Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6505

Thursday 10 May 2018

Vol cxlviii No 29

pp. 550–569


Report of the General Board on arrangements for senior academic promotions

The General Board begs leave to report to the University as follows:

1. This Report proposes the first steps to implement a new Academic Career Pathway model (ACP Scheme) aligned to academic titles. The ACP Scheme is intended to replace the Senior Academic Promotions (SAP) Scheme, which will run for the last time in 2019 (Reporter, 2002–03, 5899, p. 98 and 5919, p. 729; 2011–12, 6266, p. 606; 2012–13, 6302, p. 423; 2015–16, 6434, p. 802) and current probationary arrangements (Reporter, 6383, 2014–15, p. 493). The ACP Scheme responds to concerns that the current process is unduly complex and lengthy, the evaluative criteria are weighted too heavily towards research, and there is a lack of constructive feedback to candidates.

2. A central aspect of the proposed move to an ACP Scheme is that when it is fully implemented criteria for academic excellence will act as a ‘golden thread’ running through the academic probation and promotion processes. Other proposed changes in the first stage and subsequently are set out below.

3. This Report covers the first stage of implementing this academic pathway model, suggesting changes to be made to the 2019 SAP exercise to accommodate some of the proposals where there was broad agreement from the consultation to proceed. If this Report is approved, further proposals to implement the ACP Scheme more fully will be brought forward during 2019–20. Those later changes will be the subject of a subsequent Report.

4. The proposals for change have arisen from the discussions of a Working Group formed in 2016 under the Talent Management strand of the University’s People Strategy to review the University’s current arrangements for managing the probation and promotion of its academic staff and to develop recommendations on how the University could best manage academic career paths. The Working Group concluded that:

(a)The current promotions guidance set out evidence to be provided but included only limited information on the assessment criteria. This meant that the SAP Scheme lacked transparency in that it was not clear how decisions were made. It would be helpful if evaluative criteria were developed to define academic excellence for each office which were applied consistently in probation and progression processes.

(b)There was no consistency of approach in terms of local promotions management.

(c)Eligible academics did not always seek appropriate advice before applying, as provided for in the SAP guidance.

(d)Each annual SAP exercise took more than a year including the appeals process. This period should be shortened to reduce the time before candidates received an outcome.

(e)The administrative load and timeframe would be reduced if there were two rather than three committee levels.

(f)The exercise was a competition where only the strongest candidates were promoted but it was described as a threshold process where candidates were placed above or below a line by the senior promotions committees and this led to unsuccessful applicants feeling very dissatisfied.

(g)Female academics were not applying at the expected rate, despite initiatives such as a CV mentoring scheme and provision to declare additional circumstances, for example childcare responsibilities, which impacted on their contribution. The equality and diversity and inclusivity provisions needed to be updated in line with best practice.

(h)There was concern that individuals who were eligible and ready for promotion were not putting themselves forward.

(i)There was no common understanding of the role of University Senior Lecturer (USL) across the Schools, with distinct differences between those in the sciences and the arts. There was also a ‘dual track’ problem; a University Lecturer (UL) could apply for promotion to the office of USL or to a Readership, causing confusion about the nature of the USL role.

(j)With greater emphasis being placed on teaching excellence and the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), more detail and weight needed to be given to teaching.

(k)There was no progression path for other academic roles such as teaching- and research-focused roles. A revised process could provide a career path for these roles, as provided by many Russell Group universities.

(l)Academic titles needed to be reviewed to ensure they described the broad range of the roles and took into account those used by peer institutions; it was noted that most Russell Group universities used the same titles as those in use at Cambridge and that a previous consultation at the University in Michaelmas Term 2014 on whether to change the academic titles had not found any significant appetite for change.

