Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6408

Friday 11 December 2015

Vol cxlvi No 13

pp. 224–285

Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academical year 2014–15

1. Introduction

1.1 The General Board present this Annual Report on their work for the academical year 2014–15.

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 Master’s Degree provision (para. 2.1);

a national review of future quality assessment arrangements (para. 3.1);

the outcome of REF 2014 (para. 5.1);

international engagement activities (section 6);

successful outcomes of audits by the UK Visas and Immigration Higher Education Assurance Team (para. 9.2).

1.3 The Board considered, on a number of occasions during the year, the governance arrangements for Schools, Faculties, and Departments. They will be consulting on these matters in the Michaelmas Term 2015.

2. Teaching and Learning, and quality assurance

2.1 Both the National Student Survey (NSS) and the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) were conducted in 2014. Whilst the overall satisfaction rate in the NSS was, at 91%, one percentage point lower than the previous year, it was amongst the highest of the Russell Group institutions and considerably higher than the sector average. The Board are, however, not complacent (a number of other universities have improved their scores considerably) and, through their Education Committee, have continued to engage Faculties and Departments in analysis of the results, particularly those institutions where satisfaction rates were lower than the University average.

In 2014 78% of postgraduate taught students declared (through the PTES) that their expectations had been met. That rate was lower than both the Russell Group and sector averages and reinforced the Board’s interest in enhancing this particular aspect of the University’s educational provision. Steps have been taken to improve the quality and consistency of the information available to prospective Master’s Degree students. The Board have asked each School to review taught Master’s Degree provision within its institutions; reports from the Schools will be considered in the Michaelmas Term 2015. The Board, with the support of the Colleges, authorized a pilot scheme whereby M.Phil. Degree students commencing in October 2014 were invited to provide a self-assessment of their experience and progress. The response rate (58%) and the success of the pilot have justified rolling the scheme out to all Master’s Degree students with effect from the Michaelmas Term 2015. In another initiative in this area, the Board reported to the University, in July 2015, on examination arrangements for the M.Phil. Degree (Reporter, 6394, 2014–15, p. 762) to provide separate, but more coherent, examination frameworks for those M.Phil. Degrees based primarily on research and examined by means of a dissertation and oral examination only and those with other formally assessed components.

2.2 The Board’s Education Committee has introduced regular meetings with Directors of Teaching (or their equivalent) across the University, one of which has contributed to the development of the Board’s next Learning and Teaching Strategy, for 2015–18, which will be finalized and published early in the Michaelmas Term 2015. The Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) has taken steps to strengthen the Board’s Education Committee’s Teaching and Learning Sub-Committee, reinforcing the joint interest of the University and the Colleges in this area, as well as establishing working groups to look at student workload, and to look at shared academic spaces in part to ensure that teaching and learning considerations are fed into the decision-making process for the University’s estate.

2.3 As part of the Board’s rolling programme of Learning and Teaching Reviews, the following institutions were reviewed in 2014–15: the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages; the Departments of Engineering, Land Economy, and of Plant Sciences; the Institute of Astronomy; and the Computer Laboratory. During the year the Education Committee considered responses to reviews of the following institutions: the Faculties of Architecture and History of Art, and of Classics; and the Departments of Geography and of Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience. The Education Committee, in addition to its customary one-year follow-up to monitor progress made in implementing recommendations arising out of Learning and Teaching Reviews, gave particular on-going attention in this area to the Faculties of Economics and of Education. These led to broad agreement between the Education Committee and those Faculties on steps to be taken in relation to their educational provision. The Education Committee is also reviewing the Learning and Teaching Review process as a whole to ensure both that it remains fit for purpose and that the load falling on reviewed institutions is proportionate.

The Board also considered annual presentations from the Directors of the Institute of Continuing Education (ICE), the Fitzwilliam Museum, and of Kettle’s Yard, focussing particularly on their contributions to the University’s teaching and research. The Board, through their Education Committee, endorsed a strategic report from the Board of Executive and Professional Education which made recommendations regarding the development of these particular streams of the University’s educational provision. (That report can be found at Finally, the Board reported to the University on future arrangements for the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) (Reporter, 6391, 2014–15, p. 644), the recommendations of which were approved by the Regent House. The Board’s next Learning and Teaching Strategy (see 2.2 above) will include a Digital Strategy for Education.

