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No 6428

Thursday 2 June 2016

Vol cxlvi No 33

pp. 588–605

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

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

The following Reports were discussed:

Report of the General Board, dated 27 April 2016, on the establishment of certain Professorships (Reporter, 6424, 2015–16, p. 504).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Report of the General Board, dated 27 April 2016, on the introduction of a Doctor of Business Degree in the Judge Business School (Reporter, 6424, 2015–16, p. 505).

Professor R. W. Prager (Head of the School of Technology, and Queens’ College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the School of Technology comprises Departments that combine the highest levels of pure scholarship with outward-facing relevance and impact. Our engagement with industry, commerce, NGOs, and governments helps us to focus on the most relevant challenges, provides funding for academic endeavour at all levels of the pure-to-applied spectrum, and gives us valuable links that help us to apply our discoveries. This applies to all our Departments, whether it is Engineering working on jet engines, the Computer Laboratory working on computer security, the Institute for Sustainability Leadership working on cross-sector sustainable banking initiatives, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology developing sustainable catalysts, or the Judge Business School’s work on entrepreneurship and social innovation. Our engagement with the real world enriches and heightens the focus of our pure academic work rather than undermining it.

The Judge Business School is a full partner in this innovative and holistic approach. They have developed a strategy called ‘deep engagement’ that enables them to link their executive education and research activities. Research can be based on long-term challenges that come to light through shorter-term executive education contracts. The outcome of the research is a scholarly end in itself, but also adds to the expertise of the staff involved in the education.

The Doctor of Business Degree will provide a way for us to engage some of the most talented business people in the world in true academic research of the highest quality. It is not the first professional doctorate we have introduced; we created the Doctor of Engineering Degree in 2005. The proposals for the Doctor of Business Degree have been subject to the most careful development and checking to ensure that the students will deliver sufficient quality and quantity of genuinely original work and that they will be properly supported and fairly assessed. Extensive drafting was first conducted by the Business School. After this, the Graduate School Committee of Technology considered and worked on the proposals at meetings in May and June last year; the Council of the School of Technology gave its approval in October 2015 and passed the proposals on for consideration by the Education Committee of the General Board.

Some people have commented on the price of this degree. As with all pricing decisions, this was chosen taking into account the intended market and the overriding need for scholarly excellence. The Judge Business School takes comparatively few Ph.D. students and ensures the highest standards by making scholarships available to many of them. In this case, the scholarships are necessary to ensure that the best students will come to Cambridge. In the case of the professional doctorate, the Bus.D., the situation is different. It is to be expected that the strongest applicants will be in significant leadership positions such that a more commercial pricing structure is appropriate.

This proposal has been diligently considered and now has broad support as meeting the high standards we all demand of our University. It relates directly to the Business School’s ‘deep engagement’ strategy and is entirely compatible with the way all Departments across Technology seek to draw out synergies between pure and applied research. I commend the proposal to the Regent House.

Professor A. W. F. Edwards (Gonville and Caius College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, whatever the academic merits of this proposal, I do not think the University of Cambridge should have a degree with the title ‘Doctor of Business’ and the abbreviation ‘Bus.D.’. Indeed, I do not think that a new degree should ever be specially created in any subject for an expected annual number of graduates of ‘one or two’. Nor am I impressed by the recital of the string of bodies that support the proposal, which even includes the General Board’s Education Committee, an unofficial advisory committee of the Board itself.

As a matter of fact during my three stints as a member of the General Board, I was for two of them the chairman of the Education Committee, then known as the General Purposes Committee. If these proposed titles had come before us I can hear our esteemed secretary Mr Croston starting sotto voce with

What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Doctor Bus?

at which point I would have lost control of my committee as it dissolved into laughter, only tailing off as he reached the final couplet

Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Doctores Bos

(With apologies to A. D. Godley, Oxford’s Public Oratory, 1910–1920.)

From 1921, when the degree of Doctor of Philosophy was introduced, everyone understood that it was not a higher doctorate of the University. It was also clearly understood that the word ‘philosophy’ was to be interpreted in the broadest sense, to include not only natural and moral philosophy but ‘the love, study, or pursuit of wisdom, or of knowledge of things and their causes’. But in 1999, the degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine was introduced, followed by those of Doctor of Engineering and Doctor of Education. These are all grouped with the Ph.D. in terms of seniority; none of them is a higher doctorate. But how can the world be expected to understand this? Would it not expect a Bus.D. to rank with a Mus.D.? Veterinary Medicine was rather a special case because of the then existence of the unreformed M.D., but how do you know an Eng.D. is not comparable to an Sc.D.? Indeed, how do you know it refers to Engineering at all, since English would seem to have prior claim to the abbreviation? In 1981, the Council of the Senate discussed the possibility of the University introducing the higher degree of Doctor of Engineering but nothing came of it. One day it will, and what will it be called? And then other Faculties will have similar ambitions.