5. Heads of Schools and the Heads of academic institutions were provided with details of initial proposals made by the Working Group for consultation in Easter Term 2017. A second consultation was carried out during Michaelmas Term 2017, inviting comments from academic staff (Reporter, 6484, 2017–18, p. 108). A broad range of responses was received from both consultations. After each consultation further work was carried out to refine the ACP Scheme, taking into account the feedback received. A summary of each consultation and the resulting revised proposals were taken to the HR Committee for consideration. The proposals for initial steps set out in this Report were approved by the HR Committee at its meeting on 19 April 2018. Consultation responses are published on Moodle at

6. The following is a summary of the key proposals for the initial steps towards the ACP Scheme where changes are made to the 2019 Senior Academic Promotions exercise to be launched in August 2018, as follows:

(a)For applications for Professorships and Readerships, the standard model for scoring and weighting between the three evaluative criteria is to be adjusted as follows:

research/scholarship: up to a maximum of 50/100 (previously 30/50);

teaching: up to a maximum of 30/100 (previously 10/50);

general contribution: up to a maximum of 20 points (previously 10/50).

This change will represent a new beginning in how the University recognizes excellence in teaching. It will provide a foundation for other work on recognizing excellence in teaching, including the further evolution of the ACP Scheme and career progression for teaching-only staff (para. 12 ).

(b)Exceptional departures from the scoring and weightings in (a) will be permitted as follows:


research/scholarship: up to a maximum of 60/100 (previously 30/50);

teaching: up to a maximum of 20/100 (previously 10/50);

general contribution: up to a maximum of 20 points (previously 10/50).


research/scholarship: up to a maximum of 50/100 (previously 30/50);

teaching: up to a maximum of 20/100 (previously 10/50);

general contribution: up to a maximum of 30 points (previously 10/50).

These alternatives reflect the preference expressed by several Schools for some flexibility in adjusting the scores between the criteria. The level of flexibility is not as extensive as was recommended by the original Working Group proposal as that was not supported by consultation responses because it was felt that would be too complex to operate and concerns were expressed that it placed a heavy load on Heads of Institution. The level of flexibility will be made available on the basis that it is to be applied sparingly, proposed by the Head of Institution, and that the Faculty Committee (FC) formally records in the minutes in each case the reasons for departing from the standard scoring model. The operation of scoring flexibility should be kept under review and if it works well it could be expanded in the evolution of the ACP Scheme

(c)For applications for University Senior Lectureships, the scoring and weighting remain unchanged.

(d)The three-tier committee structure of the SAP Scheme (at Faculty, School, and General Board level) is retained. In the initial consultation two promotions committees rather than three were proposed by the Working Group but many respondents felt strongly that it was important to retain the local, Faculty level, in terms of specialist expertise and decision-making. It is therefore proposed that the SAP Scheme seeks instead to balance the need for multi-level participation and for a more streamlined and simplified process in a different way, where the overlap between the School Committee (SC) and the Faculty Committee is reduced and the FC’s role is mainly to evaluate candidates’ research/scholarship contribution. By implementing more efficient processes it may be possible for the promotions process to take place over a six-month timeframe. It is also proposed that an online process is developed to support the full move to the ACP Scheme, which would be an important step in achieving these efficiencies without affecting the quality of the promotions decisions. Key details are set out in the paragraphs below, with Annex A setting out in more detail the proposed committee membership, roles, and timetable.

(e)Under these proposals, the FC meets once, with membership agreed by the Council of the School (with the General Board approving the parameters of membership of the FCs rather than the individual members), focusing on assessing research contribution and making a recommendation on teaching and general contributions, with the SC making the final decision on scores.

(f)SC membership is also agreed by the relevant Council of the School, with General Board approval needed only for the membership of the Chair (external to the School) and external (to Cambridge) member. The SC’s remit of oversight and moderation in the current SAP process would continue.

(g)The number of SCs is increased to six, to allow for separate committees for the School of Clinical Medicine and the School of the Biological Sciences, in line with requests received from the Heads of both Schools and for administrative efficiency given the number of applications received. Each School would then have a separate promotions committee.

(h)The Head of School or another nominated member of the SC is expected to attend as an observer to the FC, leading to improved feedback as they could support the Head of Department with this process.

(i)A Vice-Chancellor’s Committee then makes the final recommendations to the General Board for approval, as in the current SAP process.

(j)A career development process is followed to ensure readiness for promotion, with clear guidance and constructive feedback.

