Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6448

Thursday 8 December 2016

Vol cxlvii No 14

pp. 200–265

Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academical year 2015–16

1. Introduction

The General Board presents this Annual Report on its work for the academical year 2015–16. The Board draws particular attention to the following major activities that have engaged the Board and its Committees during the year:

Higher education landscape

proposed changes to the higher education landscape, including the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework [section 2(i) and 2(ii)];

a consultation on the Research Excellence Framework [section 2(iii)];


a review of student conduct, complaints, and appeals [section 3(ii)];

the publication of the University’s Learning and Teaching Strategy and a Digital Strategy for Education [section 3(v)];

the launch of a Centre for Teaching and Learning [section 3(vi)];


a programme of Strategic Research Reviews [section 4(ii)];

Strategic Research Initiatives and Interdisciplinary Research Centres [section 4(iii)];

strengthening collaborative research with India and the establishment of a Global Alliance [section 5(i)].

2. The higher education landscape

(i) Higher Education and Research Bill

The Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS) published its Green Paper on higher education, Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility, and Student Choice, on 6 November 2015. Members of the University were invited to comment on the paper to inform the University’s response. The General Board and the Council considered and endorsed an early draft of the University’s response during Michaelmas Term 2015. The key points were then further worked up with input from senior colleagues across the collegiate University and a final response was approved by the General Board in January 2016.1

The response outlined fundamental concerns about the separation of the funding and regulation of teaching from that of research, and the removal of a single regulatory body with oversight of the entirety of university activity which was also independent of government. In addition, the response commented on proposals relating to:

the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) [see section 2 (ii)];

the entry of new providers into the sector;

widening participation and access; and

structures for research funding (as set out in the Nurse Review of the Research Councils).

The White Paper, Higher Education: Success as a Knowledge Economy, was published by BIS on 16 May 2016. The Paper built on the earlier consultation on the Green Paper, and set out a range of reforms to the higher education and research landscape. This was swiftly followed on 19 May 2016 by the publication of the Higher Education and Research Bill. The Bill is now subject to consideration by Parliament.

The proposed reforms in the Bill include the establishment of a new market regulator, the Office for Students (OfS). The OfS will be created in place of HEFCE and it will subsume the functions of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). The reforms also include the establishment of a new research and innovation body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which will allocate funding for research and innovation. UKRI will comprise nine Councils, which will have delegated autonomy and authority. Seven will reflect the functions of the existing Research Councils and one will reflect Innovate UK. The ninth Council, Research England, will be established to undertake functions in relation to research and knowledge exchange that are currently performed by HEFCE (principally the Research Excellence Framework and the allocation of QR funding).

Through the Vice-Chancellor and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) in particular, the University is contributing to the debate about the Bill. The University has welcomed the Government’s recognition of the importance of diversity in research and teaching, and the proposal to raise the profile of excellent teaching. However, there are concerns about the Higher Education and Research Bill, and the University is arguing that it should be amended to provide:

stronger requirements for cooperation between the OfS and UKRI, and greater clarity around the oversight of the combined education and research portfolio. This is particularly important given the transfer of responsibility for higher education to the Department of Education;

stronger safeguards around dual funding and protecting the integrity of the QR and Research Council funding streams;

proper scrutiny over the new powers of the OfS and the Secretary of State, and the potential impact on institutional autonomy, particularly those powers to assess the quality and standards of higher education, and those allowing involvement in particular courses of study.

The Vice-Chancellor appeared before the Public Bill Committee in September 2016. The University will continue to participate fully in developing the Bill during 2016–17.

(ii) Teaching Excellence Framework

The University’s response to the Green Paper emphasized that any model of TEF must provide a true measure of teaching excellence, and that it should extend to the whole educational experience. The response cautioned against a system that would rely on crude or reductive metrics, which would be misleading to students and could create adverse incentives for institutions. The University was strongly opposed to any relationship between the TEF and an ability to increase tuition fees beyond inflation.

