Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6169

Monday 30 November 2009

Vol cxl No 10

pp. 293–340

Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academical year 2008–09

1. Introduction

1.1. The General Board present this Annual Report on their work during the academical year 2008–09.

1.2. The announcement in December 2008 of the outcome of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in which 71% of the University’s submitted research was judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent, placed Cambridge at the head of the league tables into which the national media rapidly translated the results. While this was a cause of celebration across the University, the detailed feedback from the panels (of which there was much) signalled the need for review in a small number of subjects if the University’s leading position is to be maintained. Against the background of pressures on public funding, as a consequence of the recession, further enhancing our research standing and improving our success rate in winning the external funds leveraged by the HEFCE ‘R’ grant will be vitally important and a high priority for the Board in the coming years.

1.3. Turning to teaching, the Board and their Education Committee have devoted much attention to the Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) including undertaking a strategic review and a major exercise to convert local awards to University awards within a revised quality assurance framework.

2. Internal and national arrangements for quality assurance and enhancement

2.1. Following the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Institutional Audit of the University’s educational provision in 2008 work has continued, through the Education Committee, to consider the Audit’s recommendations. Faculty and Departmental annual quality statements have been replaced by a ‘quality update’, from 2008–09, in response to the QAA’s observation that quality statements were not sufficiently evaluative as a form of annual monitoring. The new process will also enable the Education Committee better to maintain oversight of current topics of interest, and to identify and consider issues which would benefit from a University-wide response in time for the following academical year.

2.2. In the light of another of the Audit’s recommendations, the Education Committee developed a framework for conversion of the certificates and diplomas offered by ICE (and awarded to non-members of the University) into University awards, which was approved by the Regent House in February (Reporter, 2008–09, p. 476). The arrangements also encompass qualifications offered by other institutions, including the Language Centre, the Faculty of Education, the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (see 2.4), and the Faculty of Divinity. The Education Committee undertook an exhaustive review of local quality assurance procedures to bring them into line with those for other University awards. The revised framework includes an expectation that all courses are endorsed by the relevant Faculty Board or, for postgraduate provision, Degree Committee. The Board regard this as an important step towards the better integration of ICE’s work within the wider University (as proposed following their Strategic Review of ICE (see 2.4)). The Board have approved 39 diplomas and certificates to be offered with effect from September 2009, and further proposals will be considered during the course of 2009–10.

2.3. The following institutions were the subject of the Board’s Learning and Teaching reviews: the Institute of Astronomy; the Computer Laboratory; the Departments of Engineering, Land Economy, and Plant Sciences; the Centre of Latin-American Studies; the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages; and the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics. Reports of the reviews of the following institutions were considered during the year and recommendations arising from them taken forward: the Departments of Architecture, Engineering, History of Art, and Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience; the Faculties of Archaeology and Anthropology, Classics, and Economics, and Judge Business School. The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities was also subject to a review which led to the renewal of its core funding and its incorporation within the School of Arts and Humanities.

2.4. The Board approved the report of a Strategic Review of ICE (Reporter, 2008–09, p. 812) and will be implementing the main recommendations of that review in cooperation with the incoming Director of the Institute and its new Strategic Committee. The Board agreed to retitle the Cambridge Programme for Industry (CPI), as the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL).

2.5. A number of the University’s teaching programmes are subject to scrutiny by professional, statutory, and regulatory bodies. During the year the Board were pleased to note the positive reports on aspects of the University’s provision from: the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the British Psychological Society, the Association of Masters of Business Administration, and the Office for Standards in Education.

3. Degrees, courses, and examinations

3.1. A consultative Report of the Board and the Council proposing that the award of the B.A. Honours Degree should require candidates to have passed a Part II examination was published (Reporter, 2008–09, p. 647). This proposal was endorsed by the QAA as necessary to ensure that the Cambridge B.A. is consistent with the national Qualifications Framework for Higher Education. A Report proposing the necessary legislative changes (Reporter, 2008–09, p. 1010) will be discussed early in the Michaelmas Term 2009.

3.2. The Board approved numerous proposals for the revision of teaching programmes, including the suspension from the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos of Modern Greek and Dutch, with effect from October 2010 and October 2011 respectively, as languages which applicants may choose on application to the University; and the introduction of new Part III courses in History and Philosophy of Science and in Systems Biology within the Natural Sciences Tripos.

