speech is published) are of that sort.
In areas of the University's business where the Regent House retains the right to approve changes, it has an unfortunate habit of waking up when least expected and growling a 'no' before returning to its light slumber. The astute and experienced administrator therefore busily puts things through a series of committees and out to 'consultation' in the hope that no-one will notice the full implications of what is intended and object. This is easily achieved. It is usually enough to be able to point to work in hand, dates of meetings, if anyone asks what is going on.
The General Board set up a committee in October 2007, with the apparently vague remit of 'reviewing' 'teaching and learning support services'. Motherhood and apple pie. This got a mention in a Notice in the Reporter, though not until February 2008.1 One wonders whether someone had indeed asked what was going on.
The committee reported, though it did not apparently take evidence from the librarians and library-users who were going to be most affected. The General Board received the report in July 2008 and acted on it, but it did not report to the University about the changes it was now actively taking forward. The General Board approved the recommendations of this report in July 2008 (Minute 08.07.B1). It then, and only then, it seems, asked for comment from various bodies in the University, but still without making the Regent House aware of the proposals. The opportunity for comment even from the bodies 'consulted' was limited, since the call went out in August 2008, and the deadline set was 7 November 2008, not long into Full Term. The first the Regent House heard was a short section in the General Board's Annual Report for the year published in the Reporter of 1 December 2008, where it learnt (still without sight of the report to the General Board) that:
3.1. The scope of the review principally concerned activities currently supported by the University Library (UL), the University Computing Service (UCS), Language Centre, and the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET).2
The report has still not been published, but has been made available under the Freedom of Information Act, and may be read online.3
Meanwhile, the post of University Librarian was advertised with a closing date of 7 November 2008, in terms whose careful neutrality looks more 'loaded' in the context of the proposals we now glimpse, namely that the Librarian should take over the duty to supervise a vastly enlarged empire. I quote from the advertisement:
Candidates should have an outstanding academic record and substantial experience of strategic leadership and institutional management, at a senior level, within a major academic library or comparable organization. They should also have a detailed understanding of current developments in libraries, information services, and the provision of library services to an academic community.4
Further details of the appointment sent to candidates on request strongly suggest that it was being taken for granted that the proposals would be implemented, for the appointee was to 'work with the appropriate University bodies to ensure the smooth and transparent implementation of the recommendations of the 2008 Review of Teaching and Learning Support Services' ('Transparent!', I hear you choke).
The appointment was duly made and announced in January 2009:
Anne has been Deputy Librarian at Cambridge University Library since 2000. Her main professional interests include emerging information technologies, succession planning, change management, and digital preservation.5
Enthusiasm in the news coverage because the new Librarian was to be a woman seems to have distracted attention from the change in the remit of the post.
The promise in the General Board's Annual Report was that 'The Board will consider comments on the proposals and make substantive recommendations, where the University's approval is required, in the course of 2008-09';6 we are now at the end of the academical year, and nothing has appeared. Yet the thing appears to have become a fait accompli, with the new Librarian all set for the new duties. I have sent her a draft of this speech in case she wants an opportunity to comment in this Discussion.
The General Board's powers to make Ordinances under Statute C can make such a behind-the-scenes proceeding as I have outlined here especially problematic. There has been an apparent assumption throughout this process that the proposed enormous changes broadly lie within the General Board's remit, and it need not bother to consult the Regent House unless there are recommendations which expressly require its consent. No-one has yet identified these in any document I have seen.
Perhaps I am being unfair. Perhaps the failure to consult and the lack of transparency have merely been an inadvertent slip on the part of busy officers.
I turn now to what is proposed, the plan to bring together hitherto distinct areas of provision in a single administrative area. This Cambridge scheme should be read beside the story of the parallel process in Oxford of planning for the future of its libraries, on which the latest announcement appeared in the Gazette of 26 June, where potentially very considerable policy decisions about 'learning resources' are likely to be taken just below the surface of the text.7 So what are the questions?
1. Does the Regent House want to go the same way as Oxford and centralize all library services? (further, actually, since there are hints of a wish to try to bring in the College libraries too).
2. Does the Regent House want to bring CARET under the control of the University Librarian?
3. Does the Regent House want to merge the Language Centre with the University Library? (the available responses to the consultation of 'bodies' suggest that neither the University Library nor the Language Centre itself favours this plan).8
4. How are these incorporations and amalgamations going to affect the style of library provision?
5. And where does all this take us in the matter of the balance to be struck between electronic and paper resources, and rights of access to facilities, in a period when there is a national trend, backed by HEFCE, towards destruction of multiple copies and low-use materials and a move from paper to screen, tables and desks to armchairs, and the concept of a library as social space?
