Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6373

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Vol cxlv No 17

pp. 337–367

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor John Spencer was presiding, with the Registrary’s deputy, the Senior Proctor, the Junior Proctor, and four other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Annual Report of the Council for the academical year 2013–14, dated 24 November 2014 (Reporter, 6368, 2014–15, p. 226).

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Annual Reports of the Cambridge Council were formerly Reports to the University in character, though naturally it was expected that they would be read by the wider world. Now they seem primarily to be reports to HEFCE and to Government, with elements of the placatory and the boastful which would once have had no place in them.

The new Governance website is mentioned.1 In many respects this is a desirable venture and those who have been putting it together are warmly to be thanked, but is it a good idea to make it such a hybrid? There are ‘messages to the planet’ explaining the University to all-comers, especially newcomers and outsiders, in accessible language, with detailed matter such as the Agenda, Minutes, and some papers of the Council hidden behind Raven passwords. The Reporter is the organ of historical record and if there is to be an online link to Council minutes and papers and so on, should not that link be from the Reporter instead?

I want to make one main point, but I think it is a significant one. Since the publication and energetic Discussion of the Report proposing ‘teaching-only’ University offices2 I have come to realize more fully than ever before just how much ‘research-only’ staff in the University suffer from being merely ‘unestablished’ staff. If the tradition dating from the Oxford and Cambridge Act 1877 whose wording is still to be found in Statute C 1 4 is to be departed from, should there not be University offices for research-only staff as well as teaching-only staff?

During the year the Council considered the Risk Steering Committee’s Annual Report.3 A traffic-light system. Risk #2 related to research funding, which of course mainly covers the salaries of research-only academic staff. It was agreed that this should remain at red. At #5 Staffing, the risks attached to teaching-only staff were addressed, with a note that ‘it would be important to monitor the career support and development opportunities available to these staff.’ What is the justification for the difference of approach?

The problem of teaching-only staff was set out in the Council’s Report in the Reporter of 16 July 2014; their posts have been ‘funded from a variety of sources’ and ‘made in a piecemeal fashion, by informal appointments processes, and the holders are subject to some variation in terms and conditions’. ‘Anomalous status, by comparison with holders of University offices, and the lack of opportunity for recognition and progression is clearly unsatisfactory’.4 So not to offer them a career-path was deemed unacceptable. Is it not equally unacceptable for the much greater number of research-only staff to be denied the status of University officers? Cambridge did pretty well in the REF (though not as well as Oxford). HEFCE (Guidance para. 81) does not allow the submission of this category of academics, treating them as ‘research assistants’ even though some are very senior and engaged in long-term work of their own.5 As University officers, they could have been submitted, potentially to the University’s benefit and their own, and Cambridge might have beaten Oxford.

Meanwhile perhaps Cambridge should advertise its doctoral opportunities to prospective undergraduates with a warning about the career expectations of those who seek a career in academic science.6 It is no secret why there is such a drop-out rate in the University even for those who make it to their first post-doctoral position. It is because of the difficulty of escaping the task of turning the hamster-wheel of gaining repeated insecure employment contracts. The law may now require permanent or open-ended contracts after a time but those are typically still ‘subject to funding’ in the Cambridge versions.

‘Clear stable career paths are needed’ said the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Academy of Medical Sciences with one voice this year.7 What is Cambridge doing about this? The 2008 launch of the UK Concordat to support the career development of researchers8 prompted Cambridge to publish its intentions. The Committee ‘received’ in January 2013 at 17/01/13/HR278, a paper updating the initiatives currently being undertaken relating to researcher career development. It noted ‘the publication of the University’s “Concordat implementation strategy and action plan” at [URL]’.9 Want to look at that now? ‘Page not found: we need time to evolve’ and a witty Quentin Blake picture of two wrinkled tortoises bearing on their backs, respectively, Charles Darwin and a pile of books.10 You may read the University’s ‘self-evaluation’ with plans for 2012–14.11 It is now 2015.

