Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6368

Thursday 4 December 2014

Vol cxlv No 12

pp. 224–284

Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academical year 2013–14

1. Introduction

1.1 The General Board present this Annual Report on their work for the academical year 2013–14.

1.2 The Board draw particular attention to the following major activities which have engaged the Board, Schools, and institutions during the year:

The University’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) submission (paragraph 5.2);

The Combined Graduate Fee (paragraph 7.6);

Affiliation of Faculty and Departmental libraries to the University Library (paragraph 2.10);

Master’s Degree provision (paragraph 2.1).

1.3 The Board have increasingly involved the Councils of the Schools and their Heads in a wide range of matters including: the affiliation of Faculty and Departmental libraries to the University Library; career opportunities for postdoctoral researchers; proposals for the establishment of University offices of Lecturer (teaching) and Senior Lecturer (teaching); the development of international strategies; the enhancement of Master’s Degree provision; and the University’s submission for the 2014 REF. A School-based fundraising model for the next development campaign has been established and the Heads of the Schools have been instrumental in defining the themes of that campaign. Each Head of School now routinely makes a presentation to the Board about that School’s strategic plans. Those plans, which were considered in the Easter Term 2014, brought to the fore some common challenges in particular, the urgent need for capital investment and more responsive reward structures. The Board expect to give further consideration during 2014–15 to the formal relationship between the Schools and their constituent institutions.

2. Teaching and learning, and quality assurance

2.1 Both the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) and Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) were conducted in 2013. 84% of postgraduate taught students and 82% of postgraduate research students declared that their expectations were met. However, issues were identified to justify the remedial steps described below. Results from a Cambridge Research Experience Survey were also reported in 2013 and provided more localized evidence of the experience of research students. In response to the Postgraduate Taught Students Experience Survey results, and in the light of discussions by the Board of Graduate Studies, the Board promoted two initiatives aimed at improving the quality of provision in courses leading to a Master’s Degree. To ensure that the expectations of prospective students are accurate, the quality and consistency of information available in the Graduate Prospectus have been improved using a template of standard information. At the request of the Board, the Schools are undertaking a more detailed review of provision. The Board have also reviewed arrangements for the examination of Master’s Degree courses, and are consulting Degree Committees on proposals designed to put in place more coherent assessment frameworks for the M.Phil. Degree, primarily based on distinguishing between research courses (examined by means of a thesis and oral) and others with a range of formally assessed components.

2.2 In response to concerns about results of the Postgraduate Research Student Experience Survey, in particular in respect of supervision, the Board’s Education Committee, after consultation with Degree Committees about their compliance with key expectations of the Board’s Code of Practice for Research Students, approved a revised Code for students commencing their studies in 2014–15. The revisions make clearer what is expected of Faculties and Departments, and of students, including: introduction of a requirement for each University institution to have a nominated individual to fulfil the role of Director of Graduate Education; introduction of a requirement for the appointment of a supervisory team, and clarification of the role of the Adviser; to require regular formal progress meetings and clarification of the purpose of such meetings; and to require approval by the Board of Graduate Studies of alternative forms of the progress examination (the examination to determine if a student should be formally registered for the Ph.D. Degree). The amended Code can be found at The Board will monitor compliance with the amended Code.

2.3 In response to judgements by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) in respect of disclosure and anticipation of the needs of individual students, amendments were made to the Code of Practice for reasonable adjustments for disabled students. Expectations of reasonable adjustments to teaching practices were reviewed and amended for students with Special Learning Difficulties. The Board’s Education Committee received, and approved, nine requests in 2013–14 for alternative modes of assessment under the Code. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has recently announced its intention to change the arrangements for Disabled Students’ Allowances for 2016–17 (which provide funding for academic support needs of disabled students). An action plan will be developed during the course of 2014–15, once further information is available. To mitigate the effects of the changes, actions are likely to include increasing access for all students to assistive technology and software, and promotion of inclusive teaching practices.