What does the Regent House want, and should it not be asked, in a detailed Report for Discussion explaining what is proposed?
2 (i) developing the role of the University Librarian as Director of Library Services, responsible for all Library provision in the University; (ii) accelerating the process of centralizing journal subscriptions, to become the responsibility of the University Librarian, working in consultation with the Journals Coordination Steering Committee; (iii) bringing the management arrangements for CARET and the Language Centre within the remit of the Librarian, and the abolition of the separate formally constituted management Committees; (iv) the formation of a new body, 'the Teaching and Learning Services Steering Group (TLSSG)', responsible for pedagogic support, reporting to the Education Committee (for policy) and the Information Strategy and Services Syndicate (in relation to IT strategy); and (v) the role of the University Computing Service in pedagogy to be the subject of future review.
7 Academic Strategy for Oxford University Library Services: http://www.ox.ac.uk/gazette/2008-9/weekly/260609/notc.htm#5Ref
Mr M. B. BECKLES:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, my name is Bruce Beckles. I am one of the members of the Regent House who helped to organize this topic of concern. I am employed within the University Computing Service (UCS), one of the institutions covered by the unpublished report from the Review Committee under discussion today.
I believe there have been a number of issues in the review process and in the handling of the subsequent unpublished report1 that make it difficult to describe these as 'open' or 'transparent'. I think these will be adequately addressed by others in the course of this Discussion, in particular Professor Evans and my colleague Julian King. I shall therefore say no more about this and turn instead to the contents of the unpublished report itself and its recommendations.
The main thrust of this report concerns library provision, and I hope that there will be a number of librarians and library-users speaking at today's Discussion. They will be better placed than I to comment on library provision in the University and the report's recommendations in this regard. However, having carefully read both the report2 and the comments on the report made available by the University in response to my Freedom of Information request,3 it seems to me that the report's recommendations are not without significant problems and should be reconsidered in light of those comments. My analysis4 of the 31 responses to the report from various committees, etc. is that only 13 per cent seem to be in favour of the proposals regarding centralizing library provision, with 68 per cent having significant reservations.
It also seems strange to me that the report does not consider the role of College libraries in the teaching and learning of the University. When I was an undergraduate (1991-1994), in my subject, Mathematics, my library requirements and those of my fellow subject peers were entirely met by our College library. In addition, anecdotal accounts from fellow undergraduates reading different subjects indicated that the College library was also their primary library resource. Undoubtedly the role of the College library has evolved since then, but it seems unlikely that it would have ceased to be of any importance to the undergraduate teaching of the University. Given that not only does the report fail to consider the role of College libraries, but the Review Committee seemingly did not receive any evidence from Faculty, Departmental or College librarians, it is hard to believe that it has considered this area as thoroughly as is needed. Perhaps, therefore, now that these inadvertent oversights have been brought to light, this area could be revisited in a revised (and, one hopes, published) report.
Another of the report's principal recommendations is that the Language Centre should become a sub-department of the University Library (UL). As I am not familiar with the services provided by the Language Centre, I shall rely on others to speak in detail about this. However, I note that the report advances no good reasons for such a merger. Further, since neither the UL nor the Language Centre appear to be in favour of this recommendation, it seems perverse to carry it out without, at least, providing convincing arguments as to why the opinions of the institutions most directly concerned should be ignored.
The report also recommends that the Centre for Applied Research in Education Technologies (CARET) should become a sub-department of the UL. I find this also somewhat perverse since the report describes CARET as
a small organisation which meets a need to support innovation; the latter is encouraged in an organisation which is able to respond rapidly to opportunities and is willing to take risks5
It is hard to see how the virtues of being a small organization can be preserved by becoming part of a much larger organization. Further, it seems to me that whatever benefit is conferred by embedding CARET within the UL will not come without some associated costs. As a sub-department of the UL, it seems likely that CARET's priorities will, of necessity, be closely aligned with those of the UL. This means that those for whom CARET currently fulfils some need may find that they have to look elsewhere in the future.
Whilst it may well be the case that, on balance, it is better for CARET to be a sub-department of the UL than not, it should be made clear what the likely costs of doing this are, as well as the possible benefits. However, I also share the bemusement of some of those who have commented on this report that it does not even discuss the possibility of placing CARET within the UCS, since even a cursory inspection of these organizations suggests that CARET has more in common with the UCS than with the UL. I also find it curious that this report does not mention the other virtual learning environments (VLEs) in the University that are used in preference to CARET's CamTools offering, such as those used by the School of Clinical Medicine and the Institute of Continuing Education6 (particularly in the latter case as the Institute was one of the institutions considered by the Review Committee).