3.3. Following the pattern of the four-year integrated Masters’ courses in the Chemical Engineering, Engineering, Manufacturing Engineering, and Natural Sciences Triposes, the Board and the Council published a Report (Reporter, 2008–09, p. 338) proposing that: the fourth year (Part III) of the Mathematical Tripos should lead to a new Master’s Degree, the Master of Mathematics; and the Certificate of Advanced Study in Mathematics (awarded to students who come to Cambridge to take Part III Mathematics not for honours), be replaced by a new Master’s qualification, the Master of Advanced Study. In parallel, some Part III subjects within the Natural Sciences Tripos will be made available to students from outside Cambridge for the Master of Advanced Study. Following approval of the Report, the introduction of the two new degrees is subject to Privy Council approval.

3.4. New M.Phil. courses were approved in: African Studies; Conservation Leadership; Multidisciplinary Gender Studies; and Translational Medicine and Therapeutics. In addition, the Board approved the first M.Res. course, in Photonic Systems Development. The M.Phil. course in Chinese Studies was rescinded with effect from 2010–11.

4. Graduate education

4.1. The Annual Report of the Board of Graduate Studies (BGS) for 2008–09 will be published at a later date but the Board take this opportunity to include a summary of key business considered by the Board in 2008–09.

4.2. In line with recommendations made by the Committee for the Review of Graduate Education, the BGS approved three new pilot schemes for the partial devolution of the admissions process in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, in the Faculty of Music, and in the Schools of the Biological Sciences and Clinical Medicine.

4.3. The BGS agreed, in response to a small number of particular concerns, that the general issue of graduate supervision and reporting should be addressed as a priority. A project to improve the online supervision reporting system, CamGRAD, was agreed for phased implementation in 2009–10. Following consultation with Degree Committees the BGS Code of Practice will be revised and formally adopted with effect from 2009–10, requiring inter alia that the supervisors of Ph.D. students report termly.

4.4. The BGS also approved guidelines for the conduct of examinations by remote means and made provision for the appointment of independent Chairs for Ph.D. examinations. The Board approved in principle the introduction of electronic submission of Ph.D. theses and will work with the University Librarian in pilot schemes. A common marking scheme for M.Phil. examinations will be adopted from 2010–11.

4.5. In response to the regrettable announcement in summer 2008 by HEFCE of the termination of the Overseas Research Studentship (ORS) Awards Scheme, the BGS, working in collaboration with the Cambridge Overseas and Commonwealth Trusts, introduced the Cambridge International Scholarships Scheme (CISS). In the 2009 competition the CISS Committee awarded 76 scholarships, providing full support for fees and maintenance, to the most outstanding applicants nominated by Degree Committees.

4.6. In 2008 the University received 54 fewer Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) awards than in the 2007 competition. This reduction was partially compensated by increased contributions from the Isaac Newton Trust, the University, and the Colleges which enabled 25 additional students in AHRC subjects to be funded through the Domestic Research Studentships (DRS) scheme. The AHRC Block Grant to the University announced in the course of the year resulted in Cambridge receiving fewer awards than expected as a result of the AHRC reducing its national allocation. Given current funding difficulties, it is the case that the University will have to look to is own resources, both internal and external, to sustain the flow of outstanding research students on which the University’s research excellence depends. Accordingly, schemes such as CISS and the DRS will have an important role to play in ensuring that as many Ph.D. students as possible, including students from subjects not eligible for Research Council support, are funded.

5. International activities

5.1. The Board considered and supported proposals for various international collaborations, including a collaboration between Judge Business School (JBS) and the Karachi Education Initiative in Pakistan and an initiative to develop capacity building in the JBS to provide executive training in Abu Dhabi. They approved the renewal of the University’s membership of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) for the next three years. The Board reiterated the need to assess thoroughly both the opportunities for the University and reputational and other potential risks when considering new international activity. A protocol setting out criteria for the consideration of future proposals will be developed during 2009–10.

5.2. Through the work of the International Office, the Board noted that activity under the Erasmus scheme had increased five-fold since 2005, and that a second cohort of students had been selected to participate in the IARU Global Summer Programme.