(k)The SAP Scheme (and in due course the ACP Scheme) will be informed by the best current thinking on good equality and diversity practice to widen inclusion, including the use of a CV template and the treatment of contextual factors. The focus on reviewing gender representation, introduced with the 2017 SAP exercise, is retained with the aim of increasing the rate of applications from female academics and expanding the provisions to cover inclusion of under-represented groups. These proposals also include unconscious bias training, annual briefings for committee members on decision-making, and career progression workshops for academics at key points. (Annex B sets out these proposals in more detail.)

7. It is proposed that the following Key Principles underpinning the ACP Scheme be taken forward in the SAP Scheme for 2019, replacing corresponding SAP provisions:

(a)The University of Cambridge is committed, in its pursuit of academic excellence, to equality of opportunity and to a proactive approach that supports and encourages all under-represented groups, promotes an inclusive culture, and values diversity.

(b)All persons involved in administering academic promotions processes should exercise impartiality and fairness and be seen to do so. Declarations of interest should be made at appropriate stages. Appropriate training should be completed.

(c)Members of committees should ensure that their consideration is collective, fair, impartial, and evidence-based.

(d)The University should provide a supportive career development process and academic officers should participate.

(e)All processes should be organized in a timely and transparent way.

(f)Constructive, helpful, developmental feedback should be provided at all appropriate stages.

(g)All applications and documentation should be treated as confidential and in accordance with data protection principles.

8. Broadening the scope to include the Senior Researcher Promotions (SRP) scheme will be reviewed once there is an agreed way forward for the senior academic promotions scheme. If this Report is approved, changes will be made to the 2019 SRP scheme which are in line with the SAP proposals, for example to update its key principles in line with para. 7 above. During the 2018–19 academical year targeted consultation will take place so that a revised SRP Scheme that supports career progression for research staff and is in line with ACP proposals (see paras. 9 and 10 below) can be prepared. Then, if the Report proposing implementation of the ACP Scheme in 2019 is approved, an updated SRP Scheme will also be launched.

9. To achieve the aim of moving fully to the new ACP Scheme in the 2020 exercise will require additional work and further consultation. A subsequent Report will take forward the finalized proposals during the 2018–19 academical year. Current thinking is set out below but these are not final proposals and this section is for information only:

(a)Evaluative criteria defining academic excellence for promotion to each senior office. The proposed evaluative criteria would be: research; teaching and researcher development; and service. These criteria are similar to the SAP criteria but the proposed teaching criterion would be expanded to include early-career researcher development, thus including all aspects of developing the next generation of academic staff; and the service criterion would make explicit reference to service to the University and to the wider academic community.

(b)Applicants for promotion would be assessed against the evaluative criteria, informed by indicators of excellence. A limited number of examples of indicators of excellence would be set out under each criterion, informed by experience of what success looks like in the promotions context under the SAP Scheme and also by consultation responses identifying key activities and contributions that should count towards promotion success. The stated indicators would not be intended to be exhaustive. Applicants would be reviewed against these evaluative criteria within the context of relevant disciplinary norms, and committee minutes would record the applicable indicators of excellence, including but not limited to those stated in the ACP Scheme documentation. The publication of these indicators of excellence would enhance the transparency of the Scheme. The proposed evaluative criteria and indicators of excellence for promotion to Professor and Reader respectively have been shared with institutions during consultation and will be further developed over the coming year to ensure they reflect arts and sciences disciplines.

(c)Probationary arrangements would be aligned with the promotions excellence criteria, with confirmation of tenure carried out by the relevant Faculty Committee. New guidance on managing probation would be introduced to assist in ensuring the process is followed properly.

(d)Several proposals were put forward during the consultation exercises based on the USL title being conferred by the relevant body on confirmation of tenure. Further consultation will be carried out before putting forward proposals for the USL in the subsequent Report.

(e)An appropriate budget for the ACP Scheme would be established.

10. The full set of Key Principles would be adopted with the full move to the ACP Scheme in 2020, including the following additional clauses:

(a)The University should provide a flexible career pathway for established academic officers that gives due recognition to excellence in research, teaching, contributions to the running of the University, and service to the academy including public engagement.