Finally, I would like to turn to what the report has to say about the UCS. It seems more than passing strange that the report considers the UCS's role in teaching and learning support to be almost exclusively the provision of network services and, to a lesser extent, software packages, particularly given that some of our courses are required components of the University's degrees.7 It also overlooks the fact that many of our courses are specifically designed to cater to the needs of graduate students and new researchers,8 and that we provide specialist advice and assistance in the area of academic computing (as my colleague Nick Maclaren notes in his remarks). But it is where the report considers our provision of software packages (the Public Workstation Facility (PWF)) that it is most in error in this area.
Section 4.3 of the report (page 11) states that:
98% of undergraduate students now arrive in Cambridge with their own laptops capable in principle of hosting these packages.
(Interestingly, no source is given for this figure, which is perhaps just as well, since reports from the different Colleges have estimated the number of their undergraduates with laptops as varying widely, between 65 per cent and 96 per cent). Based on this figure of 98 per cent, however, the report suggests that, as wireless technology and licence management improve, the PWF will become unnecessary. Unsurprisingly, many reading this report have taken this as an indication that the PWF is to be (or is being) phased out.9 But this analysis completely overlooks the role of computers in teaching. Even if 100 per cent of students had their own laptops, there would still be a need for classrooms of computers that provided a consistent, coherent environment that course tutors can customize as necessary (e.g. by pre-configuring the application(s) being used during the course). Even those Departments who do not have computer classrooms managed by the UCS, such as Engineering, still need this sort of environment for their teaching, as is shown by their provision of their own computer classrooms similar in function and purpose to the PWF.
It seems clear that this report has not properly understood the role of the UCS in this area. Some may feel that, given that the report recommends that the role of the UCS in pedagogy be reviewed, this is not such a serious problem. However, suppose a review of the role of the UCS in pedagogy concluded that the interests of pedagogy in the University would be best served by merging CARET and the UCS. Since the University is actively pursuing the merger of CARET and the UL, by the time a review of the UCS's role in pedagogy was complete, it would be difficult to act on such a recommendation. In any case, the most recent minutes of the implementation steering group for this report reveal that there is apparently no longer any intention to review the role of the UCS in pedagogy, and instead the UCS and the UL will have some meetings with
a view to developing ways of working together including defining an aggregate support function in the UCS for the UL teaching and learning activities.10
Whilst the UL and the UCS working more closely together is undoubtedly a good thing, it is hardly a substitute for a review of the role of the UCS in pedagogy.
Furthermore, there are (and will be) other reviews of teaching and learning in the different subject areas taught in the University,11 and these may well recommend changes to those aspects of IT support related to teaching and learning in their area. We are therefore faced with the real possibility that, bit by bit, the role of the UCS in relation to pedagogy is gradually transferred to other parts of the University without anyone ever considering the larger picture: whether this is in the interests of the University as a whole. It therefore seems to me that, no doubt inadvertently, we have ended up in a situation where the role of the UCS is not being properly considered at the level at which it should be considered if the best interests of the University are to be served.
I feel that most of the issues with this report I have mentioned are likely to be due to the lack of consultation and openness with which it was produced, rather than any deliberate intention on the part of its authors. I would therefore hope that the General Board will now revisit this area in a more open, consultative manner, and in due course publish a revised report, and give the University as a whole the opportunity to comment on it before any of its recommendations are approved or implemented. Indeed, for such large changes, it may be appropriate to follow the established practice of publishing a preliminary report without recommendations, and basing any recommendations on the feedback to the report. In any case, I trust that, bearing in mind the comments already received on the unpublished report12 as well as the contributions from today's Discussion, the General Board will honour their Statement of intention13 and ensure that, at a minimum, a Grace is initiated that enables the Regent House to express its opinion on the report's substantive recommendations.
1 As should be apparent from the account of this process (particularly the timeline) that I've compiled at: http://www-uxsup.csx.cam.ac.uk/~mbb10/TLSS/analysis_of_responses_to_report.html
2 Provided by the University in response to my Freedom of Information request here: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/review_of_teaching_and_learning
5 Section 3.4 (page 8) of the unpublished report (provided in response to my Freedom of Information request cited earlier in footnote 2).
6 It may also be worth noting that Judge Business School has recently purchased a commercial eLearning solution, TOPYX, and will no longer be using CamTools.