The White Paper confirmed that the TEF would be phased in, and would allow participating universities meeting certain criteria to increase tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017–18. A technical consultation on the TEF was published alongside the White Paper, to which the University responded in July 2016. The Technical Consultation proposed that a set of metrics and a qualitative submission would be trialled during TEF2, with further metrics planned for years 3 and 4 (TEF3 and TEF4). The Technical Consultation also suggested that taught master’s programmes could be included from TEF4. The University’s response to the technical consultation focused on the importance of ensuring that the metrics to be used in the TEF were appropriate and defensible.

The Technical Consultation also confirmed that TEF1 would be based on existing Quality Assurance arrangements. As the University was successfully reviewed by the QAA in 2013, it would be entitled to increase the level of its regulated undergraduate fee (i.e. the Home/EU fee) in line with inflation for those students starting in 2017–18. Following a recommendation from the Planning and Resources Committee and with the support of the Colleges’ Committee, the General Board and the Council agreed that the University would participate in TEF1.2 The question of whether the University will participate in TEF2 will be taken during 2016–17, following the outcome of the technical consultation and after careful consideration of the financial and reputational implications of participation.

(iii) Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework

In March 2016, the Board approved the University’s response to a UK-wide review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), led by Sir Nicholas Stern. The response was prepared in consultation with Councils of Schools, Faculty Boards, Colleges, the Regent House, and a small group of Heads of House. The University’s response endorsed the aspiration of the Review to establish a ‘simpler, lighter touch, system for the REF’, but proposed more radical changes to the existing REF.3 The response included arguments in favour of:

assessment at an institutional level;

better use of international review; and

reducing opportunities for ‘game playing’.

The response also restated the risks of separating the regulation and funding of teaching from that of research.

The report of the Stern Review, Building on Success and Learning from Experience, An Independent Review of the Research Excellence Framework was published by the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy on 28 July 2016. A number of the key elements of the University’s submission to the consultation are reflected in the report, but others are not. The Board will consider the report and its recommendations in the Michaelmas Term 2016 and, where possible, will continue to engage with the debate.

(iv) Other national consultations

In addition to the consultations described above, the Board also contributed (via its Education Committee) to HEFCE consultations on changes to Unistats and Key Information Sets (KIS), the National Student Survey (NSS), and the future of the survey of Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE).

3. Education and the learning environment

(i) Student wellbeing and experience

The Board, through its Education Committee, endorsed recommendations from a working group in response to concerns about the impact of workload on the undergraduate educational experience and student health and wellbeing. These recommendations included introducing a requirement for Departments and Faculties to make their expectations of students more explicit, and the introduction of arrangements for monitoring workloads.

New arrangements have been put in place to support students following the reduction of central government funding, including changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) and withdrawal of the Access to Learning Fund (ALF). A review of hardship funding provided by the University was undertaken by the Education Committee. A number of recommendations were made to set up new arrangements to maintain the overall funding level for student hardship in line with the previous ALF. This was achieved by drawing on funds accumulated in a number of Trust Funds.

The Education Committee has been working with the Equality and Diversity Committee to review arrangements for the consideration of Equality and Diversity matters. The principal purpose of the review was to clarify and to integrate more effectively responsibilities for student issues. The Board, through its Education Committee, endorsed an updated Equality and Diversity Strategy. It is expected that the strategy will be considered further during Michaelmas Term 2016.

A pilot scheme to offer mindfulness courses to students which aims to build resilience in the student body, together with an associated research project, is also under way. Further work has also been undertaken in collaboration with the Senior Tutors’ Committee to promote responsible drinking.

(ii) Student conduct, complaints, and appeals

Following proposals arising from the Review Committee on Student Discipline (see the Council’s annual report) and a review of student complaints procedures, a Student Conduct, Complaints, and Appeals Office (OSCCA) has been established. This new office brings together a team responsible for oversight of disciplinary, complaint, and appeal procedures, with the aim of making the processes more efficient and easier for students to access.

