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No 6453

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Vol cxlvii No 19

pp. 340–352

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

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 four other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Annual Report of the Council for the academical year 2015–16, dated 21 November 2016 (Reporter, 6448, 2016–17, p. 202).

Dr L. N. Drumright (Department of Medicine, Hughes Hall, and Chair of the Board of Scrutiny), read by Dr E. M. Morfoot:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Regents, the Board of Scrutiny notes the publication of the Annual Report of the Council and the Report of the General Board to the Council, and also of the Reports and Financial Statements for the Financial Year ended 31 July 2016. Acting on behalf of the Regent House, the University’s governing body, the main duty of the Board under Statute A VII 1 and under its Ordinance is to scrutinize these and also the annual Report of the Council on the financial position and budget of the University, recommending allocations from the Chest,[1] and any other report of the Council proposing allocations from the Chest. Under Statute A VII 2 it has the right of reporting to the University on any matter falling within its remit that it considers should be brought to the attention of the University.

The Board intends to follow the pattern established over more than twenty years and to produce one report later in the academical year. In doing so the Board will note remarks made at this or any other Discussion which are relevant to its business and also responses from the appropriate bodies. Should members of the Regent House wish to bring to the attention of the Board particular matters arising in these Reports or information relating to them, they may contact the Board either by email to or on paper to Dr Lydia N. Drumright, Department of Medicine, Box 157, Level 5, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 0QQ.


  • 1[Usually published in Easter Term.]

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, many years ago, before Annual Reports of the Council existed, I suggested that the Council of the Senate, as it then was, should list in the Reporter at the end of each academical year those Discussions of the Regent House to which they had not yet replied as the Statutes require. No notice was taken of this, but now we have the opportunity, when the Council reports on what they have done, to remind them that they have left undone those things which they ought to have done.

At the Discussion on 7 December 2010 of the Report of the Council on Membership of the Regent House (age limit) Professor Herbert, Dr G. A. Reid, Professor G. R. Evans, and I were the speakers. I proposed formally that the pre-1996 position be restored and the age limit of 70 thus abolished, which was also the tenor of the other speakers’ remarks.

On the 16 May last I asked the late Registrary why there had been no response. He replied

The Council has established a working group to look at various governance matters, chief amongst them being membership of the Regent House. We expect the question of the age limit to be considered as part of that. The timing of the review and when it might report has yet to be determined.

Now we are told in the section Governance and constitutional matters (iv) Review of three specific areas of governance that it will commence in accordance with a timetable to be agreed with the Vice-Chancellor appointed from 1 October 2017.

The prospect of a Council reply in 2018 to a proposal put in 2010 is not acceptable. Discussions cannot survive if the Council do not comply promptly with the obligation placed on them by statute. The question of an age limit is independent of any other aspects of the constitution that the Council propose to consider and I now ask them to promote the following Grace and to announce an immediate ballot thus obviating the further delay of a non-placet:

That the words 'provided always that any person who is qualified for membership in class (b), class (d), or class (e) shall cease to be so qualified at the next promulgation after he or she attains the age of seventy years' in Statute A III 10 be deleted.

The Council’s proposed review is for the future and its terms are not for discussion today, but I hope that they, and the composition of the working group apparently already established, will be announced in the Reporter together with an invitation for evidence to be submitted. The Registrary informed me that he had already stored in the collection of material some initial points I had made to him, and added that what he had done should ensure that there will be a further opportunity. I was also glad to learn from their Notice in the Reporter of 23 November 2016 that the Council will provide as evidence the remarks in the Discussion of the Report of the Board of Scrutiny on 11 October 2016.

I should like to close on an unrelated matter concerning an event in the year under review. Why was it that when on 22 July 2016 a notice of non-placet of Grace 3 of 13 July 2016 was announced the Council delayed the vote until a closing date of 8 December 2016?

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the style and approach of the Annual Reports of the Council and General Board continue to change. Once more there is, to my eye at least, a noticeable shift from a straightforward ‘telling it as it is’ frank ‘Report to the University’, to a PR-styled assurance that essentially all is well and the Council is to be congratulated.

Would a casual reader glimpse the upheavals and upsets of this year in reading the Reports being discussed today? Look back to 2002 when the Council had to tell the University how it had responded1 to the findings of the CAPSA Report,2 which it did under the heading University administration and management. That was handled in the face of massive publicity, with the whole of Fleet Street invited to lunch in the Combination Room before the Discussion which reporters were also allowed to attend.

This year, under West and North West Cambridge Estates Syndicate appears a paragraph on the North West Cambridge development. Good progress is reported:

Over 1,000 people are now working on the site and two million working hours were logged by May 2016. The majority of the buildings in Phase 1 will be completed in 2017, including 700 homes for University and College staff, 325 student rooms, the community centre, nursery, supermarket, shops, and doctor’s surgery. Developers constructing housing for sale started on site in summer 2016.

