Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6524

Wednesday 31 October 2018

Vol cxlix No 6

pp. 86–104

Report of Discussion: Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Mr Roger Mosey was presiding, with the Registrary's deputy, the Junior Proctor, the Deputy Senior Proctor, and thirteen other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Twenty-third Report of the Board of Scrutiny, dated 30 September 2018

(Reporter, 6521, 2018–19, p. 42).

Mr T. N. Milner (Chair of the Board of Scrutiny in 2017–18, and Darwin College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have the honour of introducing this Report. My latest term on the Board and my year chairing it ended on October 1st and I must begin by thanking the other members for their patience and collaborative work over the last year, as well as for providing consistent good humour and stimulating company and not least for electing me as their Chair. Those who read the summary of our activity in 2017–18 will see that the time and effort involved in producing these Reports is significant; it is for the members to research, write, and edit them, while the Board's Support Officer assists with the administration of the meetings.

The Board of Scrutiny makes no special claim on understanding or wisdom. It is no more (but no less) than twelve members of the Regent House drawn from across the University and its Colleges; eight elected directly and four indirectly through their nomination by a College for election as Proctor or Pro-Proctor. Unlike the Council or the General Board, it has no executive function and it is not in that sense an opposition or 'management in waiting', although a number of former members serve and have served on the Council. As will be seen in the Report, the Board aims to help self-governance work by grappling with and teasing out the business of the University as it evolves, through studying the documents it must examine and discussion with those it meets, as well as through noting remarks made at Discussions. It is part of a system of checks and balances, but only rarely does it suggest to members of the Regent House at large how they might vote. It does, however, make recommendations, which combined with the thinking-through in its Reports, should help members of the Regent House to engage with University business and the decisions we are asked to make. At the same time it hopes to assist the Council and the General Board as policy-makers by providing an independent commentary and perspective on that area.

It will come as no surprise that, as mentioned in our Report, we believe that there are serious challenges facing the University. We hope that both this Report and its predecessors will interest and encourage members of the Regent House to engage thought, energy, and time (upon which there are already heavy demands) in our business as a whole, and not only around particular concerns, important though these may be. In a democratic system such engagement must include willingness to participate through service on the Council or the Board of Scrutiny. Four places on the Board are open for election every other year. Time-consuming though such service may be, it is also highly rewarding.

Mr D. J. Goode (Chair of the Board of Scrutiny, Faculty of Divinity, and Wolfson College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am the Chair of the Board of Scrutiny, but am speaking in this Discussion in a personal capacity.

The Board of Scrutiny customarily engages in a detailed analysis of matters it thinks of importance for the University, and produces recommendations. This twenty-third Report is no different, and the Board has made eight recommendations, each of which needs to be implemented.

You will be relieved to hear that I am not going to comment on each of the Report's 74 paragraphs, nor even all eight of its recommendations. I am going to limit my remarks to two sections: governance and human resources, though much of the human resources section is really also about governance.

Paragraphs 16 to 18 deal with amendments to Graces. It has become clear that the Council should have the ability to propose an amendment to an initiated Grace. The present regulations concerning amendments put the decision on the admissibility, and form, of amendments in the hands of the Vice-Chancellor. This may be appropriate while the Council does not have the authority to propose amendments to initiated Graces unless an amendment has already been proposed by individual members of the Regent House. But, as the Vice-Chancellor is the ordinary Chair of the Council, she or he might be perceived to have a conflict of interest if, the Council having proposed its own amendment to a Grace initiated by members of the Regent House, a competing amendment to that Grace needs to be ruled inadmissible, or a choice between the Council's own amendment and similar amendments by members of the Regent House must be made. Decisions on admissibility or form of amendments should not be made by the Chair of the body proposing an amendment of its own to a Grace it did not initiate.

Paragraph 18 deals with a situation which arose in the ballot on Grace 1 of 7 February 20181 and an amendment.2 The ballot paper said:

Under Regulation 11 of the regulations for Graces and Congregations (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 105), the Vice-Chancellor has authority to determine the form of the voting paper when an amendment has been proposed. Normally the paper would allow voters to indicate their preference for the following option: against the Grace in either its original or amended form. In this case, the Vice-Chancellor has determined that this option should not be included, as this would allow the possibility of the retention of the provision concerning the age limit, which could be challenged as discriminatory.