(b)Appropriate budgetary provision should be made so that deserving candidates receive appropriate recognition and reward.

(c)All processes should be supported by modern and user-friendly business systems to ensure administrative efficiency, and also to promote fairness and equality by enabling data to be monitored for diversity.

11. The General Board would have the discretion to make changes to the ACP Scheme processes set out above as it deemed necessary, provided that those changes were in line with the Key Principles, and made in the light of experience, for the effective running of future ACP Scheme rounds.

12. The proposals set out in this Report reflect a focus initially limited to a standard ACP Scheme for academic staff and the SRP scheme. Work will continue on possibilities for further evolution of the ACP Scheme, going beyond the proposals already outlined, as follows:

(a)Developing a distinct exceptional teaching strand and scoring model, to provide recognition of outstanding teaching and educational leadership alongside an effective contribution to research and service. Proposals for this strand were taken forward as part of the second consultation but there was a mixed response, with several respondents commenting that flexibility in scoring across the criteria would be preferable to a separate strand.

(b)The possible development of a clinical excellence strand, which would be the subject of a separate consultation.

The introduction of (a) or (b) would be preceded by the publication of a Report.

In addition, work will also continue on the development of a career progression scheme for senior teaching-only staff.

13. The General Board recommends:

I.That, with effect from 1 August 2018, the proposals to take first steps towards establishing a new academic career pathway model, set out in paragraph 6 of this Report are adopted, incorporating these changes into the Senior Academic Promotions Scheme for 2019.

II.That, with effect from 1 August 2018, the Key Principles underpinning the Senior Academic Promotions Scheme set out in paragraph 7 of this Report are adopted.

2 May 2018

Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor

Martha Krish

Helen Thompson

Philip Allmendinger

Patrick Maxwell

Graham Virgo

Abigail Fowden

Martin Millett

Mark Wormald

A. L. Greer

Richard Prager

Darshana Joshi

Susan Rankin

Annex A: Committee membership, roles, and timetable


The ACP Scheme seeks to balance the need for multi-level participation and for a more streamlined and simplified process. A three-tier committee structure for considering promotion applications is followed, including a Faculty-level (FC) Committee, School-level (SC) Committee and Vice-Chancellor’s Committee (VCC), as set out below.

General Comments

The gender balance of the promotions committee should be as close to 50% male and 50% female as reasonably possible and should normally include a minimum of two members of each gender. Consideration should also be given to the racial and ethnic diversity of the committees.

All members of the promotions committees are responsible for ensuring that the assessment of applications has been conducted fairly and transparently and complies with the ACP Scheme Key Principles. Any member can challenge the process at any time if that member considers that it is not being conducted fairly, transparently, in accordance with the required procedure or the Key Principles.

The University members of the promotions committees are expected to undertake relevant training in equality and diversity matters as specified by the Human Resources Division on behalf of the General Board and to attend an annual meeting covering decision-making.

Meetings should be arranged so that, if possible, all members can attend. The quorum for all committees is two-thirds of the membership, subject to a minimum of four members. Decisions should be made with the concurrence of the majority of members attending the meeting.

Faculty and School Committee membership

The membership of both the FC and SC comprise:

a minimum of five members and normally not more than nine members, who will be at professorial level and will be chosen to cover the range of disciplines covered by the committee.

a professorial member of staff in an appropriate subject area who is independent of the institutions covered by that committee.

There should be no overlap in the membership of these committees in any exercise.

Further details about the membership and role of these committees is set out below.

Faculty Promotions Committee (FC)

For each exercise the Faculty Boards will recommend appointment of the Faculty members of the committee for approval by the relevant Council of the School. Where it makes sense in academic terms, Faculty Boards may recommend that a FC be constituted to serve more than one Faculty/Institution, which will consider applications from these Faculties/Institutions. The General Board will approve the parameters of membership of the FCs.

A Chair will be appointed from among the approved FC members. Other attendees at the meeting include:

a Faculty or Departmental Administrator to act as Secretary, providing advice and guidance as appropriate and together with the Chair overseeing the fair and effective operation of the procedure;

the relevant Head of School (or another nominated member of the SC) as an invited observer.

