Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6482

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Vol cxlviii No 6

pp. 72–95

Report of Discussion: Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony David Yates was presiding, with the Registrary’s deputy, the Senior Proctor, the Senior Pro-Proctor, and sixteen other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Twenty-second Report of the Board of Scrutiny, dated 19 September 2017

(Reporter, 6478, 2017–18, p. 24)

Dr L. N. Drumright (Department of Medicine and Hughes Hall, Chair of the Board of Scrutiny, 2016–17), read by Dr C. A. Ristuccia (Deputy Junior Proctor):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it is my great pleasure to introduce our twenty-second Report as the outgoing Chair of the Board of Scrutiny.

It is the Board’s remit to highlight important issues that could have an impact on the University and we have written this year’s Report with the intention of promoting discussion. We encourage Regents to read our twenty-second Report, and should any issue capture their attention, to pursue the matter through governance channels that are available to us all. While we have only made a few specific recommendations in this Report, we have described other issues that may be significant to the University. Herein, I will concentrate on five areas that the Board hopes the University will consider this year.

First, we highlight governance. Democratic self-governance is one of the rare and special attributes of the University. However, democracy only works when the majority are willing to self-govern. In my speech on the twenty-first Report last year, I quoted John Adams, the second President of the United States, in saying, ‘Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.’ As Regents, we can succumb to this or we can actively engage and prove John Adams wrong. The Board favours the latter. We note the consideration of membership of the Regent House that will take place as part of the Governance Review and we hope that members will value their membership and engage in governance. We also expressed concerns about Discussions, as have others within the University. All too often I and my fellow Board members have attended Discussions in a nearly empty Senate-House. To this end, we have suggested a role for ‘a more ‘open’ form of Discussion, with a question and answer format, to pemit actual debate’; but this is a decision for Regents to make together.

Cambridge is an amazing University, not only because of its democratic structure, but because of what we have achieved. But it should never be forgotten that this achievement comes from fostering an environment where academics can thrive, as it is they who make these achievements, with essential support from academic-related and other colleagues. This brings us to the second issue that I would like to raise: Human Resources.

As highlighted in our Report, staff surveys from across the University make clear that the majority of those who respond value the University, but do not necessarily feel valued in return. This, in combination with the currently conservative annual pay uplift that results in a year on year decay of the value of salaries as highlighted in the finance section of the Report, risks damaging the long-term stability of our academic and academic-related staff. This creates a situation whereby those who are promoted through the University could earn significantly less than those who are hired into posts at the top ranks. While Human Resources has been working hard on new ‘well-being’ programmes, one may wonder if some of the focus should be on the University building a framework for making their staff feel valued, rather than only focusing on issues of personal staff responsibility such as stress management and self-care.

In addition to uplifts not keeping pace with inflation, Cambridge has been listed in the Times Higher Education as having one of the highest gender pay gaps in the United Kingdom. Data on supplementary payments and pay grades suggests that a leading cause is a differential in supplements offered to men and women. This in turn suggests that pay scales may be too low for the current academic climate. We urge a review of these matters and have requested that the University ‘address pay relative to cost of living and prolonged constraints on annual uplifts’, and that:

it should review the balance of resources being invested in higher-paid staff particularly in relation to the retention of staff at all levels and the equitable use of supplementary payments.

Third, as it is required to do, the Board also examined the Allocations Report. We recommended that the University:

consider the balance between Chest expenditure on academic departments and on other activities and review whether departments will be adversely affected by the extrapolation of current trends over the next 10–20 years.

We would encourage the University to reflect on whether or not the current trajectory of spend, particularly in relation to resources allocated to Schools as opposed to other areas, will help to maintain Cambridge’s status and mission in the long-term.

Fourth, in the spirit of planning for the future, we recommended both:

the need for a detailed timeline of proposed capital projects, their critical dependencies, and their funding timescales, including a risk-benefit analysis projected over 20, 30, and 40 years,

and that information about projects is communicated more transparently and widely to the Regents. These recommendations are based on supporting the sound planning of a very large, highly complex, and inter-dependent pipeline of projects for an uncertain future. While it is accepted that our estate may not meet the current needs of some departments or activities, 20-, 30-, and 40-year plans need to take into account that academia is changing rapidly. We suggest that open discussions about sustainable and flexible planning with cost-benefit assessments will best ensure that the estate can meet our overall aim to educate the best and brightest students in the future at a sustainable cost.