There are two websites offering Careers Support, one for science postdocs (four advisers)12 and one for those in the arts, humanities, and social sciences13 (one adviser). The Researcher Development Committee Minutes report limited progress in making this support effective. It was suggested by the Chair in 2013 that when it came to ‘researcher development’ ‘Cambridge was under-resourced and uncoordinated in comparison to leading competitor institutions’.14 Despite making grand promises about support for early career researchers and those seeking to continue academic research careers here once they have begun them, it is apparent from some recent cases of which I have personal knowledge, that a contract of employment with the University is not safe even until its stated end date.

The persistent enquirer of the Cambridge HR pages may eventually discover a web page explaining ‘how to navigate life as a researcher here’ via a buffet lunch and a mention of the Counselling Service, should it be needed.15 At another page may be found the promise that the Employment and Career Management Scheme for Researchers (‘approved by the Human Resources Committee’) ‘draws on the framework of the UK Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers’.16 Here the enquirer may learn that this replaces the former Code of Practice Document for the Employment of Contract Research Staff though that is still online.17 (I should perhaps say that I do realize the new Director of HR faces an immense task to get the HR website up to an acceptable standard and up to date.)

‘If I wish to stay in academia, am I aware of my possibilities for promotion?’ asks the Tool.18 You may, after some searching, discover that because you are not a University officer your promotion is available only within the parallel universe of non-University officers and is at the discretion of the Head of Department. It cannot make you a University officer and open the road to Readerships and Chairs.

Progression from one grade to another is not automatic and requires the positive recommendation from the Head of Department or his/her designated representative.19

It may not be just a matter of being denied promotion. A consequence of the University’s policy of subsidiarity is that the powers of a Head of Department or even a Principal Investigator with the HoD’s sanction, to end a career by redundancy are formidable. I see that the HR website still offers only limited guidance for those threatened with redundancy, under ‘Grievance’, but makes the crucial distinction between University officers and ‘Unestablished Academic and Academic-related Staff (including Contract Research Staff)’ quite clearly in setting out their respective rights.20

I come back to my starting-point. The tone of the Council’s Report is anodyne and without a good deal of further research one would not become aware of the problems I have been outlining. The science as well as the scientist may be wasted under the present system, for it has a built-in tendency to leave the process of discovery uncompleted when a scientist or a whole team is shown the exit. The University seems to be able to find the odd penny down the back of its sofas when it likes. The Report before us sees it as a matter of concern that the ‘reserves of unspent general income, particularly in the Schools, continue to rise’. It congratulates itself on ‘further strong growth’ in research income. Perhaps it can afford to do something about the career prospects of so many of its scientists?


Professor A. W. F. Edwards (Gonville and Caius College), read by Professor G. R. Evans:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, forty years ago this term I became a member of the General Board and during my tenure the Board grappled with the growing problem of unestablished posts. In 1999 I happened to discuss the problem with Registary Mead and since he was unaware of the past history I offered to write him an account of it, which he gladly encouraged me to do. I think it might be helpful if it were to become part of the public record through a contribution to this Discussion, and what follows is what I submitted to him. The date of its compilation should be borne in mind.

In the 1920s, under the old Statutes, it was customary to appoint ‘Assistants to Professors’. By Grace 20 of 13 June 1924, J. Chadwick, Ph.D. (later Sir James, Nobel Laureate) was appointed Assistant Director of Radio-Active Research with a stipend provided by the Government’s Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, to assist Sir Ernest (later Lord) Rutherford, Cavendish Professor of Physics.

New Statutes came into force on 1 October 1926. The precise status of Assistants before that date need not now concern us, but by 1932 the General Board had concluded that posts with the title ‘Assistant Director of Research’ (ADR), which had been proliferating and which were supported on external funds, ought to be recognized as of equal status to the University Teaching Offices defined in the Statutes, and they obtained an undertaking that the Council would promote the necessary revision of the Statutes, which was achieved in 1934.

Pending such revision the device was used of making ADRs University Administrative Officers by Ordinance, which was permitted under the Statutes, thereby making them University Officers. Then an amended Statute D,II,1 added to the existing Teaching Offices the phrase ‘or an office recognized by Ordinance as a University teaching office for the purpose of the Statutes’, and following its approval the necessary Grace for making ADRs Teaching Officers was passed. By 1934, therefore, the problem of employment on outside funds had arisen and been solved. But not for long.