Members of the Regent House found themselves forced by this determination into an Orwellian version of Hobson's Choice: unable to reject the Grace and the amendment, on the flimsy ground that this might allow a 'possibility' which 'could' be challenged, while, whichever way one voted – either in its original form or amended – the only possible outcome of the ballot was approval of the Grace!

Paragraph 18 of this Report is clear and unequivocal:

Amendments should not remove the power of negation from the Regent House. An un-amended Grace changing an unsatisfactory or unlawful situation can be rejected, even if that is unlikely and undesirable. Removing that choice in a ballot if an amendment or amendments arise diminishes the authority of the Regent House.

As it turns out, Grace 1 of 7 February 2018 in amended form was approved by a narrow margin and the Regent House informed in a Notice of 23 March 2018;3 but, following an objection from a College over the Long Vacation, the Grace was set aside in a Notice of 24 September 2018,4 and the matter in question will be reconsidered.

It is wholly unacceptable that the Regent House was denied the democratic right to reject both the Grace and the amendment, and forced to approve the Grace in either one form or the other, and this must not happen again.

Paragraph 71 of the Report deals with the increasing use of unestablished posts in the University. The Board says:

While the use of unestablished posts may be appropriate in certain contexts, such as the acquisition of specialist skills for a fixed-term project, or to provide temporary cover, the Board is concerned that if this trend continues, it will have constitutional implications for the Regent House. It could also lay the University open to discrimination claims if staff with similar duties have different terms and conditions.

The glacial progress of the working group on membership of the Regent House (see paragraph 20 of this Report) has resulted in an initiated Grace from members of the Regent House to force the issue, and an amendment, both of which are, along with a Grace proposed by the Council, the subject of a ballot in which voting is still open.5 The Board's recommendation at paragraph 21 begins by saying:

Active engagement by members of the Regent House in governance is essential...

Indeed it is, and I urge any members of the Regent House present here today who have not yet voted to read the fly-sheets, consider the issues raised, make up your mind, and vote before 5 p.m. on Thursday.

Mr G. Chesterman (Director of the Careers Service, and St Edmund's College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, my colleagues and I at the Careers Service acknowledge the Board of Scrutiny's latest report and welcome the Board's comments on the 17% planned increase in postgraduate student numbers over the coming three years (paragraph 59) impacting on all those departments supporting our students (paragraphs 61 and 62).

Over the last ten years, student numbers have increased from some 17,800 to 21,600, an increase of over 20%. The introduction of new one-year Masters courses accounts for much of this increase. These students are enthusiastic and demanding users of the Careers Service, having to cram their careers research, identify employers, make strong applications, and succeed at interview into an already tightly-packed nine-month period. As of today, 53% of all Masters students have already engaged with the Careers Service, less than a month after arriving in Cambridge. Our undergraduates and Ph.D. researchers have the relative luxury of three years to complete this process. Many Masters students chose to study at Cambridge with the main aim of securing a job, and we have every sympathy for this cohort, many of whom – barely a week after arriving here – need to immediately and actively engage with the Careers Service and employers to secure an offer of employment post-graduation. Our international students also have the added complexities surrounding work permits for those hoping to start work in the UK, and this only adds to their anxieties.

Although we have introduced new ways of supporting all our students over the last fifteen years: more group work, calling on the generosity of employers' time to run skill sessions, hosting more careers events, and using well-tailored technology to support individual students – we still face infinite student demand for our finite resources. The Careers Service has not benefited from any commensurate increase in the number of our chest-funded staff to meet the 20% student increase over the last ten years. And, this coming year, we are having to deal with a chest income that remains flat.

I am speaking on behalf of only one department supporting students, the Careers Service. However, I hope that any decision to increase postgraduate numbers by yet another 13%, most of them one-year Masters students, over the next three years is accompanied by decisions to allocate additional resources to allow our support departments to continue to provide the essential professional support our students have a right to expect, and many need.