2.4 The University was granted the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education for 2014–2020. The Board’s Standing Committee on Student Mobility reviewed Erasmus partnerships to ensure a strategic approach to exchange agreements under the new Erasmus+ programme. A broader audit of the University’s current student mobility activities was also undertaken and is being used to inform the development of guidelines for future arrangements, to be issued in 2014–15. In response to a recommendation in the Quality Assurance Agency’s (QAA) Institutional Review, a research project was undertaken into the support needs of international students with a particular focus on induction. The project’s report included a number of recommendations to enhance integrated arrangements for support of international students, and a plan for future action was endorsed by the Board.

2.5 The Education Committee’s Teaching and Learning Sub-committee has overseen the launch of a new website to support teaching staff ( and has introduced a series of events for Directors of Teaching to facilitate networking and the exchange of good practice. The work of the Education Committee’s Teaching and Learning Services Steering Group has continued, with six grants of a total value of £92k being made in the year to support innovation in teaching. The Group continues to oversee a project for the University-wide installation of Moodle to replace CamTools as the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

2.6 The Board have previously set up a Board of Executive and Professional Education (BEPE) to monitor and, where appropriate, endorse non-award-bearing provision in this area. A range of University providers is involved. That Board also considers applications for endorsement from Colleges. Cambridge provision in these areas has been more coherently presented through a central website ( BEPE has recently established a Strategic Working Group to advise it and the central bodies on how Cambridge might best position itself in executive and professional education activities over the foreseeable future. The Group will report to the General Board during 2014–15.

2.7 The Board have continued to monitor national and international developments in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) through a Working Group on Open Access Online Provision. Whilst the Board have (thus far) agreed that the University should decline invitations to participate with other MOOC providers, there has been considerable activity in the development of Small Online Closed Courses and Virtual Learning Environments across a number of University institutions. In addition, parts of the University produce web material to raise public awareness about scholarship, their subjects, and the University more generally. Cambridge has also been involved in the production of MOOC material for schools through Cambridge Assessment and initiatives in the Departments of Engineering, Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics, and Physics. Such developments, which are externally financed, are consistent with the University’s widening participation activities. The Board will maintain a watching brief in this area but they are clear that: protection of the Cambridge brand remains of paramount importance; the production of online material is resource-intensive; quality control of such material should not be handed over to third parties; and developments should not be based on short-term commercial gain.

2.8 As part of the Board’s rolling programme of Learning and Teaching Reviews, the following institutions were reviewed in 2013–14: the Faculties of Architecture and History of Art, Classics, and Economics; the Departments of Geography, and Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience; and Judge Business School. During the year the Education Committee considered responses to reviews of the following institutions: the Faculties of Divinity, and Education; the Departments of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, Veterinary Medicine, and Zoology; and Judge Business School. In addition to such reviews, the Board also considered annual presentations from the Directors of the Institute of Continuing Education, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and Kettle’s Yard, on the work of these institutions, in particular the contributions to the University’s teaching and research.

2.9 The new Committee on Student Health and Wellbeing (Reporter, 6302, 2012–13, p. 431) met for the first time in Michaelmas Term 2013, and has developed a University strategy for student wellbeing and an associated action plan. This includes piloting of mindfulness techniques to build student resilience, for which funding has been secured for a project with the Department of Psychiatry to evaluate the effectiveness of this provision.

2.10 During the year the Board have monitored progress in implementing their agreed policy that all Faculty and Departmental libraries should be affiliated to the University Library. The Board remain convinced that a co-ordinated University-wide library service will enhance the quality of the service, lead to staffing and space efficiencies, and better position Cambridge to meet future challenges. All the institutional libraries in the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences are now affiliated, and good progress is being made across the other Schools. The Board are grateful to the University Librarian and her colleagues for their ongoing efforts in this regard.