The core purpose of the University is education, the fifth and final issue to which I would like to draw everyone’s attention. Issues of governance, staff satisfaction and continuity, how we spend our money, and the quality of the estate, all reflect back on maintaining the quality of education and research within the University. While Cambridge performs outstandingly as an educational institution, as exemplified by the recent Gold Award in the Teaching and Excellence Framework, the continuing increase in the cost of education is of concern, particularly with respect to access. Despite changing government policies and an uncertain economic outlook, it is essential that we maintain access for the most promising, regardless of financial background, something which may take some internal innovation.

It is the Board’s hope that the University will use our twenty-second Report to continue dialogue about the issues that we have raised and that the members of the Regent House will engage and support the governance of the University. One route by which this can be done is by communicating with the Board. Comments can be sent to

My time on the Board has brought me together with a wonderful and diverse group of people. It has taught me about the workings of the University, but most importantly, it has provided me with the knowledge and ability necessary to be a more effective Regent and to engage more actively in governance. As I step down from the Board, there is so much that I will treasure and miss, but it is time for others to have the opportunity. I strongly encourage others to now take the opportunity for this rewarding experience by standing for one of the three vacancies currently open on the Board.

I wish my successor and the continuing Board well and I am very much looking forward to finding inspiration in the twenty-third Report.

The Reverend J. L. Caddick (Emmanuel College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I welcome the thoughtful and constructive tone of this twenty-second Report and I wonder if I might make some remarks on the section on Pay and Reward whch concludes at paragraph 34 with the admirably restrained recommendation:

The University needs to address pay relative to cost of living and prolonged constraints on annual uplifts. It should review the balance of resources being invested in higher-paid staff particularly in relation to the retention of staff at all levels and the equitable use of supplementary payments.

Having been both a member of the Board of Scrutiny and of the Council, I have seen this process from both sides. The way it goes is, briefly, that the Board carefully formulates its report and recommendations and, following this discussion, the Council formulates its response. Normally this response is conciliatory and reassuring – taking the line that these concerns are legitimate but the Council is already on top of them, or has already addressed them or there exist processes that will do so in the future.

The issue of pay and reward, however, is no longer one on which such an anodyne response is appropriate, and I would like to urge the members of the Council to recognize this in their response and to reassure the members of the Regent House that they are taking the issue seriously and will act to do something new to address it.

The Report draws attention to the large increase in the number of University employees who are paid more than £100,000 and those who are paid more than £250,000. It also comments on the lack of transparency in the arrangements for awarding market pay supplements. Above a certain level these have to be individually approved by the Council, but by the time such proposals reach the Council, it is all but impossible to refuse them. I recall one such proposal for a supplement which was larger than the median pay of all the University’s employees – that is, a supplement bigger than the whole salary of the average University employee. When you question such payments the response talks about retaining valuable staff and the workings of the market. This is no longer sustainable and it is certainly not fair.

Pay restraint across the board is justifiable for a period but in the longer term, as the Report points out, it starts to do damage to the ability of University staff to live here. It would be more bearable if staff felt that we were genuinely all in this together, but the growth in pay inequality – and the continued growth in pay inequality – suggests otherwise. This growing inequality will harm the trust that staff have in the way the University is run.

Members of the Council, you are elected by the Regent House. I would urge you to be responsive to the legitimate concerns of the Regent House in this area.

Mr D. J. Goode (Faculty of Divinity and Wolfson College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it so happens that I am Secretary of the Board of Scrutiny this academical year, but I have chosen to speak today in a personal capacity.

I too wish to make a few remarks on the Human Resources section of the Board of Scrutiny’s Report (paragraphs 30–36 inclusive), particularly about the remuneration of staff. Talking of which, the new Vice-Chancellor certainly came out fighting in respect of his own remuneration, didn’t he. With the ink barely dry on his signature in the Officers’ book, there was only enough time to bank £12,000 before he was in The Times mounting a spirited defence of his first year stipend of £365,000 as ‘reasonable, given the scope of the job’.1

The Vice-Chancellor’s stipend is reported every January in Section A of the Financial Management Information for the year ended the 31 July previous. It will be interesting to see whether or not the figure the new Vice-Chancellor was defending includes pension contributions.

The Board of Scrutiny Report summarizes the dramatic increase in highly-paid staff over the last six years: a 75 percent increase in the number of staff paid more than £100,000, to 332, and a 450 percent increase in the number paid more than a quarter of a million a year.

One of the tasks of the Board of Scrutiny is to look at the Report of the Council on the financial position and budget of the University, recommending allocations from the Chest for each academical year, also known as the Allocations Report. The Allocations Report under scrutiny in this Report has, at paragraph 54, the clause:

…and £0.9m towards costs associated with changes in the senior leadership team of the University reflecting the implementation of decisions made by the Council,2

with the footnote that this £900,000 ‘…includes, but is not limited to, the new Chief Financial Officer’. One wonders what else it includes.

