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No 6412

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Vol cxlvi No 17

pp. 330–341

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

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

The following Reports were discussed:

Annual Report of the Council for the academical year 2014–15, dated 23 November 2015 (Reporter, 6408, 2015–16, p. 226).

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, once again this Annual Report of the Council reads as a report to HEFCE as much as the ‘Report to the University’ that the Statutes require. This has been a trend of recent years and will need watching if the proposals in the Green Paper published in November are eventually implemented. HEFCE would then be replaced by a hybrid Office for Students, taking over the present roles of OFFA and HEFCE and leaving arrangements for the allocation of infrastructure funding for research to be decided. The control mechanism of the Financial Memorandum would presumably disappear. What will Cambridge’s Report to the Council say about that in a future year?

The University-facing part of the Report helpfully includes a list of significant constitutional changes. On one in particular it is important that comment should go on record, because it has resulted in an unsatisfactory confusion of avenues of recourse. The Report reminds the Regent House that in:

April 2014, the General Board and the Council agreed to commission a limited review on the operation of the Septemviri following the receipt of a letter from Professor Sir John Baker, who chaired the Septemviri in a recent case. The recommendations of a Joint Report, [1] proposing amendments to the process for appeal under the Schedule to Statute C in the case of non-confirmation of appointment, were approved by Grace 2 of 10 June 2015.

However, the 'amendments' which came into force when the Grace was approved were much more wide-ranging. They included, without any explanation of this point in the relevant Report, the addition of the long-needed proper avenue of recourse for any University Officer given an oral or written disciplinary warning who wishes to appeal. A University Teaching Officer or other University Officer in that situation may now appeal to the Septemviri under Special Ordinance C (xiii). However, nothing was done to remove the existing right to appeal through the Grievance Procedure, Schedule to Special Ordinance C (xii), under Statute C VI 2, though that was earlier reshaped, making it even more inappropriate for the purpose of serving as an appeal against a disciplinary decision. It was put on record by Human Resources (HR) in recent cases, after this was pointed out, that an Officer may choose between the two, but is not the truth that no one noticed this bit of constitutional nonsense leading on from the adding in of additional provisions in the lead-up to Grace 2 of 10 June 2015?

I take the opportunity to point out that while for the University courts it is stipulated that the standard of proof is 'beyond reasonable doubt', HR have routinely been applying the lower, civil standard of the balance of probabilities, with the result that the appellant choosing between Grievance and Septemviri is also presumably choosing between two standards of proof to be applied in considering his appeal.

A further area of concern relates to the use made of internal audit. The Council’s Report tells us that 'Deloitte LLP was reappointed for three years with effect from 1 August 2014 to provide the University’s internal audit function'. In the contract between the two, Deloitte agrees a strict basis of confidentiality with the University, to protect itself against litigation. This limits the use that can be made of the findings of such an audit. We are told that 'there is a new approach', to include 'greater self-assurance by Schools and departments/institutions':

The revised approach also includes a stronger engagement with Schools and departments/institutions and the internal auditors have attended School Council meetings to discuss internal audit matters.

What is the value of this if the resulting audit report continues to be seen only by the Registrary and the Audit Committee and possibly a bare few others? And how does this sit with the raising of concerns by individuals from within these newly self-assuring bodies? The confidentiality of the report can place the raiser of a concern in a difficult position when it comes to follow-up.

The Report says that 'the University has taken an engaged but 'apolitical' approach to discussions about undergraduate tuition fee levels'. (I think the phrase should be 'non-party-political'. The discussions have surely by any definition been 'political'.) Here I note with interest that the task of identifying the exact cost of 'providing an undergraduate education at Cambridge, using a model for understanding the University's costs' is still a work in 'progress'.