Dr M. J. Rutter (Department of Physics):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, a significant part of the Board of Scrutiny's Report for 2017–18 is concerned with governance. In May 2017 Council set up a Working Group to consider, and to Report, on various aspects of governance, including the membership criteria for the Regent House. We still await its Report.

Last year saw Council submit a Grace to extend to Principal Research Associates and Directors of Research the possibility of membership of the Regent House on the same terms as the lower grades of Senior Research Associates and Research Associates. That recommendation had been made in an earlier Report in 2010, but was never Graced.

Twenty-six members of the Regent House then signed an amendment to this Grace to remove the requirement for Research Associates and Computer Associates to be members of a Faculty before they qualify for Regent House membership. Council ruled this amendment inadmissible, as not being relevant to the purpose of the Grace, but accepted the amendment as a Grace in its own right, despite it having far fewer than the fifty signatures one would expect for a Grace. This new Grace then attracted an amendment of its own, proposing a three-year qualifying period before gaining Regent House membership.

The 'twenty-six member Grace' would add approximately two thousand people to the roll of Regent House – a larger number than the number of votes cast in most Ballots recently. It would significantly alter the balance of Regent House between Officers and those whom HR likes to call 'contract staff', and between the Arts and the Sciences.

It would deepen the division between unestablished academic-related IT staff, almost all of whom would become members, and the many other highly-skilled unestablished academic-related staff, none of whom would be admitted. Not a change which I would propose under a claim of fairness and equality.

Changes to the membership of the Regent House on this scale need careful thought and open Discussion. The timescales for proposing amendments, complete with a full set of signatures, mean that they tend to be rushed. In this case I believe that there are signatories who now realize that their wording has unintended and unwelcome consequences.

I look forward to the Report from Council's Working Group, although now with some fear that all sides seem to have lost confidence in it. I look forward to the Discussion which will follow, as I have plenty more to say on this issue which I will spare you today. And I hope that the recent Grace, whatever the outcome of the Ballot, does not tie the hands of the Working Group.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, having read Microcosmographia Academia, I know the safe response when faced with Young Men in a Hurry. I was therefore a little disturbed that the reassuring words 'non placet' did not appear on the electronic balloting system, having been replaced with 'neither'.

The Board is concerned about the growth in the number of unestablished academic-related staff, and juxtaposes comments on implications for Regent House membership with concerns that the University might be open to discrimination claims if staff with similar duties have different terms and conditions. This is a concern, but I hope that the Board is clear that some benefits, privileges and responsibilities arise from employment, and some from one's position within the membership of the University. Being an employee of the University, and being a member of the University, are quite distinct concepts.

The Board appears not to be concerned about the growth of unestablished research posts. My concern is that I believe that there has been a growth of such posts at the level of Principal Research Associate and Director of Research, that is to say, above the pay-grade of Lecturer. Indeed, I believe that this growth has caused the Council-initiated Grace to which I referred at the start of these remarks. It is hard to see why people of this seniority, who are clearly research active and generally performing with international recognition, should be denied Established posts when Established posts are available to academic-related staff who are active in neither teaching nor research.

Finally the Board's Report also discusses finance, and in particular Chest allocations. It notes some significant recurrent allocations to CUDAR, the UAS, and the UIS. Significant in that they would fund many chairs of the sort that are proposed in the other Report to be Discussed this afternoon. However the Board of Scrutiny's Report makes no attempt to discern whether this expenditure of Chest money is producing a benefit for the University. I can imagine that it could be a wise, necessary, and fruitful investment. I can imagine that it could be a profligate waste. I would find it helpful if the Board's Report guided my imagination.

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it is convenient to place beside what the Board says in its Report the Vice-Chancellor's report of his MyCambridge Consultation, particularly the section on 'Governance, management, and systems'.1 That begins with:

It was acknowledged that Cambridge was one of the most democratic universities in the world, with all members of the Regent House being potential participants in fundamental decisions,

There discussion of the role of the Regent House as governing body2 of the University (or at all) ends.

Nor does the Vice-Chancellor's Consultation summary address another area of concern to which the Board gives space and thought in this year's Report: the problem of the increasing number of unestablished posts. The Consultation summary merely notes in passing that 'there were calls to address inequalities such as established vs. unestablished posts'.