3. External scrutiny and stakeholder engagement

3.1 The Board have responded, through their Education Committee, to two consultations from HEFCE on future quality assessment arrangements. Those responses have emphasized that: institutional autonomy should not be undermined; a uniform quality assurance system covering all types of provider within the sector is no longer appropriate; any future system which endeavoured to ensure full comparability of provision at all levels and between all institutions within the sector was unlikely to succeed; the external examining system remained an important means of ensuring quality, but any move to compile a register of ‘approved’ and ‘trained’ external examiners was likely to be counterproductive; any future system should not cause a proliferation of additional data requirements; and the number of bodies involved in quality assurance nationally should be kept to a minimum. In connection with the last point, the Board await a consultation (due in the Michaelmas Term 2015) from the Department of Business, Innovation, and Skills regarding a future ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’.

3.2 Following publication by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator of its ‘Good Practice Framework for handling complaints and academic appeals’ in December 2014 (, work has been undertaken to review the University’s Student Complaints Procedure and the procedures for handling examination representations, to review the extent to which these procedures meet the OIA’s framework. Proposed changes to these procedures will be considered in the Michaelmas Term 2015. In response to the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) advice on ‘Higher Education: consumer law advice for providers and students’ (, the Board have, in consultation with the Colleges, undertaken a review of the information made available to prospective undergraduate students with regard to the Undergraduate Prospectus, admissions web information, and what the CMA regards as ‘Terms and Conditions’. As part of that response, information specific to Cambridge undergraduate education was issued to all those whose offer of admission was confirmed for October 2015. Additional steps will be taken once the outcome of a CMA Audit of the sector is known in the Michaelmas Term 2015.

3.3 The University successfully negotiated with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) a new access agreement for 2016–17 which, following negotiations with its Director, resulted in the following undergraduate admissions targets: a state sector target of 62–64%; a target of 10–13% for students from POLAR quintiles 1 and 2 (i.e. the 40% of postcodes which have the lowest participation rates in higher education); a minimum commitment to offer 600 places on summer schools each year; and a non-continuation target of 2.1%.

4. Degrees, courses, and examinations

4.1 During the course of the year, the Board have approved amendments to the regulations for the Degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and the Bachelor of Surgery, arising from revisions to the teaching programme, modes of assessment, and the maximum period within which a candidate can complete the programme, and substantial amendments to the Computer Science Tripos (to take effect from October 2017). They also approved a change of title to the Theology and Religious Studies Tripos, with effect from October 2017, to Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion. Substantial work has been undertaken in consultation with the Schools of the Arts and Humanities and the Humanities and Social Sciences regarding new Triposes: Reports to the Regent House will be presented in the Michaelmas Term 2015. The Board have approved new M.Phil. programmes in Basic and Translational Neuroscience, and in Genomic Medicine. A new M.Res. programme in Management Studies was also approved, as were M.St. programmes in Genomic Medicine, Social Innovation, Clinical Medicine, and Real Estate. A number of new ‘non-member’ awards, at Certificate or Diploma level, were approved in a range of subjects including Astronomy, Creative Writing, English Medieval Studies, and Sustainability Leadership.

4.2 The Board, with the Board of Examinations, have launched a fundamental review of various aspects of University examinations, details of which were published in a Notice of 29 July 2015 (Reporter, 6395, 2014–15, p. 820). A first report arising out of that review is scheduled for 2015–16.

5. Research

5.1 The Board are pleased to report the very positive outcome of REF 2014, the results of which were published by HEFCE on 17 December 2014. HEFCE reported that over 52,000 academic staff were returned across 154 UK universities, with the submissions being evaluated by a series of panels comprising UK (and a small number of international) experts, and external users of research. Overall, the panels judged 30% of the submitted work to be ‘world leading’ (4*) and a further 46% to be ‘internationally excellent’ (3*). The quality of research outputs was found to have improved significantly since RAE 2008 with 22% of research outputs in the REF being judged to be of ‘world-leading’ (4*) quality, up from 14% in 2008. A further 50% of outputs were judged to be of ‘internationally excellent’ (3*) quality, up from 37%. The submissions to REF 2014 were assessed under the headings ‘outputs’ (65%), ‘environment’ (15%), and ‘impact’ (20%), and a significant number of Units of Assessment (UoAs) in RAE 2008 were consolidated into more broadly-defined units in REF 2014.

5.2 Within this context, the Board were pleased to note that Cambridge had made 32 submissions (containing 2,088 FTE) and that all Cambridge submissions were assessed to have a grade point average (GPA) above the national average for that UoA. As calculated on an FTE-weighted basis, 47% of the Cambridge submissions were judged to be ‘world-leading’ (4*), increased from 32% in RAE 2008, and a further 40% to be ‘internationally excellent’. The Board considered the Cambridge performance by UoA and concluded that there were many excellent and very good performances across the University. The University also performed strongly in the various league tables that were published following the REF, most notably when results were weighted to take into account the ratio of staff submitted to the REF against the number of staff employed by the University and therefore potentially eligible for submission to the REF.