The first ‘Assistants in Research’ (ARs), on outside funds, appeared in Medicine in 1938, and others soon followed, but though each post was individually created by Grace and included in Ordinances, ARs were not initially classed as University Officers. After the war, in 1948, the General Board included in its Seventh Report on the duties and stipends of University teachers and research workers a discussion on the current status of ARs and concluded that they should remain without the status of University Officer. Statutes and Ordinances for 1949 contains Schedules in which 23 ADRs and 14 ARs are listed, most no longer on outside funds (other than the Treasury grant). At the same time the University was increasingly concerned to regularize arrangements for the administration of outside funds, which had grown haphazardly especially during the war, and in 1950 it approved a Council notice requiring all monies to be handled by the Treasurer. This presumably put an end to the ‘unofficial’ employment of research assistants.

In 1952 it was decided to introduce the University Office of ‘Senior Assistant in Research’ (SAR) but to retain non-officer status for ARs (and for the newly-created ‘Technical Officers’ who were to be at the same level). There had also been a proposal to create an office senior to ADR, but in other respects similar to it, which the General Board had declined to recommend. This refusal was challenged in the Regent House, so the Council advanced a Grace to confirm the General Board’s position. The Grace was subject to a non-placet by a number of Biology ‘B’ professors and defeated by 149 votes to 126. Much to-ing and fro-ing then ensued, resulting finally in a General Board Report proposing an easing of the route whereby an ADR could advance to a University Lectureship, which evidently satisfied the non-placets.

By 1955 the hydra of categories of employment by the University had developed another head, that of ‘posts’ established by Ordinance (not being University Offices), such as that of Statistician to the Medical School. The General Board collected together all these posts whose holders they thought should be eligible for sabbatical leave and listed them in a Schedule in Ordinances, creating the unofficial title of ‘University Posts’ in the process. They then published a Report in an attempt to give official recognition to the distinction between a University Office and a University Post: ‘A University post shall be defined as a post established by Ordinance or filled under Ordinance, not being a University office or an employment as University assistant’. The Regent House thought otherwise, however, and at the Congregation in the Senate-House on Saturday, 29 October 1955 it threw out the Grace on a division so decisive that there was no call for the Proctors to take the votes singly.

A chastened Council quickly came back to the University with a Report which said they would give further consideration to the question of ‘nomenclature’ provided the Regent House would let them have an Ordinance defining ‘Posts’ in the interim, which was then agreed without opposition. At the same time an Ordinance was approved with the title ‘General Regulation for Employment by the University’ to cover ‘any person who is not the holder of a University office or a University post and is not a University assistant’.

That Regulation, which did at least recognize the existence of such people albeit by exclusion, did not survive for long however, because it soon became necessary to put Assistant Staff on a more satisfactory footing, and in 1957 the Assistant Staff Board was set up and the above Regulation rescinded. The people who were neither officer nor post-holder nor assistant staff were reduced to being listed in a ‘Schedule of persons excluded from the status of University assistant’ which included ‘(d) persons appointed in a temporary non-pensionable capacity to take part in research work upon terms and conditions not applicable to University assistants’. There they languish to this day (Ordinances, 1999, p. 156) with the addition of ‘pensionable’. (The Schedule is not in fact an Ordinance, since it may be amended without a Grace; in 1975 the Council, for reasons which are neither explained nor explicable, added ‘University officers’ to the class of persons excluded from the status of University assistant in this Schedule.)

In 1968 the University started implementing the recommendations of the Grave Report, and by 1974 it was ready to remove the distinction between University Offices and the newer category of University Posts, and indeed to remove the existing division of the former into Teaching Offices and Administrative Offices. In the course of a complex sequence of changes to Statutes and Ordinances the Assistants in Research, who had hitherto held neither an Office nor a Post, were swept up into the omnibus category of University Officer (though they are not in Schedule J to Statutes, which governs entitlement to sabbatical leave).

