Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6391

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Vol cxlv No 35

pp. 632–650

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Lynn Gladden was presiding, with the Registrary’s Deputy, the Junior Pro-Proctor, the Deputy Senior Proctor, and three other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Report of the Council, dated 18 May 2015, on the future development of the West Cambridge site (Reporter, 6387, 2014–15, p. 544).

Dr A. J. Flewitt (Department of Engineering, and Sidney Sussex College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as an academic based in the Electrical Engineering Division at West Cambridge and with responsibility for the Division’s Clean Facility, I was delighted to see that the University is formulating a clear plan for the future of the West Cambridge site. There is an opportunity here for the University to create a world-leading research campus, but enabling this through greater sharing of facilities across Schools is essential.

The vision is to create ‘flexible, efficient space for University use and deliver shared facilities’ and to ‘support the commercialization of knowledge through entrepreneurship and collaboration with industry’. However, the accompanying figure indicates that genuinely shared facilities make up no more than 12% of the total of planned space, which includes teaching resources, so shared research facilities will be a small fraction of this. The purpose of having technology and physical sciences departments co-located on one site should be to enable the sharing of facilities where it is beneficial.

The case that is closest to my heart is the provision of so-called ‘clean room’ microfabrication facilities, of which there are several on the West Cambridge site already. Running multiple facilities which duplicate equipment is not only inefficient, but means that opportunities for new research are more limited through a lack of co-ordinated equipment access. Success in applications for equipment funding will also be reduced. What is needed is a central microfabrication facility located at West Cambridge. At the end of the day, great research is not in the fabrication of devices, but in the physics and engineering of the devices themselves and their use; a central Facility would enable this.

We need to be conscious that we are competing in a global research environment with the likes of Stanford, MIT, ETH Zurich, and IMEC (Interuniversity Microelectonics Centre), which all have tended to go down the route of centralized microfabrication facilities. Furthermore, such a staffed facility would allow the high-tech ecosystem of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Cambridge region to access a world-class facility for microfabrication – it would give the region its own ‘Fab House’. This would greatly increase the likelihood of success, not only for existing SMEs, but would make it far easier for spin-outs from the University to successfully bring products to a prototype stage.

Having such a central Facility would also have a positive impact on any future REF (Research Excellence Framework) submission: more world-leading publications, a better research environment, and easier translation of technology to industry.

It would be an important part of delivering the West Cambridge ‘vision’.

Dr S. J. Cowley (Faculty of Mathematics), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am on sabbatical in Australia, but for eight years until December 2014 I was a member of the Council, and for the last four of those years I was a member of the Planning and Resources Committee (PRC).

The elephant in the room in this Report is in paragraph 25 (my italics):

25. The outline planning permission will be accompanied by a Section 106 legal agreement, which will be negotiated with the City Council to ensure that the University mitigates the impact of the development. The Section 106 agreement could include measures such as highways improvements, public transport subsidies, travel planning measures, off-site infrastructure requirements, and public art.

One of the major subjects of discussion at the PRC was on access, and how to get people on and off the site (given that it is proposed to more than double the area currently built on the site, and nearly double the area currently permitted through outline planning permission). This is a potentially contentious issue; for instance, one of the early suggestions was a relief road between junctions 12 and 13 of the M11, that might then open up the development of the land between the West Cambridge site and Barton Road (for clarity I note that I live in South, not West, Cambridge). I hope that in the reply to this Discussion, the Council will expand the somewhat short reference to access in the penultimate but one paragraph given that planning permission may depend on it.

Mr N. M. Maclaren (University Information Services), read by the Junior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice Chancellor, it is a pity that the map in the Report is truncated, because it makes it hard to see what is proposed; there is also no link to the draft master plan. Could the Council please inform the Regent House rather more effectively in future?

I shall comment on one aspect: that of the transport issues. I am on the Consultative Cycling Group for North West and West Cambridge and, I regret to say, more attention seems to be being given to the political aspects than the engineering ones. I raised the question of why they were not using the official, generally good, design guidelines,1 which say that undivided roads are best for low-traffic, low-speed roads, such as for the West Cambridge site. They also give minimum recommended standards when cycle facilities are needed.

The response was that those are regarded as out-of-date, but as far as I could see without being actually superseded by anything. Also, the plan appears to be to find out what ‘stakeholders’ want and, only in the light of that, analyse the requirements and constraints. The intent also seems to be to provide off-road cycle paths and shared footpaths. That is, to a great extent, what the County Council has been doing for the past few decades, and has led to what are justly called ‘psychle farcilities’. Some consequences of that are worth considering.