According to the Human Resources website:

The University of Cambridge offers a comprehensive reward package to attract, motivate and retain high performing staff at all levels and in all areas of work.3


The University offers employees a wide range of competitive benefits (including discretionary benefits) from health care cash plans to child care, bicycle and car hire schemes, to shopping and insurance discounts. There is something for everyone.4

No it doesn’t. It offers, and from the looks of the People Strategy Action Plan, intends to continue to offer, low stipends and salaries, below-inflation annual pay awards that are actually annual pay cuts, and a stressful environment in which many staff feel undervalued, and far too many feel so bullied and harassed that they do not even want to report it for fear of an adverse effect on their employment.

There is an employee ‘benefits’ scheme which seeks to distract from low pay, stressful work, and poor pensions, offering modest discounts on expensive boxes of chocolates and over-priced car insurance, allowing staff to have their feet nibbled on the cheap by Garra rufa fish during their lunch break while they relax and leaf through The Times, where they can enjoy reading about the new Vice-Chancellor’s defence of his £1,000 a day stipend, and his point blank refusal to countenance the idea of coming in to work for a penny less.

I should like to issue a challenge to the University Council: to make it a priority to bring concrete proposals to the Regent House to give us a meaningful, appropriate, and fair pay spine; to turn around the depressing results of recent staff surveys; to ensure that all staff receive an annual uplift to their stipend or salary which actually increases pay, rather than the below-inflation annual real terms pay cuts we have had for the last decade.

And I should like to issue a challenge to the new Vice-Chancellor. We elected you. And we elected you to provide strong leadership for us. My challenge is this, Vice-Chancellor: please be as quick to defend us and our pay as you were to defend your own.

Dr D. R. Thomas (Department of Computer Science and Technology, the West Cambridge Active Travel Group, and Peterhouse):

Deputy Vice Chancellor, the twenty-second Report of the Board of Scrutiny makes numerous useful remarks and I support all of its recommendations.

With regard to governance I think that it is important that post-docs from all Schools should be members of the Regent House. Post-docs conduct research, supervise undergraduate and graduate students, give lectures, run labs, set exam questions and mark them, apply for funding, interview applicants, and serve on departmental and University committees including the Council and Board of Scrutiny. Post-docs do all the things that University Teaching Officers do. Senior Research Associates are even on the same salary grade as Lecturers. The only difference between post-docs or contract researchers and University Teaching Officers is that they are on short-term contracts rather than having permanent positions. Some post-docs continue working for the University on short-term contracts for decades. The argument that post-docs’ short contracts mean that their interests are not aligned with the University would also apply to anyone approaching retirement age, or considering working in another institution, and hopefully this shows that it is a poor argument. One way to ensure that post-docs see the University as their own and seek its interests is to enfranchise them with Regent House membership.

With regard to finance there is still some room for improvement in the way the University brings in research funding. In some instances across multiple Schools, funds have taken 6, 8, or 12 months to travel from Development and Alumni Relations (CUDAR) or Research Operations Office (ROO) to the researchers who have obtained those funds and want to use them for their research. In some cases this has resulted in researchers receiving notice that they are being made redundant despite the next several years of their funding having arrived over twelve months previously. In other cases multi-million pound grants have been lost due to slowness in processing paperwork. While some of the staff at CUDAR and ROO are excellent there are still regular instances where things are going badly wrong. The University should use as a Key Performance Indicator for CUDAR the time between funding being received by the University and it being available to be used for its intended purpose. For ROO, where there are some additional complexities, a Key Performance Indicator of funder notification date to a usable cost centre could be used, though care would be required in interpreting it.

With regard to Estates, one way of further improving transparency around building projects would be for the draft planning documents to be made generally available to members of the University as a matter of course. This would provide members of the University an opportunity to review them before they become public and would help avoid the embarrassment of parts of the University objecting to the University’s own planning applications. By way of example: I represent the Department of Computer Science and Technology on the Shared Facilities Hub Representative User Group (SHRUG) and so I was able to obtain the draft planning documents for the Shared Facilities Hub and Cavendish III. That enabled me to find significant problems with them that can now be addressed before the documents are submitted for planning. My colleague who works in the Cavendish was unable to obtain such drafts despite having a keen interest in the success of the project. If this information was more widely available, others might be able to identify similar issues with other projects in advance.