By 1975, therefore, we have essentially the present system. There are University Officers, Assistant Staff, and persons who are neither, and these last include all those on outside grants (nowadays, but not in 1975, there are of course many University Officers supported on outside funds; in 1975 the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 had rendered this practice inadvisable). All the posts which had been specially created to solve the problem of research workers on outside grants (Assistant Director of Research, 1924; Assistant in Research, 1938; Senior Assistant in Research, 1952) had thus ascended into the University Officer class and were no longer used for their original purposes.

But the problem of the research workers, of course, would not go away. Still languishing in a Schedule to the Assistant Staff regulations, by 1977 they numbered about 450, and the General Board set up an ad hoc ‘Committee on research assistants’ to advise them what was to be done. Its members were Professor Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, Professor Sir Brian Pippard, and Professor Zangwill. They observed:

Research assistants have no mention in the Statutes and Ordinances of the University, and the Committee consider that this is an anomalous situation for so large a body of people employed by the University, albeit in an unestablished capacity.

They recommended the adoption of titles for research assistants, ‘Senior Research Associate’ at the level of ADR and ‘Research Associate’ at the level of SAR and AR together. In most respects these ‘appointments’, as they were called, were just the same as ADRs, etc., had been before they were absorbed into the University Officer category, but they differed in one vital respect: they were not approved by the University by the customary route of Grace and Ordinance. Indeed, when the recommendations of the Committee were approved by the General Board they had been modified on the recommendation of the Secretary General by the removal of the draft Regulations through which the proposed new titles would have entered Ordinances. When the resulting Notice appeared on 27 July 1977, therefore, no legislation at all was proposed: the Board had created the titles of ‘Senior Research Associate’ (SRA), ‘Research Associate’, and ‘Research Assistant’ without authority. (In the end, ‘Research Associate’ had been reserved for the level of SAR and ‘Research Assistant’ introduced for the most junior level, corresponding to AR.) The hydra had developed another head.

The 1977 Board was of the opinion that ‘it would be wholly inappropriate to propose changes in the Statutes to give research workers automatic membership of the University, or membership of the Regent House’. They were also prepared exceptionally to countenance the appointment of persons of the academic standing of a Cambridge Readership at the salary of a Reader, ‘but they consider that the title of Senior Research Associate would still be appropriate for such an appointment’.

The matter could hardly rest there. A class of University employees who were graduates and who held ‘appointments’ which appeared to have official titles was unlikely long to remain silent, and early in 1985 five members of the Regent House requested a Discussion in the Senate-House on the ‘Structure of the academic profession: terms and conditions of employment and status of contract research staff’. Dr T. D. Lamb was the lead speaker, and, addressing the question of status and the desire for membership of the Regent House, he suggested the creation of ‘one or more classes of University office ... into which to appoint academic research staff’ and he observed that this could be achieved by Ordinance.

The Council took nearly a year to reply, and when they did they would go no further than distancing themselves from the General Board’s 1977 opinion to the extent of suggesting that perhaps just the Senior Research Associates might be granted membership of the Regent House, and they promised to prepare a short Report. This appeared on 30 April 1986, proposing an ingenious route for admitting SRAs to the Regent House without actually mentioning them in Statutes and Ordinances. There was only one speaker at the Discussion, who pilloried the Council’s attempt to include ‘The People Who Do Not Exist’ without explicitly referring to them in a Regulation. The Council’s scheme was to describe an SRA as ‘a person employed by the University who holds an appointment approved by the University for the purpose of [the relevant new Statute] during the tenure of his appointment’ and then to pass a Grace approving the appointment of SRA for this purpose. A footnote to the Report said that, if the proposal and the associated Grace were approved, ‘footnotes will be inserted at appropriate points in Statutes and Ordinances indicating that the appointment of Senior Research Associate has been approved for these purposes’. The speaker observed that this ruse could not work, because unless the Grace led to an Ordinance it would only be of transient effect (technically, an ‘Order’), but if it led to an Ordinance then the title of SRA would have been officially recognized, albeit surreptitiously. He, like Dr Lamb, suggested that SRAs should be made University Officers, in their case ADRs, the post which, sixty years earlier, had been created for this purpose.