The first is that moving cyclists off such calm roads needs much more space. The minimum width of a pavement, allowing space for pedestrians to pass and assuming one is vulnerable, is 1.5 metres. The minimum for a cycle path, with similar requirements, is 2.5 metres, and many cyclists cannot negotiate obstacles or very sharp turns without endangering themselves or other people. Even an undivided shared path needs 3 metres.

The second is that it encourages people to believe that cycling is an alternative to walking, rather than to driving. What figures there are, indicate that the median cycling speed in the UK is probably 60–70% of what it was before ‘cycle facilities’ started to spread, and my observations of Cambridge cycling over the past 40 years are compatible with that. Most planning seems to use maximum reasonable walking and cycling distances of 2 km and 5 km, respectively, corresponding to speeds of 3 mph and 7.5 mph, which are the average speeds in the official statistics. However, the traditional rule for cycling speeds was 12 mph, which needs the same effort as walking at 3 mph, and would correspond to 8 km. The former excludes Addenbrookes to West Cambridge, the latter does not, and my experience is whether cyclists think that trip is too far depends mainly on their cycling speed.

The third, and worst, is that less than optimal cycle and pedestrian facilities discriminate against partially disabled people, and often even the less athletic ones. This is because we need good sight and balance, and often hearing, which we may not have, just to use them safely; in extreme cases, the so-called cycle facilities are too dangerous to use at all. When Trumpington Road was ‘improved’ for the Park and Ride scheme, the long-term effect was that the number of cyclists passing my house (nearly opposite Scotsdales, on Cambridge Road, Great Shelford) dropped by 30%. Many cycling commuters were forced to give up cycling, and some started driving to work. The same applies, even more strongly, to the people who need a tricycle or, worse, a powered or manual wheelchair. Cambridge is notoriously hostile to them, because the cycling and pedestrian facilities are often unusable, and the provision of those often makes the carriageway unusable for them.

This also applies to the vulnerable pedestrians who generally regard pavement cyclists as the worst danger to them, for good reasons. There is a bus stop on Trumpington Road opposite some sheltered accommodation; a noticeable number of the residents stopped using the bus, because of the danger from pavement cyclists, and some started to drive instead. While this issue may not be relevant to the West Cambridge site, it almost certainly will be to the North West Cambridge one.

Another aspect of this is that, if such a vulnerable person is a member of staff, the Disability Discrimination Act requires an employer to make reasonable adjustments, which most definitely include permission to park a car if the available cycling (or walking!) routes are too difficult for that person. Sight, balance, and hearing losses are common, especially among the more elderly, and it does not make sense to force more such people to drive than absolutely necessary, especially as they will require parking space.

If the University wants people to prefer cycling and walking to driving, it is going to have to engineer the road system properly for such uses. And that means following the proper design guidelines and not the political fads.

Report of the Council, dated 18 May 2015, on external finance for certain building projects, including North West Cambridge and the non-operational estate (Reporter, 6387, 2014–15, p. 548).

Dr S. J. Cowley (Faculty of Mathematics), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am on sabbatical in Australia, but for eight years until December 2014 I was a member of the Council, and for the last four of those years I was a member of the Planning and Resources Committee (PRC).

I was one of the members of the Council who approved the issuance of a public bond for £350m on 17 October 2012 (arguably the biggest decision I will ever be part of in my life). When the Council approved that decision there was an extensive and well-argued case for the borrowing in order to proceed with the North West Cambridge development. I note, with some reassurance, that the

‘financial appraisal for Phase 1 of North West Cambridge continues to show its ability to pay the interest and the principal of its share of the proceeds within the 40-year time frame of the bond’.

It was also argued in October 2012 that the favourable market conditions might not persist; a similar observation is included in this Report. It is true that the market conditions have not remained stable; they have in fact become more favourable in that, as the Report notes, ‘interest rates have continued to fall’.

Hence, while this Report notes that the ‘public bond issued in 2012 was judged to be well-timed’, with hindsight at least part of it could have been better timed (and for that I accept my responsibility).