The role of the FC is to:

assist the Chair and Secretary in nominating references. The Secretary will then obtain all references before the meeting;

review applications, ensuring there is a complete set of documentation for each applicant;

consider each application at the meeting, evaluating and scoring the candidate’s research contribution against the evaluative criteria and recording collective decisions against indicators for this criterion which are illustrative for the particular Faculty/Institution;

decide overall whether each case meets the criteria across the three areas: research, teaching, and service, confirming its assessment to the SC. The FC may if it wishes assess each candidate against the teaching and general contribution criteria, making recommendations to the SC which will reach the final decision on evaluations, for consideration by the VCC.

School Committee (SC)

There will be six School committees, one for each School. For each exercise the relevant Council of the School will agree membership of the SC, including nominating a Chair from an institution independent of that School for appointment by the General Board. The Head of School will be a member of this committee. The General Board will appoint an external member, who will be distinguished academics, one drawn from each of the SC areas. Members will normally serve on this committee for three years.

Other attendees at the meeting include:

the relevant HR Business Manager for that School who will act as Secretary, providing advice and guidance as appropriate and together with the Chair overseeing the fair and effective operation of the procedure.

The role of the SC is to:

review the research evaluation and score for each candidate from the FCs, where necessary making changes it believes are necessary to ensure that they have been applied consistently between candidates and across SCs, recording its decisions against the relevant indicators of excellence for this criterion;

in addition, to assess and score each candidate against the teaching and general contribution criteria, recording decisions against the relevant indicators;

decide which applicants meet the required standard of excellence and should be promoted, producing a rank order of total scores for each office;

agree a feedback statement for each applicant to be provided at their feedback meeting with the Head of Institution.

Vice-Chancellor’s Committee (VCC): membership and role

The VCC members comprise:

the Vice-Chancellor in the Chair;

the Chair and external member of each SC;

the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations.

Other attendees at the meeting include:

the Director of Human Resources acting as Secretary, providing advice and guidance as appropriate and together with the Chair overseeing the fair and effective operation of the procedure;

the Academic Secretary as Secretary of the General Board.

The role of the VCC is to moderate between the SCs to ensure that a consistent standard has been achieved. Therefore, the committee will receive the rank order of candidates for each office and consider the documentary evidence for applicants, deciding whether any adjustments in evaluation are necessary.

The VCC then makes recommendations to the General Board concerning applicants that should be promoted for the academic offices.

The General Board then receives these recommendations and approves cases for promotion.

Launch of the Scheme

Early September

Deadline for submission of documentation from applicants

Early November

Meeting of Faculty Committee to evaluate applications (references have been taken up before committee meets)

During February

Meetings of the six School Committees

During March

Meeting of Vice-Chancellor’s Committee

Early May

The meeting of the General Board receives recommendations of the VCC and Report for approval and publication in the Reporter

Early June

Annex B: Equal Opportunity

The University of Cambridge is committed in its pursuit of academic excellence to equality of opportunity and to a proactive and inclusive approach to equality, which supports and encourages all underrepresented groups, promotes an inclusive culture, and values diversity.

The core value of equality is deeply rooted in the University’s ethos of pursuing excellence in education, learning, and research at the highest international levels.

There is an increasing body of evidence suggesting an impact of unconscious bias on the assessment of candidates for promotion and progression. The impact of bias can potentially negatively affect the recruitment, retention, and progression of underrepresented staff members at all levels of career progression.

Putting measures in place to mitigate against potential bias is important at every stage of the career pathway process. Further guidance on how we can mitigate the impact of implicit bias during the promotion process will be made available to Departments and Faculties.