5.3 The Board also acknowledged that while it was important to celebrate and recognize the successful outcome of REF 2014, the University must seek continued improvement in assessments of this type. As is their normal practice, the Board, in consultation with the Schools, will be undertaking further work to analyze the outcome, and to support the continued development of the University’s Research Strategy.

5.4 Following consultations with the Schools, the Board endorsed a proposal to convene external advisory boards and discipline-based reviews, designed to provide comprehensive coverage of research at Cambridge over the four year period 2015–16 to 2018–19.

The Board also gave consideration to governance arrangements for the REF 2020, and their REF Working Group identified a number of key actions including the establishment of a provisional governance structure for the management of activities leading up to the expected REF 2020 exercise.

5.5 The Board are pleased to report that research income has continued to grow to in excess of £410m in what continues to be a very competitive environment for research funding within the UK and internationally. The University has also enjoyed sustained success in winning new grants and awards in excess of £430m with high profile award successes across the Schools.

6. International engagement

6.1 During 2014–15, the University continued to develop and implement what is currently acknowledged, in the UK and overseas, to be one of the most effective institutional strategies for international engagement.

6.2 The University has maintained its position as the most visible and active UK university in Europe, taking a central role in the political negotiations surrounding proposed cuts to the Horizon2020 budget. The Vice-Chancellor led Russell Group and UUK delegations to argue for the importance of ‘excellent science’ as the foundation of Europe’s future prosperity. With the support of the European Parliament, €500m of proposed cuts to the Horizon2020 budget were reversed.

Further indications of Cambridge’s leading role in Europe have included: the submission of 16 bids, involving five Schools and Cambridge Enterprise, under the Twinning instrument of Horizon2020; the announcement by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) of an investment of €1m over five years to create a Research Hub in the arts, humanities, and social sciences; and the commencement of discussions with the Max-Planck Society, with a view to developing a strategic relationship.

6.3 EU research funding remains important to the University, but significant challenges remain, arising, for example, from the priorities of the new Commission, reduced success rates in EU-funded programmes, and a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

6.4 In May 2015, the Indian Minister of State for Science and Technology signed an agreement to establish five, fixed-term early career fellowships, co-funded by the University and the Government of India. In addition, the first NCBS-InStem-Cambridge postdoctoral fellows, funded by the National Centre of Biological Sciences in Bangalore, are also expected to take up their posts in 2015–16, working in departments in the Schools of the Biological Sciences and of Clinical Medicine. The University’s partnership with India will be further strengthened by the award of £2.2m to a Cambridge-Chennai bid for a joint centre on anti-microbial resistant tuberculosis.

6.5 The Cambridge-Africa Programme secured renewed funding from philanthropic sources, and has begun to develop a five-year strategy to expand its programmes and activities.

6.6 Last year’s signs of increasing interest in engagement by China have been borne out with a number of approaches by different Chinese bodies seeking access to intellectual property emerging from the University on a commercial basis. The International Strategy Office held a China Forum to enable University institutions and the Colleges better to assess the opportunities and risks.

6.7 A more strategic approach to strengthening the University’s relationships with partners in the USA is being pursued. Discussions with Georgetown University stimulated a partnership with the REAL Centre at the Faculty of Education in the area of girls’ education. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation confirmed funding of $2m towards an endowment for the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH), and the Carnegie Corporation of New York renewed its funding for the Cambridge-Africa Programme. Further concerted engagement will be required to position Cambridge as a leading university among potential US-based partners and funders.

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 during the course of the year is 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 (the Budget Report). Although the forecasts for the coming five years show a small surplus planned on the Chest in most years, this remains well below the level needed for long-term sustainability; accordingly the University’s finances remain, as reported last year, finely balanced. Indeed, the projection for 2015–16 is for a small deficit on the Chest.

7.2 The planning horizon continues to be dominated by a number of financial risks. On the income side, there remains a great deal of uncertainty concerning future levels of government funding for teaching and research, whilst on the expenditure side cost pressures on major items including pay, pensions, energy costs, and construction costs are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The PRC has issued guidance for the next Planning Round which again allows for a prudent 1% increase in allocations to institutions.

7.3 The Board reported in their previous Annual Report that attention had been given to ensuring that Chest-derived reserves held by Schools were being appropriately deployed to support teaching and research, as opposed to continuing to accumulate. The accounts for 2013–14 showed that, in aggregate, such reserves had reduced slightly. Understanding the reasons why Schools hold reserves, and striking an appropriate balance between accumulating reserves and using them to make strategic investments in academic activity, remains a continuing theme of the Planning Round.