3. External scrutiny and stakeholder engagement

3.1 The Board responded in detail to a draft Good Practice Framework for handling student complaints and academic appeals, circulated by the OIA. The Board expressed concern about: the status of the final Framework (particularly the extent to which OIA judgements in individual cases might be unduly influenced by the extent to which an HEI adheres to the Framework); the unrealistically short timetables proposed for the determination of cases; and the implication that appeals and complaints procedures might, in the final stages, not necessarily have to rely on adjudications by senior academic staff. The Colleges collectively responded in similar terms. The final Framework, expected in the Michaelmas Term 2014, could have significant implications for the University’s student appeals and complaints procedures.

3.2 The Board have also, through their Education Committee, responded to a consultation from the (former) Office of Fair Trading about the use of academic sanctions against students for ‘non-academic offences’ (for example, failure to pay debts other than University Composition Fees). This consultation was part of a more general ‘call for evidence’ by the OFT in relation to the undergraduate student as ‘consumer’, sharing information across the sector, and the extent to which competition across the sector enhances student choice. The OFT’s successor body, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has expressed an interest in the HE sector through, in the first instance, undertaking a ‘compliance review’ of how consumer protection legislation operates within the sector with particular reference to undergraduate students. The possibility that CMA’s interest in this area may result in more onerous requirements for publicly available information is a real one.

3.3 The University maintained its overall satisfaction rating of 92% in the 2013 National Student Survey (covering undergraduate provision), compared with a sector average of 86% and a Russell Group average of 88%. Of particular concern to the Education Committee were the results in respect of workload and ensuring the availability of support to students in managing the load and pace of the Tripos.

4. Degrees, courses, and examinations

4.1 During the course of the year, the Board have approved new M.Phil. Degree programmes in: Geography; Machine Learning, Speech, and Language Technologies; Mathematics; World History; American History; Modern and British History; and new strands in the M.Phil. Degree programmes in Sociology, and in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. As a consequence of the University securing a number of EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training, the Board have also approved the introduction of new M.Res. programmes in: Physical Sciences; Graphene Technology; Future Infrastructure and Built Environment; Gas Turbine Aerodynamics; and Sensor Technologies and Applications. A new M.St. programme in Housing was also approved. In addition, the Board have approved a number of new ‘non-member’ awards.

4.2 The Education Committee approved amendments to the Board’s guidance on external examining arrangements. The revised guidance clarifies the role and responsibilities of External Examiners, specifically expectations relating to marking and moderating, and integrates guidance on external examining for undergraduate and postgraduate taught programmes. The amendments ensure that the University’s procedures are consistent with the Quality Assurance Agency’s UK Quality Code for Higher Education.

5. Research

5.1 The Board are pleased to note a healthy growth in research income notwithstanding the constraints on public funding to the Research Councils. Research income in 2013–14 was in excess of £370m, a significant increase on that in 2012–13. Income growth was achieved by every School, with performance particularly strong in the Schools of Technology, the Humanities and Social Sciences, and Clinical Medicine. Growth in income from the EU was again a major contributor, although significant growth in income from charities and the Research Councils was also important. The value of new awards won remained in excess of £400m and significantly above that achieved historically.

5.2 The University’s return to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) was successfully completed with submissions under 32 Units of Assessment including a total of 2,200 staff and 242 impact case studies. The results of REF 2014 will be published in December 2014 and will be used by HECFE as the basis for calculating the QR element of the University’s grant from 2015–16. The Board acknowledges the substantial contribution of staff from across the University in the preparation of the REF exercise and in particular the contributions of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), Unit of Assessment Chairs, and the REF Project Board. The Board commissioned a review led by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), which focused on lessons learned from the administration of the REF submission. Following the approval of an Action Plan by the Research Policy Committee in July 2014, key recommendations of that review, including continuing oversight of REF matters by the REF Project Board and Policy Committee, a more formal role for the Heads of the Schools, and further activities to develop IT support to support data collection for future REF exercises and capture material for future impact case studies, are being implemented.