The Council should refer the Report back for an alternative solution. An obvious one is to stop muddying the waters with Ph.D.-level doctorates using faculty or subject names and let philosophy continue to embrace all subjects worthy of university study at the appropriate level. The General Board’s Committee could start by reading the comments by Dr King and Mr Milner at the Discussion of the Vet.M.D. I do not know if the Eng.D. and Ed.D. prompted discussion; they should have done.

In case the Council should be minded to press on regardless, I ought not to hold back some observations on the proposed Regulations (Annex I). Regulation 2(b) reads as if it is the Board of Graduate Studies that might fall ill, a possibility that can be averted by removing the first clause to its natural place at the end of the sentence (compare 2(a)).

Regulations 13 and 14 contain the requirement that certain recommendations of the Degree Committee to the Board must be accompanied with ‘the names of those present and voting on either side’. I have been the chairman of a Degree Committee and I find this astonishing. Is it newly-proposed specially for the Bus.D. or is it now standard practice?

In Regulation 15, we find the requirement ‘The Board shall not approve a candidate for the award of a degree unless the Degree Committee has recommended the award of that degree’. If this is not superfluous I would like an explanation. And in the event of refusing an award recommended by the Degree Committee why is its chairman not given the opportunity to explain the reasons for its recommendation? It’s his responsibility.

There are some trivia to be attended to in Annex II. The new degree would have to be added to the Order of Seniority of Graduates. It would also have to be added to the list of doctorates for which the cope is not worn at graduation, unless the omission is intentional and the Bus.D. is going to join the Ed.D. a cut above the rest. Of course the omission of the Ed.D. might itself be unintentional.

But above all

Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Doctores Bos

Dr J. Moultrie (School of Technology, and Selwyn College), read by Professor Loch:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the proposed Bus.D. Degree was discussed at length in the Graduate School Committee of the School of Technology.

We aimed to ensure that the proposed programme is comparable with equivalent programmes and that robust quality processes were in place. As a result, the proposed Bus.D. has some specific features aimed at ensuring the work is the students’ own, ensuring the effort and contribution is at an appropriate level, and to provide suitable exit options. These include:

clarity that the anticipated workload over the entire programme is intended to be equivalent to a standard part-time Ph.D., despite the extended periods away from Cambridge;

robust assessment points, including external examiner input throughout, each providing an opportunity for exit if needed;

regular but short periods of study in Cambridge of four weeks per annum, to enable access to University resources and enable the supervisory team to provide input.

The committee was content to approve this proposed course, having confidence that questions regarding educational quality and quality of output from the Degree had been robustly addressed.

Professor C. H. Loch (Director of the Judge Business School, and Pembroke College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, expertise and knowledge in business is produced not only by leading academic institutions but also by creative and insightful senior business leaders, who experiment with their organizations in developing new technologies, working with new customers, addressing customers in novel ways, and helping their employees to become more productive by new processes and methods.

The proposed Doctor of Business Degree represents an opportunity for the Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) to work closely with such thought leaders. This degree gives CJBS access to great talent and to leading thinking, data, and complex problems that organizations need to solve at the strategic level. In turn, it gives the business leaders a chance to translate experience (a personal story) into knowledge (understanding that is tested for generalizability, with rigorous methods), thus developing their intellectual skills and becoming more thoughtful leaders afterwards.

Therefore, this programme contributes to the Department’s strategy of developing high-quality and high impact research that makes a difference, while also giving the Business School material that we can use in teaching. This is consistent with the first part of the University’s mission: achieving world class teaching and research.

The fee structure is not inconsistent with other business degrees for senior managers (such as E.M.B.A. Degrees), while additionally reflecting the fact that the programme will be very small, collaboration intensive, and thus expensive.

And this aspect is consistent with the second part of the University’s mission, contributing to society: to ask people who clearly can afford it to pay for an exceptional educational opportunity, and then take the funds and funnel them into supporting, for example, Ph.D. students can make a clear contribution to society.

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, business schools are a lucrative bolt-on for a university. This proposal from the Judge Business School would bring in a fee of £80,000 for the first year and £50,000 for the three following years of the proposed course. Nearly a quarter of a million pounds per doctoral student is a nice little earner.

That does not mean that a University adding to its income by having a Business School should make radical changes at its request, without full understanding of the implications. There can be no aspect of the work of the University more important than its exercise of its degree-awarding powers and the Regent House should take any proposals to alter the rules especially seriously.

So when I read that the plan to introduce the first ‘professional doctorate’ has been proposed by the Judge Business School and backed by the Faculty Board of Business and Management, the Judge Business School Advisory Board, the Council of the School of Technology, the Board of Graduate Studies, and the General Board’s Education Committee, I naturally turned to the Minutes of the General Board and its Education Committee to see how clearly they understood what they were approving. The relevant Minutes do not appear to be online yet, so no-one not present may easily satisfy him or herself on that point. However, perhaps the Council saw those Minutes and could see.