7 For example, our 'Unix:Introduction ' courses form part of the 4 Year Ph.D. Programme in the CIMR: http://www.cimr.cam.ac.uk/study/cimr.html as noted in the Outline of Terms timetable for the 2008 intake for this Programme: http://www.cimr.cam.ac.uk/study/cimr/timetable_outlineofterms_2008.pdf
8 Primarily the courses in our 'Scientific Computing' series of courses: http://training.csx.cam.ac.uk/theme/scicomp?scheduled=all such as the extremely popular 'Unix: Building, Installing and Running Software' course: http://training.csx.cam.ac.uk/course/unixsware
9 As can be seen from some of the comments made in response to the report (cited earlier in footnote 3).
10 See point 7 in the revised work plan (ISG1b) attached to the note of the second meeting of the implementation steering group, held on 26 May 2009, supplied by the University in response to my Freedom of Information request: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/reports_of_the_implementation_gr#incoming-32333
11 See, for example, the Notice in the Reporter about the current 'Review of provision for teaching, learning, and research in the social sciences and the organizational arrangements for that provision': http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2008-09/weekly/6152/12.html
12 Cited earlier in footnote 3.
13 Ordinances, Chapter I (p. 117).
Dr A. C. AITCHISON:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have been the Computer Officer for DPMMS (Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics) for nearly thirteen years.
Firstly, I would like to know why the General Board have approved a report on the review of teaching and learning support services, but not published it. They invited submissions to the report, but have not allowed Regent House to see the conclusion. As the recommendations include moving institutions around (e.g. CARET and the Language Centre into the University Library), and adding significantly to the role of the Library, I would like to understand: how can implementation be easier if the rest of the University doesn't know what is happening?
Secondly, a home appears to be needed for the work of CARET as it evolves from research into supported services delivered by computer. The report fails to explain why it failed to recommend the obvious solution of moving this work to the institution tasked with supporting computing services - the University Computing Service.
Thirdly, although this is outside my expertise, I am surprised that the choice of journal subscriptions is to be taken away from the academics who read them.
In summary, this is an important report, and it is ridiculous that it has been approved yet not made available to those whose work it could improve.
Dr D. R. DE LACEY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, we are here today because the General Board appear to be implementing major changes on the basis of an unpublished report which has been discussed by Faculty Boards but not by the University. The General Board have spun the responses of the Faculties as offering 'a broad level of support', but that is to say the least disingenuous.
To take a response almost at random: The response of the Faculty Board of Archaeology and Anthropology begins:
The proposals are worthy of consideration, but would, in order to be effective, require more transparency and good management than has been shown in the preparation and distribution of the review;
and it ends:
We do hope that this is helpful.
The Discussion today amply demonstrates just how little extra transparency or good management were injected into the process despite sentiments such as these, and the hope expressed at the end appears to be futile in the light of what appear to be decisions already made before the review got as far as consultation,
I am no longer a Regent, but I am a user of University research facilities, in particular the University Library, Faculty libraries and my College library. And, like others, I note the grave weaknesses in the proposed report in the area of research. To quote again at random, the Department of History and Philosophy of Science comment:
The report takes little account of the important role Departmental libraries currently play in information provision generally, thereby overlooking a dimension that should be central in planning changes in library provision.
I note also that the Management Committee of the Language Centre are of the opinion that the proposals 'will not tackle the central problem' the Centre faces.
Yet this is all incidental and almost irrelevant to the failures of process which this report embodies. Please may we see a revised report - it needs a great deal of amendment in the light of comments particularly from librarians, and no, less, Mr Beckles's incisive comments today - presented to the University as soon as possible, with a proper consultation in the revision process, proper arguments in support of proposed changes, a Discussion, and proper approval by vote, before these half-baked proposals are any further implemented.
Professor A. D. CLIFF (read by Mr G. P. ALLEN):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as Chair of the General Board's Review Committee for Teaching and Learning Support Services, and of the subsequently-appointed Implementation Steering Group. I believe that the recommendations of the review will strengthen the University's internationally recognized teaching excellence by enabling the resources of one of the world's great libraries, the Language Centre and the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) to become fully integrated via e-media into the learning experience of our students, while preserving the Library's traditional role as a paper-based research library. Central coordination of teaching and learning support, which is currently provided in a fragmented way by many institutions across the collegiate University, will, in due course, become the responsibility of a single institution, while retaining the ability for individual Departmental and Faculty libraries to control their day-to-day independent operations.
It will be helpful in understanding the Discussion if I remind the Regent House of the purpose of the review and of the consultations which have been undertaken.