Given the above history, one might be slightly sceptical with an argument for borrowing £300m based on the observation that ‘the favourable market conditions may not persist’. It is true that some believe that interest rates are likely to increase soon, but it is difficult to predict the future, and others say rates will not pick up for some time yet. For that reason, I would urge the Council to be sufficiently clear in its own mind what it is going to do with the money. I agree with Professor Anderson, the Council should first decide what the money is for, and then present an extensive and well-argued case for borrowing £300m; a justification that the money is ‘for income-generating projects’ seems to me to be somewhat weak (see also below).

Indeed, I was somewhat surprised to see reference to the Old Press/Mill Lane site in the current Report. Whilst on the PRC I had been under the impression that this development was going to wash its own face, in fact more than wash its own face. My previous contribution to a Discussion was on 25 November 2014, when I argued that insufficient ducks were lined up to proceed with the Student Services Centre given other calls on University funds. In that Discussion I quoted from the PRC Minutes of 15 October 2014:

‘A detailed cost/benefit analysis for the Student Services Centre was not possible due to commercially-sensitive information in relation to the Old Press/Mill Lane site. ...’

The implication of this Minute, and my recollection of that PRC meeting (and earlier ones), was that the development of the Old Press/Mill Lane site was going to contribute to the University’s coffers (and in particular to the cost of the Student Services Centre). That does not seem to be the implication, at least in the short term, of this Report.

Indeed, one of the frustrations while I was on the Council was that, at times, arguments seemed to be rather flexible. Often nothing was ever Minuted in sufficient detail to pin-down any 90 degree turn (if not U-turn), but in my mind there is somewhat of a turn here as regards the Old Press/Mill Lane site.

The Council and officers should be clear in their mind as to what they believe interest rates are going to do. If they are not going to increase, then there is no urgency, and there is time for plans to be fully developed (and for the implications of the next round of austerity to be assessed). However, if the Council and officers believe that there is urgency because interest rates are going to rise, then as well as proceeding with a further round of borrowing I hope that they will convey this belief to the USS (Universities Superannuation Scheme) Trustee. Far better minds than mine have robustly argued that the ‘Gilts plus’ method of setting the discount rate in assessing the liabilities of the USS is unwise. Nevertheless, if one uses that method, and interest rates are going to rise, the [virtual] liabilities of the USS will decrease, so allowing mitigation of the proposed draconian changes to USS. I hope that the Council and officers will be consistent.

The Council and officers may, however, be somewhat reticent to put the University’s money where their collective mouth is, at least as regards USS; possibly arguing prudence. However, if prudence is going to be argued, should not the University be consistently prudent? Initially the Capital Plan was going to have a borrowing ceiling of £Nm (based on the proceeds of the first bond, where from memory N=100, but I do not have my records in Australia to check). However, it was then agreed to raise the ceiling by £50m (I expressed concern at both the PRC and the Council), and later it was agreed to transfer £150m from the reserves, primarily for Bio-facilities. ‘Spending spree’ is putting it too strongly, but financial prudence was certainly moving towards the back seat. There is an argument that, with austerity even more firmly in the driving seat, prudence should at least start moving forward again. As noted in the University’s Political Affairs Bulletin circulated earlier this week, Universities are in the ‘firing line as BIS faces almost half a billion in new cuts’.1 The Council might reflect on whether Professor Anderson has a point in that the remaining triple-A borrowing capacity might be needed for assets such as academic buildings that support the University’s core mission (or even for bailing out USS if interest rates do not increase), rather than for non-operational-estate income-generating projects.


Report of the Council, dated 18 May 2015, on the financial position and budget of the University, recommending allocations from the Chest for 2015–16 (Reporter, 6387, 2014–15, p. 550).

Professor S. J. Young (Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Planning and Resources), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this will be my final Budget Report as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Planning and Resources. At the start of my six-year tenure, the University was facing an uncertain economic future and a prolonged period of reduced income. Following a zero cash increase in 2010–11, budgets were cut by 2% in 2011–12, and subsequently they have increased by just 1% per annum. This regime was designed to steer a sensible path between balancing our books and maintaining a healthy state of operations. Overall, it was expected to result in a cumulative chest deficit of around £30m over the five-year period before returning to surplus in 2015–16.

In fact, the cuts were not as deep as expected and thanks to the careful budgeting of Schools and institutions, a significant cumulative deficit has been avoided. Indeed, despite below inflation budget increases, Schools did not spend all of their allocations, and between July 2009 and July 2013, they accumulated an additional £23m into their own chest reserves.