Bias is a cognitive process which can be defined as skewed information processing under the influence of context and accumulated experience. … These useful, cognitive ‘short-cuts’ can also mislead us, because they tend to make us pay more attention to information that confirms our expectations and less attention to disconfirming information, thus introducing biases. LERU

Protected characteristics*

Protected characteristics are defined in the Equality Act 2010 as Sex, Gender Reassignment, Marriage or Civil Partnership, Pregnancy or Maternity, Race (including Ethnic or National Origin, Nationality or Colour), Disability, Sexual Orientation, Age, or Religion or Belief. The University respects all religious and philosophical beliefs, as well as the lack of religion or belief, and the right of all members of its community to discuss and debate these issues freely.

No member of staff with a protected characteristic as defined by the Equality Act 2010 will be treated less favourably than another because of this protected characteristic.

Underrepresentation in academic positions

Recent research confirms that women, black and minority ethnic (BME), and disabled staff are underrepresented in senior academic positions of the university sector (ECU, 2015).

Existing research reveals several factors contributing to the disparities in the promotion of underrepresented groups to the higher ranks of the university system. These factors include:

subtle stereotyping and bias (conscious or unconscious)

long hours culture

reliance on social normalization that women have family and domestic responsibilities

structuring of academic work and career paths (Roth and Sonnert, 2010)

Peer reviewers failing to interpret and apply evaluative criteria in consistent ways (Lee et al., 2013)

On average, female STEMM academics reported having significantly:

more teaching and administrative duties, with less recognition for these efforts

less time to devote to research

additional caring responsibilities

fewer training opportunities and more barriers to training

In contrast, male STEMM academics were significantly more likely to enjoy:

a formally assigned mentor

opportunities to sit on important departmental committees

access to senior staff

(2016 Athena Survey of Science, Engineering, and Technology (ASSET)).

The University’s response to addressing the underrepresentation of groups at senior levels is to take forward initiatives which aim to target bias and to support individual attributes. These will help to ensure that staff members from underrepresented groups are encouraged and supported within the process.

The University is taking a number of practical steps to bring equality and diversity to the forefront of decision-making within the ACP Scheme. These include:

Support for the Faculty Committee (FC)

Careful consideration of the composition of the committee will be encouraged to ensure broad representation of all groups.

The Chair of each committee will also be prompted to initiate and facilitate a discussion on unconscious bias at the outset of any meeting.

A series of training events will accompany the new ACP (formerly SAP) Scheme. Members of the FC will be advised to attend a workshop which will cover equality and diversity implications of the promotions process. This will include understanding bias in research outputs and how to mitigate for the impact of unconscious bias across the ACP process.

Support for the Head of Department

Heads of Departments will be encouraged to:

have supportive conversations with all staff eligible to apply for senior promotions

ensure that the SAP CV scheme is actively promoted to all staff

actively seek underrepresented staff who are potentially ready for promotion and encourage them to apply

support underrepresented staff to find a mentor

discuss promotion pathways with underrepresented staff not yet ready for promotion, discussing career development opportunities through the SRD process.

Allowance for contextual factors

It is agreed that the quality and impact of an applicant’s performance should be assessed objectively and on the same basis as other applicants.

It is also important, however, to understand and address contextual factors by making appropriate equality-related adjustments to allow for a fair promotions process where those who have faced these additional barriers will be considered on an even footing. Promotions committees should take into account that not all careers follow a standard and uninterrupted route. All metrics should be considered in context with other factors to ensure that a balanced view is taken of the individual’s overall contribution to research or teaching or administration.

Contextual factors may include, but are not limited to:

part-time working

ill health or injury


caring responsibilities

periods of leave or unavailability including those related to maternity or parental leave

bereavement leave

It is important to note and agree that equality-related adjustments do not allow committees to lower the bar when assessing excellence.

For example, any reduction in working time of the candidate due to contextual factors should be taken into account when judging the quality of their work or output. One way of making an appropriate adjustment would be to consider the impact of the issue on the quantity of activity undertaken. In these circumstances committees would still require the candidate to demonstrate the same standard (quality) as other candidates in terms of the excellence of their contribution. However, the quantity of research output would be adjusted.

Advice should be sought at the earliest opportunity from the relevant HR Business Manager in order that any relevant support may be provided.

Editorial footnote

  • *14 May 2018: This part of Annex B has been amended so as to use the term 'protected characteristics' as provided in the Equality Act 2010.