7.4 The Board note 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.

7.5 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 Finance, in Judge Business School;

Professorship of Management Accounting, in Judge Business School;

Professorship of Molecular Endocrinology, in the Department of Clinical Biochemistry;

LEGO Professorship of Play in Education, Development, and Learning, in the Faculty of Education;

Janeway Professorship of Financial Economics, in the Faculty of Economics; and

Professorship of Respiratory Science, in the Department of Medicine.

9. Human Resources

9.1 During 2014–15 the Shared Parental Leave policy was introduced, providing options for new parents to manage leave arrangements during the first year of their child’s life. Significant progress has been made in the development of an Organizational Change policy, and work has commenced to improve current disciplinary, grievance, and appeal procedures.

9.2 The University was audited by the UK Visas and Immigration Higher Education Assurance Team during March 2015. The University received a positive endorsement of its compliance procedures, thus maintaining the University’s Tier 2 and Tier 5 Sponsor Licence. A Tier 4 audit (for students) also led to a successful outcome.

9.3 The national pay settlement was delayed due to formal dispute procedures at national level. Amendments to the single salary spine were made to convert the lowest contribution points of grades 1, 5, and 6 to service points with effect from 1 January 2015. Following an increase in the rate of the Living Wage, measures were put in place to ensure those staff paid on spine point 16 remained in line with the revised rate.

9.4 The Insights in Gender Event in July 2015 marked the end of a year of significant activity in progressing gender equality. A wide range of speakers reported on positive measures such as the Returning Carers Scheme. Partnering with the 30% Club, an event was organized to engage senior leaders in academia in discussing changes needed in HE to support women’s careers. Since that event over twenty universities have joined the 30% Club Higher Education Initiative, focussing on gender representation and the student experience. The University received its Athena SWAN silver award 2014, recognizing its commitment and work on gender equality, representation, and success. Athena SWAN for the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Business, and Law was introduced in April 2015.

9.5 A successful bid was made to retain European Commission recognition of the University’s HR Excellence in Research in supporting the development of research staff. The Teaching Associates’ Programme for early career researchers was extended to meet increasing demand. The Leadership Essentials Programme has been introduced to enhance skills in managing others. An extension of that programme, Managing Successful Change, has been developed. The Strategic Development Programme was piloted during the year to provide skills development for senior generalist administrators. The technician training and apprenticeship project has made significant progress during the course of the year, and work to support career pathways for library staff has been completed.

9.6 The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPdA) has continued to grow as a focus for the postdoctoral community. Work on effective mentoring for postdoctoral workers has been trialled and a series of activities now provide support and opportunities for development. Active engagement with industry to explore employment issues has been a significant theme, and the Office’s Director has taken a lead role in developing the vision for a Postdoctoral Academy.

10. Health and Safety

10.1 The Occupational Health and Safety Service (OHSS), consisting of the merged departments of the Safety Office, Occupational Health Service, and Staff Counselling Service, continues to prioritize the provision of risk-focused support, including advice, training, environmental monitoring, work-related clinical health services, and counselling to University institutions and their staff. Oversight of governance remains the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive Committee (HSEC), chaired by the Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor.

10.2 There have been no significant changes in relevant health and safety legislation during 2014–15. However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) continues to review its policies and Codes of Practice, while OHSS continues to ensure University policies and procedures remain effective and proportionate. A new website was launched which simplifies access to all the support functions of the service.

10.3 Key contracts held by OHSS for specialized services in hazardous waste disposal were renewed on the basis of continued high quality of service to Departments, assured compliance with statutory requirements, and good value.

10.4 The close working relationship between Estate Management (EM) and OHSS has continued to deliver an enhanced audit/inspection programme for building projects, contractor oversight and Duty of Care visits, and comprehensive health and safety training programmes for EM staff.

10.5 The Staff Counselling Service became fully integrated into OHSS. The demand for the service has increased during 2014–15, in line with national trends; however the Head of Staff Counselling has implemented various improvements to the service including triage prioritization to maximize counsellor time and resource, although additional counsellors are being recruited to maintain service provision.

10.6 The Report to the General Board on the Governance of Animal Research, completed in summer 2014, identified no failings in compliance but recommended restructuring to bring University Biomedical Services within the UAS as part of a new unified Division of Health, Safety, and Regulated Facilities.

4 November 2015

L. K. Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor

Robert Kennicutt

Richard Prager

Philip Allmendinger

Patrick Maxwell

Helen Thompson

Robert Cashman

Martin Millett

Graham Virgo

Anne Davis

Rachael Padman

Chris Young

Abigail Fowden