Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6281

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Vol cxliii No 4

pp. 42–53

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor John Rallison was presiding, with the Registrary’s Deputy, the Senior Pro-Proctor, a Deputy Proctor, and seven other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

First-stage Report of the Council, dated 30 June 2012, on the restructuring and rationalization of hospital facilities for the Department of Veterinary Medicine at West Cambridge (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 760).

No remarks were made on this Report.

First-stage Report of the Council, dated 30 June 2012, on the construction of a new building for the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at West Cambridge (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 761).

No remarks were made on this Report.

First-stage Report of the Council, dated 16 July 2012, on the construction of a Data Centre on the West Cambridge site (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 811).

Professor J. A. Todd (Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, Department of Medical Genetics, and Gonville and Caius College), read by Mr N. C. Taylor:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the scale of this project is not sufficient. The Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (CIMR) currently has eleven racks of storage. It is my understanding that each hall in the new development will have sixty racks. Provision of full backup for the CIMR alone would consume over one-sixth of the total for all Departments. It is vital that the new Data Centre is large enough to cover all current and future needs of the University. The sequencing hub at Addenbrooke’s – the Eastern Sequence and Informatics Hub (EASIH) – is under-resourced for want of just the service which this Data Centre will provide.

My second concern is whether the current provision at the Arup Building, which is used to mirror Departmental storage, will remain in place until the new facility is ready. If this is not the case, then groups will need to urgently re-evaluate their backup strategy, which presents major barriers.

An alternative solution is for researchers to partner with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and the European Bioinformatics Institute, as a matter of highest priority. Furthermore, the Cancer Research Institute, with Professor Simon Travaré, and the MRC Biostatistics Unit, with Professor Syliva Richardson, and their considerable data storage needs, must be incorporated into the Plan. This Data Centre must deliver sufficiently large capacity, in sufficiently short time, to drive collaborations as strategic partnerships, rather than to meet operational need.

Mr N. C. Taylor (Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, Department of Medical Genetics, and Magdalene College):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this new Data Centre is welcome news. Working as I do in a group generating vast amounts of data from large-scale research studies and subsequent analysis, an additional facility for storage will reduce the burden of procurement, management, and maintenance of our own facility. Naturally, there is provision being made for the University Computing Service (including, presumably, its successor), the High Performance Computing Service, and Cambridge Assessment, but it is worrying that the provision for use by the Departments does not yet seem to have been properly accounted for. This Report states both that space in the inefficient, wasteful, Arup Building will be relinquished, and that ‘other University institutions’ will move into some unspecified part of the Data Centre, potentially the initially empty ‘fallow hall’, and ultimately, the Phase 2 building. What is the intention? That is, are the Departments’ needs – and, more practically, the needs of the forgotten research community – being considered as an add-on, or as integral to the project?

Of even more immediate use to the Departments would be a timescale for this project. If the data storage provision will become available in mid-2014, then we shall need to review current facilities very soon. If, on the other hand, the new Centre will not come into use until late in the decade, then this too must now be accounted for in grant applications, for this storage does not come cheap. I appreciate that this is merely the first-stage Report, requesting permission to apply for planning permission. But, the £23 million price tag – does this cover the initial construction and fitting-out of the three halls, or long-term maintenance on all four? How will this cost (with additions as appropriate) be passed on to users? The most important question for those managing research data is ‘when should groups plan for it to be economically advantageous to switch from their current storage facility to the Data Centre proposed in this Report?’

Dr S. J. Cowley (University Council, and Faculty of Mathematics):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the keen-eyed may have noticed that I did not sign this Report. This is not because I am against the Data Centre in principle; indeed I am in favour of a costed, efficient, and well-managed version of it. However, there are three matters that concern me.

Over the last year, the financial estimate has oscillated significantly, mainly in an upward direction. I am not yet convinced that the project is cost effective, especially since the initial ‘green’ justification has moved further and further toward the back seats.

Second, the Report should have stated that the High Performance Computing Service (HPCS) part of the scheme should wash its own face, and that there will be full cost recovery of this part of the project. I asked for this at the Planning and Resources Committee, and at the Council, but a clear statement did not materialize.

I am also worried that there does not appear to be a sufficiently clear management structure. I cannot see how the HPCS, the University Computing Service, and Cambridge Assessment, can all be customers. Who is the technical provider? It is not the Management Information Services Division (MISD). To my mind, the project management can be improved. In the case of the telephone replacement project, it was clear where the buck stopped. That project was a success, I think partly because there was a clear owner. Who is the owner in this case?

Report of the General Board, dated 11 July 2012, on the establishment of a Professorship of Empirical Macroeconomics (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 812).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Report of the General Board, dated 11 July 2012, on the establishment of a Harold Samuel Professorship of Law and Environmental Policy (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 814).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Report of the General Board, dated 11 July 2012, on the re-establishment of a Professorship of Stroke Medicine (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 814).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Seventeenth Report of the Board of Scrutiny, dated 27 June 2012 (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 815).

The Rev’d J. L. Caddick (Chair of the Board of Scrutiny, and Emmanuel College):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as the Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny for the academical year 2011–12, the year in which we produced this Seventeenth Report.

The major issue which the Board examined during the year was the development of the North West Cambridge site, the biggest development in the University’s history, and the first time, we are told, that the University has planned to borrow to finance its expansion. In its Report, the Board expressed concern that in the initial planning, the size of the debt incurred would actually grow in the initial years, and that projected rental income from the site would not be enough to cover the interest payments. The Board have since been reassured that subsequent revisions of the financial plan have remedied this, and provide for positive interest coverage. We were also much encouraged by the Vice-Chancellor’s commitment in his address to the University on 1 October 2012, that,

Despite its ambition, the North West Cambridge project is affordable. It will not draw resources from other parts of our academic mission or from our wider Capital Plan.

That is excellent news. The Board will continue to examine the plans for North West Cambridge as they are prepared for the presentation of a Grace later this term, and, if necessary, will report further to the Regent House.

The Vice-Chancellor linked the development in North West Cambridge with another issue discussed in the Seventeenth Report, that of growth in the number of graduate students. He pointed out – as everybody agrees –that continued growth in the numbers of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers is essential to our future competitiveness as a research university. He referred to the agreed growth in numbers of graduate students of 2% per annum until 2020, and also to the fact that it is after 2015 that the North West Cambridge development will begin contributing to the increased capacity necessary for this. Now this 2% figure is already challengingly large for the Colleges. The Board’s question in its Seventeenth Report is whether, in fact, it is large enough for the continued success of the University. We will await the Council’s response with interest.