Although the cuts were not as deep as expected, it is now clear that they are going to last longer. The new government has made a commitment to make further reductions in public spending over the next three years and the budget scheduled for 8 July and the subsequent comprehensive spending review will clarify what that means for higher education. In the meantime, faced with this continuing uncertainty, the budget proposed for 2015–16 continues to provide a modest 1% per annum increase. As shown in Table 4 of the Report, on current assumptions this will keep the chest broadly in balance until 2018–19 at which point it should move back into surplus.

I will not remark further on the details of either the current year or the year ahead, since they are well documented in the report and accompanying tables. However, I would like to comment on two aspects of the Report.

Firstly, Professor Anderson declined to sign the Report and added a note of dissent which states

‘I cannot support allocating more new Chest funds to the UAS than to all of the University’s academic Departments put together.’

In fact, this statement is incorrect since as noted in paragraph 32, £0.8m of the increased allocation is a simple cost-neutral change in accounting resulting from the move of facilities management pay costs out of an administered fund into the UAS pay budget. This change was requested by the RMC (Resource Management Committee) in order to give greater transparency to our administrative pay bill. It does not provide the UAS with increased resource. The bulk of the remaining increase in allocation was a consequence of planned increases in the Research Office and Estates Management to deal with the rapidly growing research base and our accelerating building programme. Both had the full support of the Heads of Schools.

Secondly, I would like to draw attention to the comment made in paragraph 9 of the Report which merits repetition:

‘The University is one of the top ten universities in the world, and most measures place it in the top five. This level of international standing is a key factor in our ability to continue to attract the very best staff and students to Cambridge. Such reputations are hard won and easily lost. Failure to invest adequately in staff, students, and facilities therefore represents the most significant risk of all.’

If we do face significant cuts in the next few years, then it is in my view essential that we continue to adequately fund our continuing operations and continue to invest in the physical estate. Total consolidated net assets of this University as of July 2014 stood at £3.18bn compared to £2.18bn in July 2009. This represents a year on year compound annual growth of 8% per annum. As we increase our investment in fund-raising, there is no reason why this growth rate should not continue. Hence if there are further reductions in the next few years, we have the financial capacity to avoid making damaging cuts to our academic programmes and capital investment plans. Spending into our reserves entails risk, but this risk is small compared to the risk of damaging our ability to compete with our international peer group. So if significant cuts do come, I urge Council not to overreact and be prepared to spend into our reserves to see us through them.

Finally, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to express my thanks to the many staff of the UAS who have worked hard to produce the data and projections that inform this Report, which I commend to the Regent House.

Professor R. C. Kennicutt (Head of the School of the Physical Sciences), read by the Junior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice Chancellor, I address the Regent House as the Head of the School of the Physical Sciences, and also as the current Convenor of the Heads of Schools. I also currently serve as the University’s scrutineer for the annual planning submission of the Unified Administrative Service (UAS), and in that capacity I chair an annual review of its submission and budget request. These remarks are my own, but they reflect the view of my five colleague Heads of School as well.

Some have noted that in the University’s recommended chest allocations for 2015–16 there is a significant increase in the UAS budget, and a far more modest increase in the allocation to Schools. After allowance for £0.8m of cash-neutral components of the UAS allocation, the bulk of the remaining £1.28m of increased funding is for enhancements to the budgets for the University Research Office and Estates Management. Both increases have the strong support of the Schools, and indeed in the case of the Research Office the Heads of School advocated strongly for an increase in support. Over recent years the volume of externally-funded research activity in the University has expanded dramatically, the complexity and requirements for administering these grants has increased, and staffing in the Research Office has not kept pace. The result has been unsustainable workloads in the office and risk of losing major grants for the lack of sufficient support personnel. Other factors such as the dramatic increase in funding from the European Union and European Research Council and the shift in focus of UK funding towards large collaborative bids have created new support needs that could not be addressed with current support levels. The proposed budget increases, which were vetted over two years of the University’s planning process, will meet the most critical of these needs and position Cambridge to compete effectively with its peer institutions in the UK and Europe.

The proposed increases to the Estates Management Division (EM) were also the result of a careful review and vetting process over the 2014–15 and 2015–16 planning rounds. Here too the volume of the University’s capital programme is expanding considerably, and the proposed augmentations to the EM budget are designed to accommodate the increased workload and improve strategic planning and the management of individual projects.