5.3 The University’s Strategic Research Initiatives and Networks, which aim to build on areas of existing research strength by bringing together a critical mass of expertise from across the Schools, have been expanded with four new Initiatives launched (in Big Data, Public Policy, Cardiovascular Disease, and Synthetic Biology). Further activities have been pursued to develop the University’s strategic relationship with major funding agencies. In 2013–14 there were visits from senior staff of a number of agencies including the European Commission, the Wellcome Trust, EPSRC, ESRC, and MRC: further meetings of this nature are planned for 2014–15. Agencies such as the Research Councils are increasingly providing an element of their funding through central awards to key University partners, for example Impact Acceleration Accounts, hence the need to provide a central focal point for dialogue.

5.4 The Board have continued the process of implementation of revised policies and procedures required to comply fully with the requirements of HEFCE and other funding agencies. A key element of this has been further work, led by the University Library and the Research Strategy Office, to support academic staff to meet the requirements of HEFCE’s new Open Access Policy regarding eligibility of journal and conference presentations for future REF exercises. HEFCE’s new guidelines require the provision of an Open Access version of a publication within three months of the acceptance of a journal article for publication, and the University Library is leading activities to support staff to comply with this requirement. The Open Access Project Board is considering the wider implications of the requirements of RCUK, the Wellcome Trust, and other sponsors concerning Open Access publication, including new provisions regarding the application of Open Access principles to the publication of research data. There has also been a series of co-ordinated activities to meet the expectations of the Concordats on Openness in Animal Research and Research Integrity, including an expansion of the remit of the University Research Ethics Committee to include research integrity matters.

5.5 Building upon the implementation of the X5 costing tool in 2013–14, the Research Office and University Information Services have continued the development of IT systems support for the research grant lifecycle. This has included the launch of a new application to provide Principal Investigators with accessible and up-to-date information on their research grant expenditure, and a business process review of the research contracts process as an initial step to explore options for upgrade or replacement of the existing IT systems support for contracting. As part of the review, the Research Office and UIS are pursuing an application to provide Principal Investigators and Departmental Administrators with regular updates on the progress of contracts.

6. International engagement

6.1 2013–14 was significant for the University’s international engagement, as the benefits of better co-ordination between the Schools, the International Strategy Office, and other central offices became evident. The Schools now describe international engagement priorities in their Planning Round submissions; and the Advisory Committee on Benefactions, External and Legal Affairs considers proposals with an international dimension which require additional monitoring and evaluation. The International Strategy Committee proposed new ways for the University to demonstrate its international engagement, both in Cambridge and around the world; while the International Engagement Group meets to discuss the implementation of specific policies and initiatives.

6.2 The University was the most active UK university during the negotiations surrounding the Horizon 2020 agreement concerning the future distribution of EU research funds. The Russell Group acknowledged Cambridge’s role in securing a strong settlement for the UK. Following the launch of Horizon 2020 in January 2014, there has been a significant increase in the number of Cambridge researchers applying for EU funding. Researchers in the School of Biological Sciences, working with colleagues at the University of Warsaw, will be at the core of one of the first applications to be assessed for the new EU ‘Teaming’ instrument. Concerted engagement should advance the interests of Cambridge and other research-intensive universities during the transition to a new European Commission and Parliament.

6.3 A pilot scheme of postdoctoral fellowships to enhance international research collaborations, initially with partners in India, has been launched; the initial programme involves five 5-year, fixed-term early career fellowships, co-funded by the University and the Government of India Department of Biotechnology (DBT). Post-holders will be based in Cambridge, but there will be a requirement that up to three years should be spent at the partner institution in India.

6.4 To support the University’s engagement with Africa, formal governance structures have been established for a multi-disciplinary Cambridge-Africa programme, bringing together a number of existing initiatives together with the Africa-related activities of the Wellcome Trust-Cambridge Centre for Global Health, launched in November 2013.

6.5 The University is developing a more strategic approach to strengthening its relationships with partners in the USA, especially in the fields of energy and international development.