The Council were not amused. They quoted the General Board’s 1977 Notice and the 1974 and 1975 Acts of Parliament as reasons for standing their ground. SRAs ended up in a footnote in Ordinances as planned (with the ultimate status symbol, an entry in the index). In the 1995 Statutes and Ordinances there was further progress: the footnote in Ordinances was replaced with a footnote which referred to a new footnote in Statutes: SRAs had finally achieved the status of a statutory footnote by an editorial adjustment.

Meanwhile, the General Board had been quietly promoting Graces adding to the SRA in the footnote. By 1991 ‘Lecturer (unestablished)’ and ‘Assistant Lecturer (unestablished)’ had been added, and by 1995 the new footnote in Statutes included ‘Research Professors’ and ‘Research Associates’, duly indexed. The next year, 1996, ‘Reader (unestablished)’ appeared.

Nobody noticed these Graces because when the General Board published a Notice inventing a new title they did not refer to the associated Grace, published in the same number of the Reporter. Thus when, in November 1992, the Board invented a ‘Northern Telecom Research Professorship of Photonics’ and appointed Mr W. A. Crossland to it (backdated), they put a Notice in the ‘official part’ of the Reporter and said they ‘intend to give further consideration to the procedure which should be followed in any other cases that may arise in future of unestablished appointments with the title of Research Professor’. The new title was thus simply assumed to exist, and the Notice made no reference to Grace 4 of 25 November in the same Reporter ‘That the unestablished appointment of Research Professor be approved for the purpose of Statute A,II,3(f)’.

The procedure for creating this new class of Professor may be summed up as follows. (1) Publish a General Board Notice which gives no indication that appointments with the title of ‘Research Professor’ are new but which nevertheless fills one; (2) At the same time, but without any reference in the Notice, submit a Grace which uses the new title but does not purport to authorize it; (3) On the pretext of the Grace, insert the new title in a footnote in Statutes.

In August 1993 the General Board appointed another ‘Research Professor’ and repeated their earlier undertaking to think some more about the procedure for appointment, which they eventually did in January 1995, publishing a Notice which again simply presumed the existence of ‘Research Professors’. In March 1996 another Notice declared that the General Board had invented the title ‘Reader’ preceded by a name (they gave the example ‘Hewlett Packard Reader in ...’) and once again an unmentioned Grace was associated with the Notice. This new form of title was, in fact, indistinguishable from that of a legitimate Reader (for example, the ‘Sir William Dunn Reader in Biochemistry’).

In February 1999 the General Board reappointed their Research Professor of Photonics, calling him ‘Professor W. A. Crossland’ in their Notice in the official part of the Reporter, and in May they published a further Notice about procedure, but without reference to any titles. Then, in the Reporter of 27 October 1999 the General Board announced that they had appointed two more Research Professors. The legitimacy of these appointments was then challenged under the provisions of Statute K, 5.

The story, of course, does not end with this account. But it is in any case a convenient point at which to stop. It was I who represented to the Vice-Chancellor that the General Board was ultra vires in inventing Research Professorships, and he ruled in my favour.

Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academical year 2013–14, dated 5 November 2014 (Reporter, 6368, 2014–15, p. 236).

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I hope I shall be forgiven for continuing briefly on the main theme of my remarks on the Council’s Report, for there is also much on the topic in the Report of the General Board. Reading this Report too one would think the University had its research activities well-serviced and running smoothly. We are told that ‘the Board have increasingly involved the Councils of the Schools and their Heads’ in various ‘matters’ including ‘career opportunities for postdoctoral researchers’.

But what is the reality for the ‘early career’ scientist in Cambridge insofar as that career begins under the auspices of the General Board? Reality begins to bite with the Ph.D. Only ‘82% of postgraduate research students declared that their expectations were met’ and ‘issues were identified to justify the remedial steps described below’, admits the Report. Ah, here is a revised Code.1 This sets out what the graduate student may expect and makes many promises about the responsibility of the University to the student. ‘Your Supervisor is expected to be familiar with this Code’. Has that been checked? Is it policed? What happens when a Head of Department fails to direct a doctoral student with a potentially serious complaint to the student complaints procedure because he appears not to have heard of it (a known instance)?