The General Board and the Council also endorsed a framework policy for consideration of complaints by students of harassment and sexual assault. The framework had been the subject of extensive consultation and had received input and endorsement from the Education Committee, Cambridge University Students’ Union, the Graduate Union, and from the Colleges through the Senior Tutors’ Committee and the Colleges’ Committee. A Report to put the formal procedures in place will be prepared for approval during 2016–17.

(iii) Public display of class-lists

In Michaelmas Term 2015, the General Board’s Education Committee launched a consultation on the future of published class-lists and subsequently recommended to the Board that the public display of class-lists be discontinued. The General Board and the Council approved the publication of a Report proposing the discontinuation of the public display of class-lists outside the Senate-House and in Colleges and University institutions, and proposing changes to the sharing of information relating to class-lists. The Colleges raised concerns about the latter, in light of which the Board and the Council agreed to amend the Report to remove the recommendations relating to the sharing of data. A ballot has been called by members of the Regent House on the recommendations in the Report; the vote will take place in Michaelmas Term 2016.4

(iv) Student experience surveys

The National Student Survey (NSS) has been capturing final-year undergraduate students’ feedback on course experience since 2005. In 2015, for the second year running, the overall satisfaction rate in the NSS dropped by one percentage point to 90%, putting Cambridge University second in the Russell Group (behind Oxford and Newcastle and equal with a number of other Russell Group institutions). Through its Education Committee, the Board continues to work with lower scoring departments to develop action plans to improve NSS scores. NSS scores for ‘teaching’, ‘assessment and feedback’, and ‘academic support’ were proposed in the BIS Technical Consultation as core metrics to be used in the second year of the TEF.

A summary of the results in the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) and the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) in 2015 is provided in the table below.

Table 1. Overall satisfaction (PTES and PRES)


Overall satisfaction

University of Cambridge

Russell Group average

Sector average









82% of postgraduate taught students declared that their expectations had been met, which was up by four percentage points compared to 2014. As in previous years, and in line with the Board’s ambitions to improve scores, Departments and Faculties with the lowest scoring courses have met with the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) to discuss improvements, and will report to the Education Committee on actions to be taken in the Michaelmas Term 2016. The Board recognizes the importance of continuing to work with students and Schools to improve the quality of Master’s degree courses, and continues to do so through its Education Committee.

(v) Learning and Teaching Strategy

The Board published the University’s Learning and Teaching Strategy 2015–2018, which sets out University-wide priorities to maintain and enhance the quality of the student experience in Cambridge. The importance of teaching will be emphasized through a programme of events, and additional ways in which to recognize and reward excellent and innovative teaching will be developed.

The Learning and Teaching Strategy also outlined an ambition for the collegiate University to make greater strides in implementing technology to support and enhance the educational experience. The Board’s Education Committee undertook extensive consultation to develop a Digital Strategy for Education and an associated action plan. The Strategy, which was approved in July 2016, has been pedagogically led and sets out a strategic framework for harnessing digital technology to support teaching and learning.

(vi) Learning and teaching excellence

A virtual Centre for Teaching and Learning at Cambridge was formally launched in April 2016. The Centre provides opportunities to build on best practice in teaching and learning across the University and to identify new projects relating to teaching excellence. The intention is that the Centre for Teaching and Learning will play a role in the TEF by demonstrating the University’s commitment to the enhancement of teaching, as well as a being a vehicle for quantifying the impact and effectiveness of the University’s teaching in ways that cannot be captured by core metrics. The launch of the Centre was accompanied by a Teaching Forum, which some 140 people from across the collegiate University attended.

(vii) Learning and Teaching Reviews

As part of the Board’s rolling programme of Learning and Teaching Reviews, the following institutions were reviewed in 2015–16: the School of Clinical Medicine; the Department of Genetics; and the Faculties of Human, Social, and Political Science (HSPS), History and Philosophy of Science (HPS), Law, Music, and Philosophy.  Following the review of the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages in 2014–15, a working party was established to review the governance of the Faculty and to establish an alternative to the current departmental structure. An interim report will be considered by the Board in Michaelmas Term 2016, to be implemented during 2017. The Education Committee continued to work with the Faculty of Economics on steps to be taken in relation to its educational provision. This work will be taken forward by a newly established working group that will consider this alongside recommendations that arose from the Strategic Research Review of the Faculty (see 4(ii) below).