7. Planning and resources

7.1 The Board oversee planning and resource allocation matters through the Planning and Resources Committee (PRC), a joint Committee of the Council and the General Board. A significant proportion of the PRC’s work year is concerned with the preparation of the University Budget and five-year financial forecasts, which are reported in detail in the Report on the Financial Position of the University (Reporter, 6347, 2013–14, p. 539) which also recommends annual allocations from the Chest. The Budget position for the coming five years shows a small surplus planned on the Chest in each year. However, the scale of the surplus continues to fall well below the University’s long-term financial target for sustainability, and the central bodies accordingly judge that the University’s finances remain finely balanced.

7.2 As last year, there are a number of significant financial risks on the planning horizon including, for example, the triennial valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme, the impact of the reform of state pensions, the outcome of the Research Excellence Framework, and possible levels of inflation on items such as pay, energy, and construction costs. The PRC has issued guidance for the next Planning Round which again allows for a prudent 1% increase in allocations to institutions.

7.3 An issue that concerned the Board is the extent to which Chest-derived reserves, particularly in the Schools, continue to rise despite the challenging economic circumstances. The Planning Round in 2013–14 focussed on this issue, and good progress has been made in understanding the reasons for holding reserves, where reserves are appropriate, and where it is right to begin to use reserves to make strategic investments in academic activity. The Board expect School reserves to have fallen in 2013–14 as Schools have begun to make use of them. For the 2014–15 Planning Round, an equivalent piece of work will be undertaken to improve the shared understanding of sources of departmental income other than teaching and research, and the extent to which proceeds from ‘other’ activities are being used to support the core purposes of the University.

7.4 The Board continue to use a Resource Allocation Model to support decisions concerning the allocation of recurrent budgets to Schools. Work has begun to develop the next generation of that Model, which should be more responsive to changes in University income resulting from changes in activity in Faculties and Departments, whilst still providing stability where income changes as a result of external factors beyond the University’s control.

7.5 The Board noted that the appetite for capital investment in buildings remains high, with major academic developments planned at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, the New Museums site, the Old Addenbrooke’s site, and West Cambridge – the last now including both the re-provision of the Cavendish Laboratory and the move of the Department of Engineering.

7.6 The PRC played a key role in securing the Colleges’ agreement to a Composite Graduate Fee model, whereby for each Graduate course the University Composition Fee and the College Graduate Fee are consolidated into a single Fee, with the aggregated Fee income being shared in agreed proportions between the University and the Colleges. Such a model has been a common aspiration for the University and the Colleges for some time, and the Board were pleased that agreement on the details has been reached, in view of the positive implications for graduate recruitment and fundraising opportunities. The single Fee is anticipated to have advantages for student recruitment and fundraising. The model will take effect from 2015–16.

7.7 The Board continue to monitor, through the PRC, the cost of providing an undergraduate education at Cambridge. A robust model for understanding the University’s costs has been agreed, and the calculation is monitored by a small working group which includes student representation. Work to improve the understanding of College costs has made good progress during the year.

8. Establishment of new senior positions

8.1 The Board proposed the establishment (or re‑establishment) of the following senior positions, in some cases supported by generous benefactions or other external funds:

Professorship of History of Art in the Department of History of Art;

Readership in Corporate Law in the Faculty of Law;

Professorship of Climate Change Economics and Policy in the Department of Land Economy;

Genzyme Professorship of Neuroimmunology in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences;

Readership in Transfusion Medicine in the Department of Haematology;

Readership in Statistics in Biomedicine in the Department of Medical Genetics;

Professorship of Respiratory Biology in the Department of Medicine;

Professorship of Immunology and Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine;

Royal Society Research Professorship of Molecular Cancer Biology in the Department of Oncology;

Stephen W. Hawking Professorship of Cosmology in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics; and

Readership in Probability in the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics.

9. Human Resources

9.1 During the Lent Term 2014 the Board consulted Schools and University institutions about a proposal to establish two new categories of University office for those whose primary responsibilities are the organization and delivery of teaching. Whilst it is anticipated that the majority of offices will continue to be established Lectureships where the requirement to undertake teaching and research remains, the proposed new offices if approved would provide a career structure for, and recognize the valuable contribution to teaching made by, a small number of staff with primarily teaching responsibilities. The Board subsequently published a Report to the University (Reporter, 6355, 2013–14, p. 745).