Our Ph.D. student graduates and becomes a postdoc. It is all very well to set up a new Office of Postdoctoral Affairs2 ‘to raise the status and visibility of post docs in Cambridge and address the “lifecycle” issues that they encounter’ and ‘enhance’ their ‘experience’. But it is acknowledged that ‘further data’ are ‘required on the average length of service of post docs in Cambridge’.

To create policies and procedures and even new bodies with special remits is not enough. ‘Doing it better’ has to be kept up to date and implemented consistently and fairly or the new provisions are not worth the space they occupy in the University’s already bulging scheme of things. Alas, I see that it was reported to the Council at its meeting on 15 December under an item: University employment (a) Human Resources Committee, that ‘the meeting scheduled for 1 December 2014 was cancelled due to a lack of substantive business’. Would the postdoc holders of unestablished posts think this complacency warranted?

And what is the reality for the older scientist who spends a whole career on a series of contracts...

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Professor Evans, I am sorry I must interrupt you: you have departed a long way from the subject matter of the Annual Report of the General Board. Please would you restrict your remarks remaining to another four minutes?

Professor Evans: Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am assuming that this will appear in the record. May I raise what I think is quite an important question? Whether a relevant speech – and I am well aware of the rule about relevancy – is relevant only if it sticks almost word-by-word to the Report, or whether in the circumstances, as today, of a General Board Annual Report to the University on the whole conspectus of the activities of the General Board, it is permitted – as I believe it always has been previously – to speak about the general issues raised under the headings in that Report, which is what I think I am doing? If you wish me to stop, I will stop.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: How much longer do you wish to continue?

Professor Evans: I had only two pages, and I think, Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, with all due respect, that this speech is nowhere near the fifteen minutes permitted.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: That is true, but it still needs to be pertinent to the Report under Discussion. Please proceed.

... what is the reality for the older scientist who spends a whole career on a series of contracts where the salaries are paid on short-term external funding? It cannot be stressed often enough that such a scientist has in reality no security despite the fact that the law now obliges the University to issue him or her with a ‘contract until retiring age’ after a period on short-term contracts? Those contracts tend to contain reference to the availability of outside funding and vague promises that the Head of Department will tell those affected in good time if there is going to be a problem. The first the scientist hears about it may be an invitation to discuss imminent redundancy (an actual multiple example). Redundancy simply replaces the termination of the previous short-term contract. I invite the General Board to get back to us next year on the contrast between the fate of the holder of an unestablished research post when the money runs out and the immense complexities which attend the process of making a University officer redundant.

Let me go back to the Researcher Development Committee I mentioned in my remarks on the Council Report. In May 2013, after lengthy discussion, it noted that ‘the overall quality of proposed activity was not as high as might be expected’. There was a ‘lack of appropriate structures in Schools for effective engagement with RD strategy’. ‘The postdoctoral representatives reported on recent growth of interest in the needs of postdocs, including the formation of a Working Group.’3 It is also worth looking at the UAS annual report4 to see what it has to say on Research at (6). It cannot be faulted on its talk of a ‘training strategy’ for ‘departmental grants administrators’. But it does not seem to be making things better for Cambridge’s insecure academic scientists.

The HR Committee, which of course reports to the General Board, which had no substantive business in December, does not seem to have bent its collective mind to the related question of the recognition of the seniority of scientists in unestablished posts in the course of their careers in Cambridge. This committee, reporting to the General Board, had received a paper a year earlier on a proposed ‘Senior Researcher Promotions Process’5 by which the status of Principal Research Associate (equivalent to a Readership) and Director of Research (equivalent to a Professorship) might be attained. It was admitted that there was a ‘lack of current guidance’. ‘The Committee approved the terms of the scheme and agreed that the paper be considered by the General Board before implementation’.6 It was ‘received’ by the General Board on 6 November 2013 as paper HR319, and referred to the Councils of the Schools for comment.7 As far as the General Board’s Minutes record the matter online it has not come back yet. (Though the Report we are discussing says that ‘The Board expect to give further consideration during 2014–15 to the formal relationship between the Schools and their constituent institutions.’) There is no mention of any progress in the Report we are discussing. It apparently remains the case that the decision whether to promote or appoint someone to one of these levels of unestablished post is ‘determined by departmental employing authorities’, relying on ‘the criteria and evaluative standards’ used in the Senior Academic Promotions process for University officers, but with none of the checks and balances of comparison across the whole University and nothing else, it seems, taken from that process.

