Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6205

Monday 29 November 2010

Vol cxli No 9

pp. 213–260

Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academical year 2009–10

1. Introduction

1.1. The General Board present this Annual Report on their activities during the academical year 2009–10.

1.2. The Board take this opportunity to record their thanks to Professor Dame Alison Richard for her outstanding contribution as Chair of the Board and in support of the Schools, Faculties, and other institutions during her tenure as Vice-Chancellor from 1 October 2003 to 30 September 2010.

1.3. The Board have devoted much attention to structural matters, in particular to the recommendations of the Review Committee which they established to consider the provision of teaching, learning, and research in the Social Sciences. The first report of that Committee was published in the Reporter (2009–10, p. 467). The Committee has taken forward each of the recommendations in that report in close consultation throughout with the Council of the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

1.4. The Board proposed the creation of a new institution, the Sainsbury Laboratory (Reporter, 2009–10, p. 490) to house a major expansion of research in plant diversity and development, most generously funded by Lord Sainsbury of Turville through the Gatsby Foundation. Recruitment to senior posts in the Laboratory is underway in readiness for its opening in January 2011.

2. University finance and planning

2.1. Throughout the Lent and Easter Terms the Board were closely engaged in the preparation of the Budget Report 2010 and the University’s consideration of its response to the deteriorating but uncertain national funding environment. Measures to control the filling of vacancies introduced last year had, after an initial running in period, confirmed that budgets were being tightly managed, and the formalities were relaxed.

The withdrawal by HEFCE of the Historic Buildings Targeted Allowance, amounting to £4.3m, has further widened the gap between the cost of undergraduate education and the funding the University receives. Levels of composition fees over which the University already has discretion – principally those for students from outside the EU, and for all students on postgraduate-level taught courses – continue to be reviewed in the light of both the University’s costs and, increasingly, the market levels set by our competitor universities. Through a general uplift in fee levels, and the extension of ‘premium fees’ to more courses there is a steady improvement in the University’s projected income, at the cost of greater complexity in the fee structure. The recovery of indirect costs on non-Research Council grants is disappointingly low. New arrangements have been discussed by the Resource Management Committee for implementation in 2011.

2.2. Notwithstanding measures to control costs, maintain and diversify levels of income, including improving our performance in winning external funding, the Board are clear that the coming period and the advent of unprecedented cuts in public funding will be extremely challenging for the University. The University’s excellence in research and its concentration in STEM subjects offers some degree of protection, nevertheless our response will necessitate continued close scrutiny of all activities with the intention of sustaining the high-quality teaching provision and research excellence, at the heart of the University’s activities, and the capacity to invest for the future.

3. Academic standards and quality assurance and enhancement

3.1. The Board, through their Education Committee, have responded to various national consultations about educational standards and future quality assurance arrangements, including those which arose from parliamentary and media concern about standards across the sector and perceptions of ‘Classing inflation’. HEFCE consulted on future national quality assurance arrangements, including the assurance of standards, the future of the External Examining system, and public information. In their response, the Board emphasized the impossibility, in a diverse sector, of attempting to set a ‘one size fits all’ system with uniform, sector-wide academic standards, the importance of being clear about the needs of different external groups, and the need to avoid imposing additional costs on the sector. The QAA consulted on the future of its ‘Academic Infrastructure’ (the collective term given to institutional audits, the QAA’s Code of Practice, its programme specifications and subject benchmark statements, and its Framework for Higher Education Qualifications). The Board’s response distinguished between those elements of the Infrastructure which were useful in dealing with quality assurance matters locally and rejected those which were either redundant or of limited use to the academic community.

3.2. A response was sent to a Review Group, established by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), on Postgraduate Education, emphasizing the great importance of at least maintaining Ph.D. numbers and of concentrating numbers and the associated funding in universities with sufficient depth and breadth in their research environments. The Board expect significant developments in national agendas in the near future, including new requirements for more information for prospective students and their advisers, and for student ‘charters’, likely to cover such matters as employment prospects and the minimum teaching contact time students on particular courses can expect.

3.3. The Board approved a new Teaching and Learning Strategy for 2009–12 (Reporter, 2009–10, p. 260) and their Education Committee has agreed to implement that Strategy through Annual Work Plans. They met with Dr Rebecca Lingwood, the Director of the Institute of Continuing Education (ICE), and considered the Strategic Plan for the Institute. Good progress is being made in integrating the Institute’s activities with the rest of the University. The Board were encouraged by the proposals for the potential contribution of ICE in the provision of subject-specific and more generic courses which might be offered to the University’s full-time students and post-doctoral workers (whilst not duplicating provision offered elsewhere in the University).

3.4. As part of its response to recommendations from the QAA’s last Audit, the Education Committee has, in consultation with the Senior Tutors’ Committee, agreed a division of responsibilities between the University and the Colleges in ensuring that postgraduate students who supervise undergraduates are appropriately trained for that purpose.