The Education Committee remains committed to reviewing the Learning and Teaching Review process to ensure that it is fit for purpose and proportionate. This work was put on hold during 2015–16 pending the outcome of a national review of Quality Assurance (QA) processes and the introduction of the TEF. This review will resume in the Michaelmas Term 2016 with a view to having revised arrangements in place for 2017–18 which take account of the new landscape for QA and assessment.

(viii) Examinations review

The Board received a progress report from the Examination Review Working Group on its fundamental and comprehensive review of examination processes, policies, and strategies. This review was established by the General Board’s Education Committee and the Board of Examinations. Recommendations from the working group on improvements to operational aspects on exams will continue to be implemented in 2016–17. The working group will consider proposals on ways to encourage expansion of assessment methods beyond the traditional three-hour examination. A report on the outcomes of the work achieved in 2015–16, and priorities for 2016–17, will be considered by the Board in Michaelmas Term 2016.

(ix) Widening access and participation

The University successfully negotiated with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) a new access agreement for 2017–18.This agreement covers the following undergraduate admissions targets: a state sector target of 62–64%; a target of 10–13% for students from POLAR35 quintiles 1 and 2 (i.e. the 40% of postcodes which have the lowest participation rates in higher education); a target of 8.2% for students from Output Area Classification6 (OAC) supergroups 7 and 8 and groups 3a, 3b, 3c, and 4b; a minimum commitment to offer 600 places on summer schools each year; and a non-continuation target of 2.1%.

(x) Establishment of degrees and courses

The Board approved the following new programmes during the 2015–16 academical year:

Archaeology Tripos;

Joint Tripos in History and Politics;

Joint Tripos in History and Modern Languages; and

Doctor of Business degree (Bus.D.).

The Board also agreed to establish a new M.Res. Degree in Mathematical Genomics and Medicine, an M.Phil. Degree in Translational Biomedical Research, and to rescind the M.Phil. Degree (by advanced study) in Clinical Science.

A number of new non-member awards, at Certificate or Diploma level, were approved in a range of subjects including International Development and Cognitive Psychology. A Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education was also approved, which will be available from September 2016 and is aimed primarily at academic staff at Cambridge.

4. Research

(i) Research income

The University has sustained its growth in research income, despite the very competitive environment for research funding both within the UK and internationally. Research income in 2015–16 was in excess of £485m, an increase of over 15% on that in 2014–15, with performance strongest in terms of percentage growth in the Schools of Arts and Humanities and of Clinical Medicine. In contrast to recent years, the most significant contributors to the growth in research income were UK government sponsors and the Research Councils. The value of new awards was in excess of £500m.

There have been a number of important successes in winning major awards from a range of funding agencies including the Leverhulme Trust and the Research Councils, and some significant new industrial partnerships, for example with Astra Zeneca and Cantab Capital Partners. The University has also continued to perform strongly with the European Research Council and it has been confirmed as the leading University recipient of funding under Horizon 2020. The outcome of the EU Referendum on 23 June 2016 presents a significant challenge to the University in terms of future EU research funding and the University is monitoring developments closely regarding the UK’s future participation in Horizon 2020 in the light of the referendum result.

(ii) Strategic Research Reviews

The Board approved a programme of Strategic Research Reviews to take place over three years from 2015–16. These reviews are designed to support the further development of the research environment at Cambridge. Of the thirty-eight reviews that are planned, five reviews have been undertaken to date, including those of the Faculties of English, Economics, and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; and discipline-based reviews of Neuroscience and of Digital Humanities. Recommendations from the reviews will be considered by the Board in conjunction with the Schools.