The Board stresses the constitutional danger of this 'trend':

Established offices, both academic and academic-related, are regulated by Statutes and Ordinances, confer membership of the Regent House and its associated entitlements (only some unestablished posts offer this), ...

Statistics for appointments for the last five years show that appointments to unestablished posts are increasing and the Board points out that the:

criteria on which a decision to change from established to unestablished (or vice versa) is made are not readily available, nor is there any identification of this trend in the People Strategy – Action Plan (2016–21).

'The Board is concerned that if this trend continues, it will have constitutional implications for the Regent House,' and recommends that 'the effect of reducing the Establishment with regard to governance and conditions of employment' should 'be actively reviewed and the reasons for it be made transparent'.

Under the heading of the 'Governance Review', the Board comments that 'progress' with this 'seems slow'. The Board puts this down in part to 'the increased demand on resources' created by the more frequent use of the provision under which:

Any fifty members of the Regent House may initiate a Grace for submission to the Regent House, and any twenty-five members may initiate a proposal for the amendment of a Grace already submitted to the Regent House but not yet approved (Special Ordinance A (i) 5).

This, suggests the Board, may indicate a need for 'greater overall support for our governance processes'.

There is a paradox here. On the one hand the Board calls for active 'engagement by members of the Regent House in governance'. On the other hand it notes that 'since 2017 there has been a marked increase in the frequency of Graces initiated by members of the Regent House'. Its more frequent use demonstrates the importance of that right of the Regent House, hard won during the Wass Reforms. (It is still less easy than the right of twenty members of Oxford's Congregation to submit a Resolution, the counterpart of a Grace.3 Yet members of the Regent House have the immense advantage of the publication of a full Report with recommendations while members of Congregation have only 'a preamble shortly stating the principle of the measure'4 when asked to approve a legislative proposal.)

The Board recognizes that it takes some degree of mastery of the rules on the part of members of the Regent House to initiate a Grace properly and effectively. It asks whether the rules 'are sufficient, clear, and not unduly complex', and whether 'these processes – including the limitations of Graces – could be better advertized, e.g. on the governance web pages?'

Does the problem go deeper? There is a case for saying that the active intervention of members of the Regent House in this way has become an indication that there are strains in the system. If a rare use of an extraordinary power becomes more frequent it is important to ask why that is happening. It may suggest that the Council has not had its ear as close as it should to Regent House concerns, as well as that the Regent House has not been as active as it could in speaking in Discussions.

This Report of the Board of Scrutiny makes its own significant contribution to the 'governance' review, which includes Discussions and membership of the Regent House, but much of its Report this year is given up to noting points where the system has been showing signs of strain. These do not coincide tidily with the topics which form the remit of the review and for that reason it has seemed worth highlighting them in remarks in this Discussion. For the Governance Review's 'three topics' approach carries obvious risks to the integrity of the constitution as a whole.

The Board of Scrutiny sees the role of members of the Regent House as 'active' participants in governance, as central:

The Board hopes to assist the Council as well as helping members of the Regent House to engage with and make decisions about business; for example through commenting at Discussions, or by opposing, supporting, amending, or promoting Graces.

'We hope to encourage discussion and collaborative thinking across the University,' it adds.

It is not the first time it has stressed how important this is.

In its last Report, the Board drew attention to the need for members of the Regent House, as well as members of the Council, to be clear about their rights and responsibilities: 'Understanding the respective duties and powers of the Council and of the Regent House is important'.

The Report goes further. Membership of the Regent House is a privilege which carries a responsibility to master the rules of engagement. The Board adds a warning about the consequences of failure to do that:

Restrictions imposed both by our own Statutes and by law create the potential for tension between the desire of members of the Regent House to be active in governance (which the Board strongly supports) and the constraints on the University and its Council (the membership of the latter being predominantly elected or approved by the Regent House). If this is not understood, it might in time corrode confidence in our constitution.

The Board makes the practical suggestion that:

those initiating a Grace should be actively encouraged to consult an officer such as the University Draftsman for advice, to avoid proposing formulations which are likely to be contrary to law or our Statutes, or to prove ineffective because they are imprecise or ambiguous.