In terms of the financial consequences to the University the North West Cambridge affair possibly poses a worse threat even than CAPSA, yet it has been handled very differently. It is an interesting and important question which was the wiser choice from the point of view of risking damage to the University’s reputations. It is a separate but equally important question how much of the tale should be told in the Council’s annual account of itself to its master the Regent House.

Some controversies are noted to which one more should be added, which should perhaps be touched on in next year’s Report. In January, the Reporter recorded the withdrawal of a Grace shortly before Christmas.3 Unusually, it seems to have been accepted that the concerns expressed in a Discussion, in this case about the proposals for the ‘handling of student complaints of harassment and sexual misconduct’ required ‘further consideration’. In this connection of taking notice of Discussion remarks an innocent-looking note should perhaps be flagged up:

The Council has agreed that it will commence a review encompassing the membership of the Regent House, the membership of the Council, and the format of Discussions in accordance with a timetable to be agreed with the Vice-Chancellor appointed from 1 October 2017.

Discussions may often be attended only thinly, though I believe they are widely read; but there are times when their importance makes itself clear as it has in the withdrawal of that Grace.

In the present Report controversies prompting ballots are very properly listed. This year they concerned Arrangements for approving market pay, not approved (362 votes in favour, 707 votes against); Proposals concerning the public display of class-lists and related matters, on which it is reported that a ballot ‘has been called’ to take place in the Michaelmas Term 2016. The result was published too late in December to appear in this Report, but again the Grace was non-placeted (727 against to 514 votes in favour).4

In the joint section on behalf of both Council and General Board (which makes the distinct purpose of the General Board less clear), there is the now customary mention of the calculation of ‘the cost of an undergraduate education at Cambridge’, latest calculation footnoted.5 This could become topical in a new way in the light of the debates in the House of Lords Committee stage of the Higher Education and Research Bill, which are afoot at the date of this Discussion. Lord Lucas, speaking on 16 January 2016, pressed the point:

Amendment 103 opens the very thorny issue of the continued practice of some universities of taking money away from humanities students and giving it to science students. A student charged £9,000 a year for a history degree, for instance, may find that £3,000 of that is spent on physics students. I know why this practice grew up. It grew up in the old funding days when students did not pay for, or paid markedly less than, the cost of their course. However, I do not think that the current position in which a student is put into debt not for the value that they are receiving but for the value that some other student is receiving, without being told about it, should be allowed to continue.6

There is a striking contrast yet again between the concerns repeatedly expressed by the Board of Scrutiny about the operation of Human Resources and the cheery assurances of the Annual Reports on that subject. This year the Council and General Board tell us about:

a project to move the personal paper files for all staff (both existing and future) on to an Electronic Document Management (EDM) system began in December 2015. It is expected the system will be completed by the end of 2016.

One wonders a good deal about both the acceptability and the viability of that proposal. Then there are assurances about successes with Equality initiatives; Personal and Professional Development; the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. I suspect, in view of the continuing challenges in Oxford both through Appeals and in Employment Tribunals, that Cambridge has not heard the last of its ‘Review of the University’s retirement policy’, whose recommendations were not put to the Regent House for approval and whose force is therefore debatable:

In July 2016, the General Board and the Council received the recommendations of a review group established in June 2015 to review the University’s retirement policy. It agreed to maintain the Employer Justified Retirement Age (EJRA) of 67 but with some adjustments to the stated aims and the criteria for evaluating requests beyond the EJRA.

Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academical year 2015–16, dated 2 November 2016 (Reporter, 6448, 2016–17, p. 215).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Reports and Financial Statements for the year ended 31 July 2016 (Reporter, 6448, 2016–17, p. 221).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Report of the Council, dated 9 January 2017, on the provision of additional hockey and changing facilities at the Wilberforce Road Sports Ground (Reporter, 6450, 2016–17, p.  306).

Professor D. I. Wilson (Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, and Jesus College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, my name is Ian Wilson and I am speaking as the Senior Treasurer of the Cambridge University Hockey Club. I am here to report that the Club fully supports the proposal for the development of new hockey and associated facilities at the Wilberforce Road Sports Ground.

Field hockey is now played almost entirely on artificial surfaces and the provision of two further pitches will allow the City, the University, and the Colleges together to cater for the current and future demand for the sport and its development. It is an increasingly popular sport; it is all-age and all-gender, in fact all inclusive.

The University Hockey Club made a significant contribution to the cost of the construction of the existing hockey pitch – indeed a significant fraction of its reserves went on that. The contribution for the proposal that has come about through the Cambridge City Hockey Club is therefore most welcome.