More broadly the increased allocation for the UAS recommended for 2015–16 follows an extended period of substantial cost savings within the UAS as a whole, where its payroll actually contracted. In cases such as research and estates where activity is growing rapidly this trend of flat or declining budget is unsustainable. I can assure the members of the Regent House that the UAS requests in this budget have been carefully formulated, scrutinized, and reviewed, and they have the full support of the Schools.

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, perhaps one should not worry too much about the actual figures given each summer in what we used to call the ‘Allocations’ Report. For one thing this relates only to Chest money and cannot therefore be set with convenience against the Financial Statements we get in December. For another thing, each year it ‘turns out’ that the ‘out-turn’ was not as forecast, sometimes dramatically. This year ‘the overall position on the Chest was a small surplus of £1.5m compared to a forecast deficit of £0.3m in the Budget Report 2014.’

I speak to confess to some surprise that Professor Ross Anderson’s dissenting note did not have more signatories while the Report itself bears so many. For this is the Report which sets spending policy if the Regent House agrees to the recommendations. Spending policy reflects a statement of policy in a broader sense. So may I briefly flag up some passages embodying policy trends which made me pause, to add to Professor Anderson’s dissenting concern.

On the one hand, the ‘capital plan’ is to be ‘ambitious’, ‘encompassing all of our major sites’ and apparently blind to potentially catastrophic financial risk:

‘overall, the capital plan will require expenditure in excess of £100m per annum for the next twenty years. Financing this plan will be a considerable challenge for fundraising and our ability to attract government support.’

On the other hand, ‘academic time’ seems to be a low priority for mainstream University expenditure, though not, as Professor Anderson points out, UAS (Unified Administrative Service) ‘management’ time. I was lucky enough to become a University Teaching Officer when real tenure was still on offer, and one’s duty as stated in the Oxford and Cambridge Act 1877, which provided the wording for what is now Statute C I 4, was ‘to promote the interests of the University as a place of education, religion, learning, and research’. It was then inconceivable that one should be required to raise the money oneself as now suggested:

‘we must strive to increase the proportion of academic time supported by external funding (so-called PI-time), ensure that all grant proposals are fully costed, and seek to build research portfolios in which low- overhead-paying charity funding is balanced by industrial funding providing no less than 100% of the full economic cost.’

Elsewhere academics have been dismissed for failing to bring in the funding. Is that going to become the norm in Cambridge?

Nor was it to be imagined when I became a University officer that one’s research direction might be inspected by ‘External Advisory Boards across all disciplines in the University’ or that their scrutiny and possible dislike of one’s line of enquiry should take place ‘along with other measures such as a review of employment arrangements and policies’. Can the members of the Council who put their names to this have realized what it means? Many of them are old enough to remember that when Cambridge introduced ‘appraisal’ in the late 1980s it carried a firm promise that an academic’s research was his or her own business and must not form the subject of appraisal.

Real tenure went in 1988 with the partial protection of the Model Statute, Cambridge’s old Statute U. Is the Regent House going to go along with that ‘review of employment arrangements and policies’, with a weakening of the old Statute U, now precariously hanging off Statute C as a mere ‘Schedule’. When they come, will academics open their P45s philosophically because after all they did not bring in the funding for approved research needed to pay their salaries?

Mr N. M. Maclaren (University Information Services), read by the Junior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice Chancellor, I notice that 53% of the total increase in funding is going into administration, and none at all into any non-administrative support other than the Institute of Continuing Education. Perhaps that is reasonable. However, the UIS was created recently and, in response to the question

‘So there is lots of money to create new, additional posts at a very senior level in the department, but all of the technical improvements and savings and efficiencies are going to come by merging together operations at a lower level?’,

the UIS Director responded

‘We have approval for twenty additional posts. The first four of those are the Deputy Directors, ....’

No more money, four more posts at grade twelve, and sixteen other posts means that the average salary of the non-directorial staff is going to be significantly lower. Ah, yes, we have the mantra ‘efficiency savings’. But cheaper staff means less experienced and skilled ones, which is not what the Report on IT Infrastructure and Support recommended, and is not how the Council responded at the time. There are already major problems in recruiting and retaining staff capable of the non-trivial work this University requires. Could the Council join up the dots between its decisions a little better?

Second-stage Report of the Council, dated 27 May 2015, on the construction of education space and gallery refurbishment at Kettle’s Yard (Reporter, 6388, 2014–15, p. 602).

No remarks were made on this Report.