What is a ‘professional doctorate’ and what is wrong with Cambridge offering one rather than expecting a doctoral candidate at the Judge to complete a Ph.D. in the normal way? Although both carry the title ‘Dr’ and are deemed to be equivalent (or ‘comparable’ as the present Report puts it), one is a research degree and the other is not, or at least not as Cambridge has hitherto understood the concept. The difficulties this type of ‘doctoral education’ can create had already brought the UK Council for Graduate Education1 to its Fifth Conference on the subject this March,2 held in the Titanic, Belfast.

Read the Report’s arguments for introducing this novelty in Cambridge. It is ‘consistent with Cambridge Judge Business School’s long-term strategy and with the University’s research impact objectives’, but not apparently with the University’s existing doctoral traditions or the Report would surely say so. It will ‘greatly enhance Cambridge Judge Business School’s ability to produce excellent and high-impact research’, allowing its ‘academic staff to develop new theoretical and applied knowledge’ (that is, learn from big business?). It will all enhance the ‘further globalization of the Cambridge Judge Business School’s research reputation’.

But where is the intellectual justification for this departure into new doctoral territory? It will ‘enable students to become better leaders and to demonstrate an intellectual achievement at the highest level’. But did we not read on 30 April in Times Higher Education that ‘Leadership research in HE is theoretically weak’, a report ironically put together by the Said Business School in Oxford on behalf of the Leadership Foundation in Higher Education, two entities which must themselves bear some of the blame for the intellectual poverty of research in this area. On the Judge’s own website may be read an account of the work of the interdisciplinary Centre for Business Research and its staff, many of whom are seconded from posts in University Departments in their own disciplines.3 But can it be argued that this very deficit will be mended by the stream of holders of the Bus. D.?

This is intended to be not only a ‘first’ for Cambridge but a ‘first’ for the market it is aiming at. These are not, it is explained, going to be mere mid-career business-people, but ‘highly placed senior executives in business, NGOs, charities, and similar organizations, who are accomplished leaders who have built or run major companies and organizations’. Cambridge will be ‘leveraging the seniority and exceptional experience of its students’ by aiming for the top brass. One may reasonably fear that business ‘leaders’ of these stratospheric heights will expect to have their written work at least drafted for them by gophers. Even a Vice-Chancellor has his professional speech-writer these days. It could become quite a challenge for the University’s plagiarism police.

What will these exceptional students receive for their enormous fees? This will be a four-year course. The first year will offer taught courses on research methodology and so on, with a ‘research plan’ proposal to be completed at the end of the third term. ‘The standard to be attained in the choice of research topic will be high, identifying a major business problem to be examined with a sound methodology, and with the potential to lead to an excellent dissertation and subsequent publication.’ This is to be ‘defended’ before two examiners, who will also ‘where possible’ be the final examiners, and who will have further duties of assessing the candidate’s ‘reports’ year by year.

Candidates who proceed no further will get a Certificate of Postgraduate Study, though it is not clear whether this is to be a mere attendance certificate or will require some form of assessment in itself. It will have cost them £80,000. I hope they will feel they have got value for money especially if they leave because they have not leapt this first hurdle. A failing candidate at the end of the course may be offered an M.Sc. for that further expenditure of £50,000 per year for three years.

The candidates who clear the first-year hurdle are then free to leave for the next three years, provided they complete four weeks of residence in Cambridge each year. The course appears to be not only non-resident but also part-time in the sense that it is anticipated that the student will remain in his or her existing post somewhere in the world.

Anticipating the reasonable question why these candidates are not going to do a normal Ph.D., the Report has its answers ready. They ‘will focus more on impact, making pragmatic use of advanced research methodology, to produce a research dissertation that will affect wider management practice’. They are rare birds (certainly with that kind of money to spend on a tuition fee). They have important jobs which they need to continue. So they have to be non-resident and they need a part-time course, but not an ordinary part-time Ph.D. They will be able to manage with remote supervision (though they are expected to meet a supervisor who will come to visit them a few times) because these are going to be people with ‘advanced writing and presentation skills’, who ‘understand how to prepare project milestones’, and ‘readily able to leverage a superior understanding of their specific industry and managerial context’. Presumably those two hundred ‘pages’ may contain unlimited diagrams and illustrations leveraging that superior understanding, or why not give the scale of the dissertation in words in the normal way?

This may all be the most tremendous idea and exactly what the University needs. I would just like to be sure the Regent House fully understands (a) that it is introducing a professional doctorate and there will surely be others to come; (b) that entry to this course will depend on a candidate having the resources to pay a gigantic tuition fee as well as special high-level abilities and knowledge ready to be ‘leveraged’ but as yet undefined by reference to relevant published criteria. Giants are about to bestride the land, but it does not seem to have been envisaged that student complaints from these Great Ones might be more troublesome and expensive than the usual run of such things, should any of them be deemed to fail.