Are the affected staff happy with this? Apparently not. ‘It was highlighted that issues of career development and promotion had been identified in all five staff surveys held to date across different institutions in the University, encompassing some 3,500 staff’.8

Reports and Financial Statements for the year ended 31 July 2014 (Reporter, 6368, 2014–15, p. 241).

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, HEFCE has just published some ‘good practice case studies’ of universities which are doing a satisfactory job of ensuring that their financial information is accessible to students anxious to understand where their fees are going.1 There is more published information (relating to 2012–13) but it is behind Raven,2 and no mere applicant for a place at Cambridge would be able to see it. Even those who can may find it difficult to understand. Information may fall between the simplicity of a colourful slice-of-cake diagram for students and the seemingly bottomless complexity of the full detailed accounts which must exist somewhere.

If Cambridge sets out to join the HEFCE-approved ‘good-practice’ explanations of its spending for students, it will not find it easy to cut the cake so as to answer the vexed question of what it actually costs to educate an undergraduate at Cambridge. This work in progress:

is reviewed annually by a working group which includes student representation. Work to improve the understanding of College costs in the model has made good progress during the year.3

So, far beyond the date at which the fee was fixed at £9,000, it is still impossible to justify the cost, though I do not for a moment suggest it is actually less than that.

It is a long-standing problem that HEFCE may be satisfied with relatively high-level general sums. Readers of the Council’s Report discussed today are referred there to the Governance Review. It is noted that HEFCE’s last Assurance Review Report, dated 2008:

confirmed that it could place reliance on the University of Cambridge’s accountability information and has continued to confirm that reliance in each of the subsequent accountability exchanges. 4

HEFCE is apparently still reassured by what Moody’s referred to as Cambridge’s ‘broad oversight’, in assigning an AAA rating to the University financially.5 ‘Broad’ seems the right word. The level of generality in the figures we may read in the Reports and financial statements for the year also discussed today is sometimes striking. It is not at all easy to track down the detail. ‘Sundry income £14.8m,’ is an example. Yet surely it is not in the ‘broad’ but the specific and detailed that the dangers lie. There seems too much that is simply impossible for the concerned enquirer to ascertain.

‘The Council is responsible for maintaining a sound system of internal control’. The question must be whether this is set at the right level. It ‘is designed to manage rather than eliminate the risk of failure to achieve policies, aims, and objectives; it therefore provides reasonable but not absolute assurance of effectiveness.’ It ‘is designed to identify the principal risks to the achievement of policies, aims, and objectives; to evaluate the nature and extent of those risks; and to manage them efficiently, effectively, and economically.6 The University’s Key Risk Register is updated and reviewed by the Risk Steering Committee which meets twice a year.

Let us take an example of the way this works for one of those ‘policies’. The Audit Committee receives an annual review of the University’s policy against bribery and corruption, summarizing what is done to implement this policy, which also includes financial ‘irregularity’, that is mismanagement or maladministration not actual bribery or fraud. An ‘annual memorandum’ is sent ‘to Heads of Institutions and Departmental Administrators to remind them of the policy, where to find it, and any updates to highlight’. An internal audit report on Fraud Risk Assessment was submitted to the Audit Committee in May 2014. Among the ‘highest potential risks and future areas to focus’ identified were ‘the development of HR systems’. I can only refer to my remarks today on the Council’s and General Board’s Reports on the way HR has been getting on on the risk-management front.

I am aware of a number of instances which suggest that scrutiny is not necessarily working well in keeping an eye on the management of money, especially grant income, at Departmental level.