6. University finance and planning

6.1. The Board engaged in discussion based on a series of presentations by Heads of Schools of their respective December 2008 planning round submissions. These discussions are an important opportunity for Heads to explain their Schools’ distinctive contributions and concerns, and for the Board to consider any common themes as a basis for future work.

6.2. Throughout the Lent and Easter Terms the Board were closely engaged in the preparation of the Budget Report 2009 and the University’s consideration of its response to the worsening financial climate because of changes in the national and external environment (including pay, pensions, and energy costs). Without action, there would be a significant Chest deficit from 2009–10 rather than the surpluses envisaged only a year earlier. The Board endorsed immediate measures to control appointments to signal that ‘business as usual’ was not an option and the likelihood of the need for future action to balance expenditure and income.

7. Capital programme

7.1. The Board have endorsed the academic cases for: the relocation of more academic departments to West Cambridge (particularly Materials Science and Metallurgy, and Chemical Engineering and Bio­technology); and the proposal for a new building on the Sidgwick Avenue Site that would bring together the Department of Politics and International Studies with CRASSH and five Centres, currently housed in a variety of buildings in central Cambridge.

8. Establishment of new senior positions

8.1. As a result of a generous benefaction raised through the 800th Campaign the Board proposed the establishment of a Tata Professorship of Metallurgy.

8.2. With the support of an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council the Board proposed the establishment of a Professorship of Musical Performance Studies.

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

a Professorship of Statistics in Biomedicine in the Clinical School

a Professorship of Veterinary Diagnostic Pathology in the Department of Veterinary Medicine

a Professorship of Molecular Pathology in the Department of Pathology

a Professorship of Clinical Microbiology (together with funding from the Health Protection Agency) in the Clinical School

a Readership in the Department of Chemistry.

8.4. The Board recommended the retitling of the Professorship of Botany as a Regius Professorship.

9. Research policy and the Research Assessment Exercise

9.1. The outcome of the 2008 RAE for the University announced in December 2008 was very satisfactory overall and the results justified the University’s decision to be as inclusive as possible in selecting staff for inclusion. Following the receipt of more detailed feedback in January 2009, individual results for certain subjects were reviewed by Heads of Schools with the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) and their recom­mendations to the Board led to the establishment in the Easter Term of Committees to review separately the submissions to the History of Art, Veterinary Medicine, and Sociology RAE Panels. The Review Committees for the first two subjects have already reported to the Board and follow-up actions are under way at the School or Departmental level. In the case of Sociology, the Board agreed to an early recommendation from the Review Committee that the remit be extended to consider the provision of research, teaching, and learning in the social sciences in the University as a whole (Reporter, 2008–09, p. 802). A separate Committee was set up for this purpose and has met five times to date with the intention of producing a preliminary report to the Board before the end of the Michaelmas Term 2009.

9.2. In last year’s Report, the Board reported that HEFCE intended to hold a bibliometrics assessment exercise for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) subjects in 2010 which was to influence funding allocations in these areas from 2011. In the event, HEFCE decided that the results of their bibliometrics pilot exercise, in which the University participated, demonstrated that the UK HE sector was not sufficiently robust in terms of electronic research publication data collection and the 2010 exercise was cancelled.

9.3. A consultation exercise with the sector for the successor to the RAE, the Research Excellence Framework (REF), was launched by HEFCE on 21 September 2009 about the conduct of a full-scale REF exercise in 2013, with a census date in the autumn of 2012. For the first time, HEFCE will expect REF Panels in STEM subjects to take account of citation indices when assessing research excellence. All other Panels will be able to use such data at their discretion. A further proposed innovation is the introduction of research impact in place of esteem as one of the three determinants of research quality. Responding to the consultation will be a major task for the Board in the Michaelmas Term 2009.

9.4. As well as overseeing and responding to proposals for the development of the REF, the Board’s Research Policy Committee has received regular management information to monitor research performance, reviewed policies and structures, and promoted a number of new research initiatives.

9.5. Research activity grew in 2008–09 compared to 2007–08, in particular:

(i)Research income grew by 11% compared to 2007–08. Most of this growth appeared in grants from the European Commission and the UK Government. The Research Councils and UK Charities continued to be the main sponsors generating 46% and 27%, respectively, of the University’s total research income; and,

(ii)The value of the applications and contracts submitted to the funders increased by 14% to £1.2 billion. However, based on the applications submitted to the Research Councils over the years from 2005–06 to 2007–08, the success rate in the number of applications has fallen over these years. Nevertheless, according to the Research Councils’ published data for 2008–09, Cambridge has the highest success rate when compared to its major competitors – Oxford, UCL, Imperial, and Manchester.