At their meeting on 10 October 2007, the General Board set up the Review Committee with the following terms of reference, namely to review the University's provision for the support of teaching and learning and to make recommendations for the future having particular regard to:
The members of the Committee were: myself (Chair); Professor Tony Badger (Faculty of History and Chair of the Colleges Committee); Dr Nick Bampos (Senior Tutor, Trinity Hall); Mr Peter Coulthard (student representative); Mr Simon Lebus (Cambridge Assessment); Professor Melveena McKendrick (then Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education); Professor John Morrill (Faculty of History and member of the Library Syndicate); Ms Jan Wilkinson (Director of the John Rylands University Library, Manchester); Professor Steve Young (Department of Engineering, former Chair of the Management Committees for CARET and the Language Centre, Chair of the Information Strategy and Services Syndicate, ISSS). The membership was carefully chosen to cover, as far as possible in a committee of manageable size, the broad range of student, University, and College interests in teaching and learning support which would establish a general direction of travel for the University to follow, but which also recognized that detailed implementation work would remain to be undertaken at the next stage.
The Review Committee first met in February 2008 and aimed to develop a high level report for a meeting of the General Board in the Easter Term 2008. The Board published a Notice (Reporter 2007-08, p. 526), announcing the establishment of the Review Committee and inviting comments from members of the University. Three responses were received. In addition to its own deliberations, the Review Committee had individual meetings with the Directors of the University Computing Service, CARET, the Language Centre, and with the then University Librarian (Mr Peter Fox). They also met others including the Chairman of the Journals Coordination Steering Committee, and a senior representative of the Cambridge University Press, and considered a wide range of relevant papers. Thus the Review Committee had a broad range of information upon which to base its recommendations.
The General Board received the report of the Review Committee at their meeting on 9 July 2008. The Board approved in principle the recommendations in the report and agreed to receive proposals for membership of an implementation steering group at their next meeting. The Board, at their meeting on 8 October 2008, approved the membership of the Implementation Steering Group (ISG) as follows: myself (Chair), Professor John Rallison (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education), Professor Richard Hunter (then Head of the School of Arts and Humanities and Chair of the Library Syndicate), Dr Nick Bampos, and Professor Steve Young. Dr Ian Lewis (Director of the University Computing Service) and Mrs Anne Jarvis (University Librarian) were subsequently added to the Group. The Board's Annual Report (Reporter, p. 226-7) at paragraph 3.1, contained for the information of the University a summary of the review's principal recommendations.
The Review Committee's report was circulated for comment both to institutions and bodies directly involved, as well as to the Councils of the Schools, in August 2008, inviting comments by November 2008. Thirty-one responses were received from institutions, together with a number of individual or collective responses. The institutions responding were as follows:
General Board Committee on Libraries
Council of the School of the Biological Sciences
Faculty Board of Law
Senior Tutors' Standing Committee on Education
Council of the School of Arts and Humanities
Department of Architecture
Department of History of Art
Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Faculty of Classics
Faculty of Divinity
Faculty of English
Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages
Faculty of Music
Faculty of Philosophy
Council of the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology
Department of Archaeology
Faculty of Economics
Faculty of Education
Faculty of History
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Department of Land Economy
Committee of Management of the Language Centre
Council of the School of Technology
Department of Engineering
Judge Business School
Information Strategy and Services Syndicate
Council of the School of the Physical Sciences
General Board Education Committee
The Implementation Steering Group has met twice in full during 2008-09. The Steering Group has so far considered the responses to the Michaelmas 2008 consultation, and its members have undertaken further discussions with the Heads of those institutions most closely involved, namely the University Library, University Computing Service, the Language Centre, and CARET. In addition, the Implementation Steering Group held an open meeting in March 2009 attended by 32 Departmental and Faculty librarians. The new University Librarian has had separate discussions with the librarians from the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences and the School of Arts and Humanities. She has also met with the College librarians at a meeting of the Cambridge College Libraries Forum and she has also met with a number of other Departmental and Faculty librarians on an individual basis. Thus those likely to be affected by implementation of the review are being fully involved in the development of the implementation phase which is being undertaken in a measured and collaborative manner. A progress report will be made to the General Board on 8 July 2009. The General Board indicated in their Annual Report for 2007-08 that they would where necessary seek the University's approval for the implementation of substantive changes arising from the implementation of the report; an undertaking that was repeated in the Council's response to the remarks made at the Discussion of the Annual Report of the Council and General Board (Reporter, p. 590). This remains the Board's intention.
|Previous page||Table of Contents||Next page|
Cambridge University Reporter 15 July 2009
Copyright © 2009 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.