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this year the Board has provided readers with a most welcome fresh set of introductory remarks to its annual Report. These are especially timely in the light of the governance review and also the orations of the Vice-Chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge given this year on 3 and 2 October respectively. Both universities are grappling with the question how to ensure that members of their sovereign bodies, the Regent House here in Cambridge, and Congregation in Oxford, are ‘engaged’ and able to play a full part in the exercise of an academic democracy now surviving only in these two ancient universities. The Report before us offers some reminders:

By offering this scrutiny and certain recommendations, the Board aims to assist Regents to engage in governance,


The Board hopes both to assist the Council and to help Regents to engage and make decisions about business; which may, for example, involve them commenting at Discussions; opposing, supporting, or proposing amendments to Graces; or promoting Graces.

Before the Congregation of the Regent House on 2 October, the valedictory remarks of the Vice-Chancellor Emeritus included a paragraph describing Cambridge governance working at its best:

Cambridge is an extraordinary community – sometimes almost a commune ... – of academics and administrators coming together for the greater benefit of the whole. We are certainly a broad church, in which different views and varying opinions are richly represented. But it has always been gratifying to see the constructive way in which discussions are conducted among the collegiate University’s constituent parts – and how, when the interest of the wider community is at stake, all constituent parts have risen to the challenge.

Cambridge’s new Vice-Chancellor made a careful speech with only one note which seems to have sent a frisson through some who heard or read it:

In setting directions for the University, I must rely heavily on the collective wisdom of the people who make Cambridge such an astonishing place to learn, work, teach, and research.

A week into his tenure he gave interviews to The Times and Times Higher Education outlining his proposed ‘directions for the University’ in more detail. That goes straight to the vexed question of the nature of the ‘leadership’ a Vice-Chancellor in Cambridge has actual ‘powers’ to offer, and the ways in which the Regent House can and should ‘engage in governance’. There is a potential tension here to which a new Vice-Chancellor will be wise to be sensitive.

The Oxford Vice-Chancellor, in her own remarks on 3 October, expressed some of the frustrations of her five terms in office so far:

In the past 21 months the most frequent question I have asked myself is ‘How can we be so good, when we organize ourselves in this sclerotic way?’1

She called for Oxford to reorganize itself so as to ‘make decisions more expeditiously’. It was exactly the expressed desire for speedier decision-making which gave rise to the Wass reforms in Cambridge, the North reforms in Oxford, and the two abortive attempts following on from the Lambert Review of 20032 to change their governance, again in order to ‘to speed up their decision-making processes’. Collegial decision-making is never going to be quick.

The remarks of the Board on Cambridge’s present Governance review are therefore timely and important. In both Universities, membership of the sovereign body – in Cambridge, expressly the governing body under Statute A III 1 – needs some clarification. Oxford records the addition of a few members of Congregation with each issue of the Gazette throughout the year but eligibility can be a matter of discretion. In Cambridge the rising proportion of academic staff who are ‘unestablished’ and therefore non-UTOs, some of whom gain membership and some do not, prompts the Board of Scrutiny to suggest that ‘certain qualifications for membership currently in operation appear to act inequitably and may need review’. That is clearly right.

Membership of the Regent House opens channels of what the Board helpfully describes as ‘informed participation in governance’ and confers ‘a valuable right’. The Board adds:

although much good work in explaining the University’s governance arrangements and engaging members of the Regent House has already been done through the Registrary’s Office ... the Board suspects that some Regents, particularly newcomers or those who are purely College-based, may still benefit from further outreach.

The Board tries out some possibilities for improving communication in its Recommendation that:

The Council should give further attention to the communication of business with the Regent House and to the proactive engagement of Regents in governance. Major reports, such as the annual reports of the Council and the General Board, and the chief financial reports, could be presented to Regents by additional means beyond publication in the Reporter, leading to, for example, a more ‘open’ form of Discussion, with a question and answer format, to permit actual debate.

It is the ‘leading to’ which needs more thought. It is a consistent pattern of academic behaviour not to ‘engage’ with governance until something affects the individual’s personal concerns in teaching or research or threatens his or her employment expectations in some way. The Board notes ‘poor participation’ in Discussions such as today’s, ‘except when particular items of business attract higher levels of interest.’ It suggests that:

Some form of Discussion conducted on a ‘Question and Answer’ (Q&A) model might be considered, allowing members of the University, with notice, to raise concerns directly with senior officers and with some opportunity for debate around the responses.