9.6. Following consideration by the Research Policy Committee, new procedures were implemented for the authorization of research grant applications and of eligible expenditure, with the result that the FAP (Financial Audit Programme) audit conducted by the Research Councils UK during the year produced a highly satisfactory report.

9.7. Over the past year, a key achievement has been the development of a policy for institutional recognition, and support for, strategic initiatives and networks. Current such initiatives include the Cambridge Conservative Initiative, the Cambridge Environmental Initiative, the Cambridge Infectious Disease Initiative, and the Physics of Medicine Initiative.

9.8. Finally, the Research Policy Committee endorsed the Director’s proposals for the restructuring of the Research Services Division involving the formation of four school teams to support the Schools’ and Departments’ goals and objectives. The new school teams are Clinical, Biological, Arts and Humanities & Humanities and Social Sciences, and Physical Sciences & Technology.

10. Human resources

10.1. The Human Resources Committee reports jointly to the Council and the General Board. Major items of business considered by the Board included: the consultation on the reform of Statue U; policy on religion and belief; the Equal Pay report; the restructuring of staff development provision; and measures to improve the gender balance in academic posts. The Board issued guidance notes on the appointment of Heads of Departments and on the procedure for the elections of Professors. The Board initiated a review of the Senior Academic Promotions Procedure (Reporter, 2008–09, p. 908).

10.2. The Board were pleased to note the success of the Heads of Institution Leadership Programme. Through the Heads of Schools the Board took a close interest in the restructuring of the Human Resources Division, in particular the formation of six School-focused operational teams.

11. Health and safety

11.1. The Board continued to pay close attention to health and safety matters through the minutes of the Health and Safety Executive Committee, chaired by Professor Minson, in addition to his duties as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Planning and Resources. The attention given to Health and Safety throughout the University is reflected in the decrease for a fourth consecutive year in the number of reportable injuries in the University, although enforcement authority inspections have remained at the same frequency as previous years including pro-active visits by the HSE, rather than in response to accident and injury.

11.2. Following the appointment of a new Director of Health and Safety the remit and membership of the Consultative Committee for Safety and the safety sub-committees supporting it were revised to strengthen links with the recognized Unions, broaden employee consultation and maintain a ‘risk-focused’ approach to safety management.

11.3. The Safety Office was also restructured operationally into ‘School Groups’ with each designated officer assigned to one School with a remit to improve communication, liaison, and support at School and Department level whilst benefitting from the skills and experience of the Full-Time Safety Advisers located in certain Departments and the School Safety Advisers in the Biological Sciences and Clinical Medicine.

12. Teaching and learning support services

12.1. Following the Board’s consideration of the report of the Review Committee for teaching and learning support services, an Implementation Steering Group, chaired by Professor Cliff, was set up by the Board to progress the implementation of the report, in the light of consultation with Faculties, Departments, and Schools.

12.2. The Group has so far considered the responses to the consultation and has held meetings with the Heads of those institutions most closely involved – the University Library, University Computing Service, Language Centre, and Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies. In addition, the Group held an open meeting in March 2009 with Departmental and Faculty Librarians.

12.3. The Board are clear that the review of learning and teaching support services is serving as a catalyst for the development of a framework for improved communication with Faculty and Departmental Librarians and that as a result, the strategic and logistical challenges involved in working towards a more co-ordinated structure are being identified and addressed by the new University Librarian. The Board are sensitive to the need for the transition to the new structures recommended by the review to be a consultative process, realistically paced.

12.4. The Board noted the successful integration of all Schools into the scheme for the co-ordination of journals and the creation of a central administered fund for journal subscriptions, which will be operational from the start of the financial year 2009–10. Discussions are proceeding about the duplication of journals between the Colleges and between the Colleges and the University.

19 November 2009

Alison Richard, Vice-Chancellor

Simon Franklin

Jeremy Sanders

N. Bampos

Andrew Gamble

J. G. P. Sissons

William Brown

Rachael Padman

I. H. White

Philip Ford

J. Rallison

Yang Xia