(iii) Strategic research initiatives and networks

The University’s programme of Strategic Research Initiatives (SRIs) and Networks (SRNs) has continued to provide a key focus to build critical mass of multidisciplinary research expertise from across the Schools. The Research Policy Committee (RPC) is overseeing a process to enable the transition of successful SRIs to a new status as University Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IRCs). An IRC will maintain interdisciplinary research across at least three Schools, with one School being the ‘lead’ School. They will continue to develop a strategic vision and will be expected to deliver against an agreed long-term development plan. IRCs will be governed by a memorandum of understanding and will be overseen by the RPC.

(iv) Open access

The Board has overseen the ongoing process of implementation of revised policies and procedures required to comply fully with the requirements of HEFCE and other funding agencies. There has been a continuing focus, led by the University Library and the Research Office, to support academic staff to meet the requirements of the policies of HEFCE, the Research Councils, and other funders, such as the Wellcome Trust, on open access to research publications and research data.

(v) Research integrity

The University has published its second Annual Statement on Research Integrity in accordance with the requirements of the Research Integrity Concordat.7 Compliance with the Concordat requires the University to maintain and continually improve the University’s policies, processes, and systems for developing good research practice and cultivating a culture of research integrity. The University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) has oversight of the University’s research ethics and governance systems and reports annually to the RPC and the Board.

(vi) Research Administration Review

The Board received the terms of reference for a review of research administration. The report and recommendations from the review will be considered by the Board during Michaelmas Term 2016.

5. External and international engagement

The University’s ongoing programme of strategic engagement with major funding agencies has also continued and included meetings with senior officers of the Research Councils and other important funders such as the British Academy. The University has been very active in dialogue with the European Commission on a range of issues regarding the operational arrangements of Horizon 2020.

(i) International partnerships

During 2015–16, the University continued to develop and implement its institutional strategy for international engagement, with a particular focus on building strategic partnerships in Europe, India, Africa, and the United States of America.

The University continues to build strong bilateral links with leading European research institutions, including holding strategic discussions with the Max Planck Society which have resulted in plans for a joint neuroscience symposium in Berlin and the establishment of a Max-CAM Centre for the Study of Ethics, Human Economy, and Social Change in Cambridge. The Centre will be launched early in 2017.

The University’s engagement with India was highlighted in the Michaelmas 2015 edition of Research Horizons. Work to strengthen collaborative research between Cambridge and leading Indian institutions continues, with the appointment of the first five fixed-term early career researchers in the Departments of Plant Sciences, Genetics, Medicine, and Engineering, who will start in post in September 2016.

In November 2015, the Prime Minister of the UK and the Prime Minister of India launched a UK-India crop science initiative that will focus on fundamental plant science, enhanced yields, and environmental sustainability. The University will lead a consortium of six UK partners as part of this initiative and a memorandum of understanding was subsequently signed in February 2016.

The University has also registered a wholly-owned, not-for-profit subsidiary (Section 8 company) in India that will enable Cambridge to secure funding from India for the support of its activities in India.

Strategic discussions have been facilitated between the Cambridge-Africa Programme and the University of Oxford’s Africa programme, with the possibility of collaboration via a joint bid under the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Strategic engagement with partners in the USA has been enhanced, with a particular effort to raise the profile of Cambridge’s research with US foundations and governmental bodies. The University’s links between the REAL Centre at the Faculty of Education and the White House’s ‘Let Girls Learn’ initiative have been consolidated.

Global Alliance
The Board and the Council agreed to support a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish a global alliance between Cambridge, the University of California, Berkeley, and the National University of Singapore for the purposes of collaborative research and educational activities. The MoU was signed in January 2016 and three themes for collaborative research have been determined: Smart Systems, Cities, and Precision Medicine. Proposals for joint research projects have been developed by academics across the three institutions and successful bids will be selected for funding in Michaelmas Term 2016.