Those with long enough memories will recollect the experimental ‘road-shows’ of the period when Cambridge was last exploring ‘governance change’ more than a decade ago. These proved not to provide a real opportunity for debate. I remember most of the time being taken up with putting a management ‘case’, with the questions asked simply being written down for possible consideration behind the scenes. The Board of Scrutiny is more optimistic, looking further back to ‘a more informal Discussion’ held during the work of the Wass Syndicate:

at which the Vice-Chancellor, the Chair of the Syndicate, Sir Douglas Wass, and other Syndics were present to take questions and respond to comments. Some one hundred and thirty Senior members attended, as well as some Junior members and Assistant Staff. A summary of remarks made was published instead of a verbatim report.

There is the crunch. To be able to raise matters at some length as today, in a form which can be read and referred to in a printed record years, decades, now centuries on, is of immense value and importance, and not only to the historical record. The Reporter becomes the University’s Hansard in a way that unrecorded or summarized question and answer sessions can never be. I do not think it is suggested that because some debates are ill-attended in Parliament the system should be replaced by some experimental untried alternatives. I do not take that to be the Board’s suggestion, but I think the Regent House should be careful what it wishes for in making any significant changes to Discussions.

Report of the General Board, dated 4 October 2017, on revised terms of reference for Degree Committees

(Reporter, 6479, 2017–18, p. 42)

Dr R. Padman (Newnham College, and Chair of the Board of Graduate Studies):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as Chair of the Board of Graduate Studies.

The review of Degree Committees was requested by the General Board. Our information-gathering exercise highlighted a number of concerning issues:

(a)a lack of clarity as to where Degree Committees fit in the overall University committee structure, with some Committees not formally reporting to any other body;

(b)inconsistency of practice;

(c)inconsistency of resource to support Degree Committee activity.

At the same time as the review was taking place an internal audit of Graduate Progression and Examination was carried out. The auditor met a number of Degree Committee representatives as well as the Board’s Chair and Secretary. The audit raised a number of matters concerning Degree Committees, and various recommendations have been made to the Audit Committee in this regard. The audit highlighted a lack of awareness of some key University policies and procedures.

Taken together, the review and the internal audit highlight the vulnerability of our current position. Lack of a consistent approach not only impacts on student experience but also leaves the University open to a higher risk of complaints and appeals if processes are not correctly followed.

Although provision for Degree Committees is made in the Statutes and Ordinances (Statute A, Chapter 5; Ordinance, Chapter 9, Degree Committees), the Board feels that further clarity of Degree Committee remit and activity would be beneficial.

The Board identified the following key tasks for all Degree Committees:

(a)maintaining the highest academic standards for graduate degrees of the University;

(b)exercising a duty of care in respect of all graduate students, ensuring a positive student experience, and seeking to resolve issues when things don’t go to plan;

(c)ensuring the University’s Statutes and Ordinances and its internal procedures are applied equally for students in all Faculties.

The Board, under Reserved Business, sees at first-hand what happens when things go wrong. Much of the time, such cases are the unavoidable (by the University) consequence of poor decisions made by students. Too often, however, they are instead the entirely avoidable consequences of poor process and decision making by University staff, academic and otherwise. The Board notes that certain Degree Committees account for a high proportion of its work, and observes that these are the ones that deviate most from the practices recommended here.

The recommendations contained in the Report, if accepted, would enable the development of consistent and effective Degree Committee practice. They do not impinge on academic autonomy in any way. There are, however, implications in some cases for resourcing, which in the Board’s view are for Schools separately to resolve. The Board does not believe that the University can meet the recommendations of the internal audit without some measure of reform, and notes that inconsistency of practice is a major weakness in those cases that progress to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).

I commend this Report to the Regent House.

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, when I saw that today’s Discussion also included a Report of the General Board on Degree Committees I thought it might be interesting to read it since I used to be the Chairman of the Degree Committee of Clinical Medicine.

The first thing I noticed was that it recommends the University to revise a set of General Board Regulations although the Board could have simply published the revision in accordance with their power under Statute A V 1(d). This is much to be welcomed.

The change whereby Ordinances relating to General Board institutions (now called Regulations) were devolved from the authority of the Regent House to that of the Board followed the recommendations of the Wass Syndicate. It was both unnecessary and regrettable. Graces for the proposals of Reports had rarely been subject to a non-placet, and the main function of the procedure was to explain and advertise changes by publication in the Reporter. It was also good that such Ordinances had the authority of the Governing Body.

Secondarily, it allowed interested persons to comment on, and even offer corrections for, the proposed changes. I hope the Board will continue to submit changes in Regulations for scrutiny and approval by the Regent House as if they were Ordinances.

In the present case I can offer two suggestions. In Regulation 6(c) I think a place needs to be found for the new degree of Doctor of Medical Science, and the proper title of the degree there called Doctor of Literature is Doctor of Letters, while the degree called Master of Literature should be Master of Letters.