The section on the North West Cambridge Development is remarkably upbeat given the seriousness of the concerns expressed in Discussion in Michaelmas Term 2015. There is a nod to the 'challenges', but little more. The Council says it 'received a briefing at each of its meetings in the past year' and was 'informed particularly of problems with the site-wide infrastructure works contract and recent inflationary pressures within the construction market'. Then 'the Council, at its meeting on 13 July 2015, accepted the Finance Committee’s recommendation that the Audit Committee be asked to commission an investigation into the governance and management structures for the project'. We await the publication of its second report promised early this Lent Term. Then what happens?

Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academical year 2014–15, dated 4 November 2015 (Reporter, 6408, 2015–16, p. 239).

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the General Board has introduced a sort of ‘Executive Summary’ into this year’s report, with blue links, to save members of the Regent House having to read the whole Report. Nevertheless, one hopes they will. The overlap on certain topics with the Council Report encourages me to put the two together in commenting on one or two points in the General Board Report.

First, student matters. It is good to read that the 'Good Practice Framework for handling complaints and academic appeals' which the office of the Independent Adjudicator published in December 20141 is prompting review of the Competition and Markets Authority’s guidance2 (with a nod to the current audit of compliance with that guidance), but indications in the Green Paper of how this will all sit among the proposals there seem slight.

It would be interesting to know how Cambridge’s Fitness to Study provision is working out in practice. I understand that other universities have encountered difficulties in implementing their corresponding procedures. It will be important for Cambridge to learn from other universities further down the road with their own provision.

Low approval ratings for taught postgraduate degrees have prompted some overdue action to encourage review of taught Master’s Degree provision within institutions and to revisit examination arrangements. There seems to have been too much 'growing like Topsy'.

More general will be the need, if the Green Paper’s Teaching Excellence Framework proposals go through, for the University to be able to demonstrate the excellence of its teaching. A new Learning and Teaching Strategy for 2015–18 was published in November, with a promise to 'amend' it in the light of HEFCE’s possible new 'quality assessment' requirements (probably on hold now if HEFCE is to be abolished) and the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills requirements over 'teaching excellence'. The Strategy may be read online, though regrettably not in the Reporter.3

Secondly, employment matters. I read with surprise of the University’s success in retaining its 'HR Excellence in Research' rating 'in supporting the career development of research staff'. There are plenty of initiatives, as listed. The Office for Postdoctoral Affairs is apparently to be joined by a 'postdoctoral academy'. But nothing seems to be happening to tackle at its root the problem of career insecurity for researchers. Perhaps the 'Aspiring Leaders Programme' will help focus minds, or failing that the 'Leadership Essentials programme' which has been 'rolled out'. And a 'short programme on Managing Successful Change has been developed'. Other 'leadership programmes have continued to be delivered: Senior Leaders Succession Programme; Leadership Programme for Heads of Institution; Leadership Masterclass series; Level 3 and 5 programmes in Leadership and Management; and the Administrator Development Programme'. Very reassuring.

The section on Human Resources (HR) lists a number of standard topics-of-the-moment (shared parental leave, pay settlements, gender issues) on which there has been action. There remains the big question of competence, which I think strikes everyone who has any dealings with most university HR provision in the context of dispute resolution, and Cambridge is, I am afraid, no exception.

A very important point was made in a recent case on the right to be accompanied, where the court criticized a university for providing the 'prosecution' with senior HR assistance and leaving the employee with no equivalent support: Stevens v. University of Birmingham [2015] EWHC 2300 (QB).4 Cambridge HR continues to support management and leave the employee without HR help. This can scarcely be said to meet the requirement to ensure equality of arms, especially when the individual is inevitably disadvantaged in a dispute with an entity as rich and powerful as this University.

Another important case for HR to take note of this year is Ramphal v. Department for Transport [2015] UKEAT/0352/14,5 in which it was held that when a disciplinary investigation is heavily influenced by HR the subsequent dismissal may be unfair.

Reports and Financial Statements for the year ended 31 July 2015 (Reporter, 6408, 2015–16, p. 244).

No remarks were made on this report.