3.5. The following institutions were the subject of the Board’s Learning and Teaching reviews: the Faculties of Law, Music, and Philosophy; the Departments of Genetics and of History and Philosophy of Science; and Development Studies. Reports of reviews of the following institutions were considered and recommendations arising from them taken forward: the Faculties of Computer Science and Technology, of Law, and of Modern and Medieval Languages; the Clinical School; the Departments of Land Economy and of Plant Sciences; the Institute of Astronomy; the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics; and the Centre for Latin-American Studies. A review of the Cambridge-MIT Student Exchange Scheme was also considered as was a review, undertaken by the Council of the School of Arts and Humanities, on linguistics provision (with particular reference to the Department of Linguistics and the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics). The Board have agreed that, in future, Teaching and Learning reviews of institutions should include consideration of resources and ‘value for money’. Following a successful pilot, the Board will be encouraging the inclusion of a student member on each Teaching and Learning Review Committee.

3.6. The Board were pleased that in the 2009 National Student Survey, which covered all final-year undergraduates, Cambridge achieved an overall satisfaction rate of 91%, the highest of all Russell Group universities. The Education Committee has sought explanations from those Faculties and Departments where satisfaction rates fell significantly below the University average. Comparable follow-up work has been undertaken by the Board of Graduate Studies in connection with the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) where the results gave more cause for concern, in that Cambridge graduate students’ expectations were, in a number of areas, met less well than the sector-wide average, particularly in relation to ‘supervisory support and guidance’.

3.7. A number of the University’s teaching programmes were subject to scrutiny by relevant professional, statutory, and regulatory bodies. During the year the Board received positive reports on: the Architecture Tripos and the Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practices in Architecture by the Royal Institute of British Architects; the British Psychological Society’s accreditation of relevant strands in the Faculty of Education’s M.Phil. and M.Ed. programmes; and accreditation, by the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, of Material Sciences and Metallurgy teaching in Parts II and III of the Natural Sciences Tripos.

4. Degrees, courses, and examinations

4.1. The Joint Report of the Council and the General Board on the requirements for the B.A. Degree by Honours, proposing that graduation with Honours should require successful completion of a Part II Honours examination, (Reporter, 2008–09, p. 1010) was approved and its recommendations took effect for students admitted from October 2010 onwards. The Board will be reporting in the Michaelmas Term 2010 on the future of the B.A. Ordinary Degree and Ordinary Examinations.

4.2. During 2009–10, the Council and the Board recommended a new degree of Doctor of Education and the reinstatement of the degree of Master of Music (Reporter, 2009–10, p. 74 and p. 281). The introduction of a Part III in the Computer Science Tripos, as a new route to the M.Eng. Degree, was also approved (Reporter, 2009–10, p. 479).

4.3. Following their review of the Social Sciences, the Board established a Management Committee charged with proposing the introduction of a new Social Sciences Tripos with effect from 2012–13. The Committee, which includes representatives of all institutions in the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences as well as other institutions outside that School, has made good progress in determining the shape of such a Tripos.

4.4. New M.Phil. courses in Energy Technologies, in Music Studies, and in Scientific Computing have been approved. The M.Phil. courses in Ethnomusicology, Musical Composition, Musicology, and Statistical Science have been rescinded. New part-time M.St. programmes in Construction Engineering and in Sustainability Leadership have been approved. The M.Phil. course in Social Anthropological Research is to be converted to an M.Res. course in 2011.

4.5. As part of their programme of converting formerly ‘local’ awards to University awards, the Education Committee has approved proposals from the Faculties of Divinity and Education, the Cambridge Programme for Sustainable Leadership, and the Institute of Continuing Education. The Committee has also rationalized the titles for such awards to reflect the level of work required.

4.6. In response to a recommendation from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), provision has now been included, in the University’s review procedures for examination results, for considering representations relating to ‘continuation’ decisions, for example progression from the M.Phil. to the Ph.D. or from the third to the fourth year of integrated Master’s courses (Reporter, 2009–10, p. 881).

5. Graduate education

5.1. The Annual Report of the Board of Graduate Studies (BGS) for 2009–10 will be published at a later date but the General Board take this opportunity to include a summary of key BGS business considered in 2009–10.

5.2. A substantial increase in the number of conditional offers made by Faculties and Departments for 2010–11 entry, presented considerable difficulties for the Colleges in accepting all those with offers. This increase was concentrated almost entirely in one-year courses. The Board of Graduate Studies approved a series of immediate measures in July 2010, aimed at enabling the University to fulfil its guarantee of College membership to all applicants meeting the other conditions for admission. M.Phil. closing dates were rigidly adhered to; special cases for consideration on the grounds of academic or English language results which were below the University’s minimum, were not allowed for M.Phil. applicants; and no more M.Phil. offers were processed once maximum thresholds had been reached (determined by Planning Round data for number of places adjusted by an appropriate conversion ratio). A working group has been established by the Postgraduate Admissions Committee and the University and Colleges Joint Committee to examine the issues and propose remedies to achieve a better match between graduate admissions and capacity in Colleges.