The Board have also proposed the introduction of the titles of Associate Clinical Sub-Dean and Regional Clinical Sub-Dean in the School of Clinical Medicine, so as better to recognize the participation of NHS Consultants who, in addition to contributing to the teaching of students, take on educational leadership responsibilities (Reporter, 6355, 2013–14, p. 748).

9.2 The changes to aspects of senior pay published in the Joint Report of the Council and the General Board on amendments to the pay and grading scheme for non-clinical staff implemented following the Second Joint Report of 25 July 2005 (Reporter, 6302, 2012–13, p. 423) were implemented with effect from 1 January 2014. The introduction of Advanced Contribution Supplements for academic staff and Market Pay primarily for other staff categories has proved a valuable mechanism to assist with recruitment and retention of senior staff in an increasingly competitive international employment market.

During the Lent Term 2014 the HR Committee considered the options available should the University wish to adopt the ‘Living Wage’. The General Board and the Council subsequently agreed that University employees should not be appointed below spine point 16 of the Single Salary Spine with effect from 1 August 2014. Spine point 16 is the first point that meets the current rate of the Living Wage. Employees paid below that point at 1 August 2014 were therefore uplifted to spine point 16.

9.3 The Board have issued revised guidance to Schools and University institutions about (i) the appointments procedures for Chairs of Faculty Boards and Heads of Departments, covering their duties, eligibility, and the selection process, and (ii) the conduct of business by Appointments Committees.

9.4 The Personal and Professional leadership development programme was developed further through the introduction of the Aspiring Leaders programme, Leadership Essentials, and the Emerging Research Leaders’ Development Programme. Complementary online modules are in development for these and other PPD programmes.

9.5 The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPdA) was set up in August 2013. Established to provide a focus for the needs of postdoctoral research staff, the OPdA has developed a programme of work to support and enhance the experience of such staff. During its first year the OPdA has secured dedicated space to provide a Postdoc Centre and meeting point, and set up a network of volunteers to provide support and advice to newly appointed staff and a programme of development activities to support post-doctoral staff in their careers.

10. Health and safety

10.1 The Occupational Health and Safety Service (OHSS), consisting of the merged departments of the Safety Office and Occupational Health Service, continues to prioritize the provision of risk-focused support, including advice, training, and monitoring, to University institutions and to the Colleges. Oversight of governance remains the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive Committee (HSEC).

10.2 Although there have been no significant changes in relevant health and safety legislation in 2013–14, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) continues to review its policies and codes of practice to reflect the recommendations of the Löfstedt Report with a goal of simplification rather than deregulation. The OHSS continues to ensure its policies and procedures remain effective and proportionate. New electronic systems for accident/incident reporting and safety data collection are being developed and implemented to streamline and speed up reporting routes and simplify Departmental administration. A new OHSS website is under development which will simplify access to all the support functions of the service.

10.3 Key contracts held by OHSS for specialized services in hazardous waste disposal were reviewed, re-tendered, and subsequently awarded on the basis of improved service provision to Departments, continued compliance with all statutory requirements, and best value, resulting in significant savings in overall costs to the University.

10.4 Estate Management and OHSS continue to strengthen working relationships to develop enhanced audit/inspection programmes for building projects, contractor oversight and Duty of Care visits, and comprehensive health and safety training programmes for EM staff.

10.5 The Board commissioned a report on the governance and operational frameworks and processes of animal facilities at the University. The Review Group made their Report to the Board in the Michaelmas Term 2014.

5 November 2014

L. K. Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor

Robert Kennicutt

Richard Prager

Philip Allmendinger

Duncan Maskell

Rob Richardson

N. Bampos

Patrick Maxwell

Evianne van Gijn

M. J. Daunton

Martin Millett

Graham Virgo

David Good

Rachael Padman

Chris Young