(ii) Future strategy

Work has commenced on the development of an international strategy for the University, which will be informed by the outcomes of an analysis of international engagement at a School level. Following the outcome of the referendum to leave the European Union, work began immediately to model the short- and longer-term implications for the University, and to provide regularly updated information to the University community. This work will continue to be reported to the General Board and the Council in 2016–17.

6. Human resources

The General Board oversees employment matters through the Human Resources Committee, a joint Committee of the Council and the General Board. In order to reduce repetition between the two reports, further detail on University employment is provided in the Annual Report of the Council in 2015–16, and is submitted on behalf of the Council and the General Board (p. 210).

7. Occupational health and safety

A new UAS Division of Health, Safety, and Regulated Facilities (HSRF) was established in 2015, comprising the Occupational Health and Safety Service (OHSS; Safety Office, Occupational Health Service, and Staff Counselling Service) and the newly created University Biomedical Services. The formation of the Health, Safety, and Regulated Facilities Division has enabled improvements and efficiencies to be made in the common aspects of governance and compliance in these areas. The role of the Division is to continue to prioritize the provision of risk-focused support services, helping to ensure that the University’s operations remain compliant while identifying areas of improvement by regular auditing, inspection, and review.

In December 2015, the Safety Office was physically relocated to the newly refurbished Greenwich House. Co-location with other Offices, including Estate Management, the Research Operations Office, and the Finance Division provides opportunities for closer working relationships with respect to health and safety management – both operational and strategic – and for the development of improved policies and procedures throughout the University.

Demand for the Staff Counselling Service has increased again in 2015–16, despite improvements to the service being implemented such as triage prioritization and additional counselling time being made available. New programmes and initiatives for the promotion of staff mental health and wellbeing are being developed and progressed in collaboration with other University stakeholders, with initial feedback for these initiatives being very positive.

The Occupational Health Service has also seen an increase in the number of referrals of University staff requiring appointments for support and advice as well as routine proactive occupational health surveillance in 2015–16. In the short term, this has been accommodated by prioritizing and targeting resources reactively. However, consideration will need to be given for the appropriate level of resourcing required in Occupational Health to ensure the continued maintenance of service delivery.

There have been no significant changes in relevant health and safety legislation during 2015–16. However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has introduced a ‘Fees for Intervention – FFI’ system, by which the University could be charged for HSE visits resulting from investigations or possible non-compliances. This may have a detrimental effect on the nature of visits by the HSE Inspectors if they charge on a time basis.

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

8. Planning and resource allocation

The General Board oversees planning and resource allocation matters through the Planning and Resources Committee (PRC), a joint Committee of the Council and the General Board. In order to reduce repetition between the two reports, further detail on the University’s resources is provided in the Annual Report of the Council in 2015–16, and is submitted on behalf of the Council and the General Board (p. 209).

9. Other

(i) Review of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

The Board also conducted a review of the governance and commercial activities of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). The Board acknowledged the diverse range of CISL’s activities and considered the Institute to be a well-run, niche unit, which has significant external contacts and a high profile internationally. The Institute was encouraged to build further relationships with individual academics, particularly early career researchers, to develop its collaboration within the University, potentially through involvement with SRIs and the impact agenda.

(ii) New Professorships

The Board proposed the establishment or reestablishment of the following senior positions, in some cases supported by generous benefactions or other external funds:

Al-Kindi Professorship

Professorship of Astronomy

Professorship of Computer Science

El-Erian Professorship of Economics

Professorship of Information and Communications

Professorship of Infrastructure Geotechnics

Professorship of Non-linear Mathematical Science

Professorship of Otology and Skull Base Surgery

Sir David Williams Professorship of Public Law

Professorship of Public Policy

RAND Professorship of Health Services Research

Russell R. Geiger Professorship of Crop Science


2 November 2016

L. K. Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor

David Good

Rachael Padman

Chad Allen

A. L. Greer

Richard Prager

Philip Allmendinger

Roberta Huldisch

Helen Thompson

Anne Davis

Patrick Maxwell

Graham Virgo

Abigail Fowden

Martin Millett

Chris Young