5.3. The EPSRC has announced that it will no longer allow College fees for graduate students to be paid from research grants (although there will still be sufficient flexibility within Doctoral Training Grants to allow College fees to be paid). The AHRC and ESRC have both confirmed that they will no longer make separate provision for College fees for awards commencing on or after 1 October 2011. Representations are being made jointly with the University of Oxford on this issue.

5.4. Following consultation with Degree Committees, the Board of Graduate Studies agreed that approval for graduate degrees should be devolved to Degree Committees. Implementation will be phased, with the approval of Master’s level degrees being devolved first, with effect from 2010–11.

5.5. Following implementation of Tier 4 (students) of the Points Based Immigration System in February 2010, the Board of Graduate Studies agreed a model for monitoring a student’s attendance. Monitoring will take place via ten contact points spread across the duration of a student’s course, with responsibility for recording attendance resting either with the College or the institution concerned, depending on the contact point in question.

5.6. The Board of Graduate Studies Cambridge Supervision Reporting System was launched and well received. Ordinances were amended to require supervisors to report termly on their students. The BGS also agreed improvements for managing Ph.D. submissions. Candidates will be made aware of two deadlines: a three-year submission deadline and a four-year deadline for removal from the register. The Board of Graduate Studies approved guidelines for the operation of ‘Fee for Course’ procedures, which will be introduced for all students commencing on or after 1 October 2010 (Reporter, 2009–10, p. 816).

5.7. The Board of Graduate Studies approved a proposal to raise the minimum English language requirements for graduate admission for all courses in the Arts and Humanities and in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The Schools of the Biological Sciences, Clinical Medicine, the Physical Sciences, and Technology will undertake a consultation exercise to determine whether there is support for increasing language levels for their institutions’ courses.

5.8. A major review of the online graduate studies prospectus has taken place, and a new website will be launched in September 2010, including a new funding search tool (GradFunds) to bring together University and Colleges funding information.

6. International activities

6.1. The appointment of a new Pro-Vice-Chancellor for International Strategy has encouraged the Board to begin development of a refocused strategy for the University’s activities overseas which, while continuing to support activities where there is demonstrable widespread interest from Faculties and Departments, will become more selective in terms of prioritizing international partnerships and research collaborations, and in accommodating requests for incoming visits by overseas parties. In particular, the Board have approved a project, supported by external consultancy, to develop options for the University’s future engagement with India.

6.2. The Board are giving particular attention to overseas educational activities undertaken or proposed by the institutions, especially those involving executive and professional education. Subject to further consultation with the Councils of the Schools, the Board anticipate recommending the establishment of a Board of Executive and Professional Education which will, inter alia, develop and implement general principles and criteria (dealing with both benefits and risks) against which future proposals for University endorsement of overseas activity will be considered.

7. Establishment of new senior positions

7.1. As a result of generous benefactions the following Professorships were established:

a Diane Middlebrook and Carl Djerassi Visiting Professorship of Gender Studies funded by Professor Carl Djerassi;

a BP McKenzie Professorship of Earth Sciences funded by the British Petroleum Foundation through a donation to Cambridge in America;

a Sir Arthur Marshall Visiting Professorship of Sustainable Design funded by the D. G. Marshall of Cambridge Trust;

a Pembroke Visiting Professorship of International Finance funded by an anonymous donor;

a Laing O’Rourke Professorship of Construction Engineering funded by Laing O’Rourke; and

three Professorships in the Sainsbury Laboratory, funded by the Gatsby Foundation.

7.2. With the financial support from the British Heart Foundation, the Board proposed the estab­lishment of a British Heart Foundation Professorship of Cardiovascular Medicine.

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

a Professorship of Pure Mathematics in the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics;

a Professorship of Ophthalmology in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences;

a Professorship of Management Studies in Judge Business School;

a Professorship of Mathematical Sciences in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics;

a Professorship of Demography in the Department of Geography;

a Professorship of Old Age Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry;

a Professorship of Photonic Systems and Displays in the Department of Engineering;

a Professorship of Cellular Pathophysiology and Clinical Biochemistry in the Department of Clinical Biochemistry;

a Professorship of Orthopaedic Surgery in the Department of Surgery; and

a Professorship of Stem Cell Medicine in the School of Clinical Medicine.

7.4. The Board proposed the establishment of a single-tenure Professorship of Medicine for Sir Leszek Borysiewicz to be held concurrently with the office of Vice-Chancellor.

7.5. The Board were pleased to recommend the designation of the Professorship of Botany, as a Regius Professorship, to mark the visit to the University by HM The Queen and the Chancellor in November 2009.

8. Research policy and research assessment

8.1. Research activity grew in 2009–10 compared to 2008–09, in particular:

research income grew by 3% in the main through grants from UK charities and overseas sponsors other than the European Commission. The Research Councils and UK charities continued to be the main sponsors generating 45% and 28%, respectively, of the University’s total research income; and

the value based on 100% full economic costing (fEC) of the applications and contracts submitted to the funders increased by 9% to £1.4 billion. However, it is of concern that based on the applications submitted between 2007–08 and 2008–09, the success rate in the number of applications has fallen over these years.

Over the past year, central ‘pump-priming’ support for strategic initiatives and networks has been further developed with Energy joining the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, the Cambridge Infectious Disease Initiative, and Neurosciences.

8.2. The HEFCE announced that the Research Excellence Framework (REF) is to be delayed by a year to allow sufficient time to develop fully the proposals for the use of metrics in the quality assessment process in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medicine (STEM) subjects and for the introduction of ‘impact’ as a quality indicator to replace ‘environment’, as used in recent RAEs. REF submissions will now need to be made in late 2013 with results announced in December 2014.

8.3. The Faculty of English and the Department of Physics participated in a REF Pilot Exercise on impact, which required a number of case studies and an overall statement to support a claim for excellence. The exercise was conducted within a very limited timescale and the Board are grateful to these two institutions for the considerable effort that they put in to this exercise.

8.4. In the light of the experience gained from participating in this Pilot Exercise the Research Policy Committee concluded that the University would benefit considerably from each Faculty and Department being asked to work up an impact case study at this stage. The Committee intend to launch this exercise in the Michaelmas Term 2010, once the University has received feedback and examples of good practice from the HEFCE.

8.5. The Research Policy Committee has engaged in pre-planning for the REF, mindful that Faculties and Departments are concerned to make an early start on their preparations. During the year a number of Departments within STEM subjects were invited to participate in a trial of an electronic bibliometrics system and this will be rolled out across the full University during the forthcoming year. Meanwhile, experience of the last RAE has led the Committee to encourage Schools to ensure that the University is well represented on REF subject sub-committees. The Board welcomed the news that HEFCE has invited Dame Professor Anne Dowling, Department of Engineering, to chair one of the four overarching main REF committees.

9. Human Resources

9.1. The Human Resources Committee reports jointly to the Council and the General Board. The major items of business considered by the Board included:

The Combined Equality Scheme on Race, Disability, and Gender

The Second Equal Pay Report

Implementation of the Market Supplement Review Process

Implementation of on-line learning for staff

Introduction of a new internships scheme

Publication of the Behavioural Attributes Framework to support career pathways

Acknowledgement of the need to manage costs and future risks associated with the CPS Pension Scheme.

In addition, the Board has taken a close interest in the setting up of the Gender Equality Group to take forward action arising from the current and previous Equal Pay Reports. The Board set up a group to review the Senior Academic Promotions procedure and the Board expect to publish consultative proposals in the current academical year.

10. Health and safety

10.1. Robust management of health and safety remains embedded at the core of the overall operation of the University. This is overseen by the Board at both strategic and operational level through the Health and Safety Executive Committee and Consultative Committee for Safety. Planned, cooperative visits by the various Enforcement Authorities have continued at the same frequency as previous years and it is satisfying to note that no enforcement action has been taken. Maintaining a close and trusted working relationship with the authorities is key to positive, proactive, and a ‘risk-focused’ safety management across the University.

10.2. The Health and Safety Office and Occupational Health Service completed the first stage of a phased merger to create the Occupational Health and Safety Service, with the goal of improving legislative compliance, fulfilment of statutory obligations and enhanced service provision within the available budget. The process takes into consideration operational restructuring, accommodation requirements, and budgetary constraints whilst supporting the overall University strategy towards the concept of combined staff/student services.

11. Teaching and Learning Support Services

11.1. The Implementation Group to consider the recommendation of the Board’s Review of Teaching and Learning Support Services has continued to meet. In particular proposals have been approved for the incorporation of the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) within the University Library (Reporter, 2009–10, p. 996). The Board have also agreed to recommend that the Language Centre should become part of the School of Arts and Humanities; formal proposals will be the subject of a Report in the Michaelmas Term 2010. Good progress has been made, through the University Librarian and the Council of the School, towards the closer integration of Faculty Libraries in the Humanities and Social Sciences and the University Library.

3 November 2010

L. K. Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor

Simon Franklin

Rachael Padman

N. Bampos

Andrew Gamble

J. Rallison

William Brown

C. A. Gilligan

Jeremy Sanders

H. A. Chase

David Good

Patrick Sissons

Philip Ford

Maria Helmling

Joshua Ward