One hopes they will, for there is nothing like exactness in legal drafting to cool the blood and assist in the task of thinking things through.

Mr J. A. Harding (Head of the Disability Resource Centre, and Queens' College), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to make a comment supporting the statement in paragraph 62 of the Board of Scrutiny's 23rd Annual Report stating the need for increased capacity for University student services, including the Disability Resource Centre (DRC).

To add some contextual data, I can report that the total number of current disabled students disclosing a disability to the collegiate University rose from 600 in 2008 to 3,100 in 2018 (i.e., those are the total current disabled student numbers in those two years in July).

In the last three years the total number of disabled students has risen by 70% alone. Given that a high proportion of these students are students with mental health difficulties, the complexity of cases has also increased, so it is not just about the numbers. Also, in relation to increase in graduate student numbers, the proportion of disabled graduate students as a proportion of the whole (i.e., all disabled students) has risen from 30% in 2008 to 50% in 2018. This has led to an increase in demand on the DRC outside of term times as this cohort of students are here all year round.

These increases in numbers, demand, and case complexity have placed significant pressure on the DRC, its staff, and its central role in ensuring the institution meets its statutory duties with regard to support for disabled students.

Although the DRC has had some welcome additional resource during the period 2008–2018 this has not been in line with the increase in student numbers, and so I welcome the Board of Scrunity's statement regarding supporting the capacity of student support services to meet increased demand for services and further planned increases in Student numbers.

Dr P. A. Sliwa (Faculty of Philosophy, and Sidney Sussex College), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am speaking in my role as one of Cambridge UCU's Equality and Diversity Officers. I note points 22–27 with great interest and welcome the acknowledgement that the University finances are in great financial health. The following observation in paragraph 26 strikes me as particularly noteworthy:

In summary, over the last seven years the University has enjoyed real income growth that has matched or even exceeded that of many successful private sector businesses, whilst limiting growth in key elements of its cost base (principally wages). This has led to an unusual situation where the University has been through a period of what appears to be favorable financial circumstances for the institution as a whole, while the majority of its employees have generally experienced a fiscal squeeze at individual and often Departmental levels.

The fiscal squeeze is real. Since 2009 wages for staff at the University of Cambridge have risen by only 9.5%. Meanwhile the cumulative inflation (using CPI) has been 24.6%, average house prices in Cambridge have risen by nearly 90% according to Land Registry data, and the UCam workplace nursery fees have risen by 35%.

The fiscal squeeze is particularly pronounced for women. The gender gap at Cambridge (total pay) stands at 20% and the low wage growth is almost certainly a contributing factor. As basic wages fall in real terms, the University has increasingly relied on bonus payments. According to the University's own Gender Pay Gap reporting data, the average bonus payment has risen from £273 in 2008 (adjusted to 2018 pounds) to £886 today; but last year bonus payments totaled over £8 million to men and just £2.6 million to women. Particularly alarming is the exponential growth of Market-Related Payments (MRPs), which have quadrupled since 2008 to £4,068,557 today, and are also disproportionately awarded to men.Thus, while the overall gender gap has decreased over the last years, the contribution of these additional payments to the Gender Pay gap has increased.

It is time for this University to start channeling some of its income growth into its greatest assets: namely its staff.

Dr J. E. Scott Warren (Faculty of English, and Gonville and Caius College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to comment on paragraphs 12–14 of the report.

In paragraph 12 of the Report, the Board of Scrutiny expresses disquiet at what it calls the 'marked increase in the frequency of Graces initiated by members of the Regent House'. The claim that there has been a marked increase is substantiated by a footnote that traces the use of member-initiated Graces as far back as 2012. It would have been helpful had the Board supplied a longer-term picture of trends in this area, so we could have a clear sense of whether 2012–16 or 2017–18 is the anomalous period.

In paragraphs 13–14 of the Report, the Board criticises the Grace directing disengagement from direct or indirect investment in fossil fuels, and notes that this is a matter where ultimate responsibility lies with the Council. The Board makes reference to the fact that the Council has 'general management of our affairs, including investments, with consequential obligations as trustees under charity law' and cannot be bound by directives from the Regent House.

While all of this may be true, the Report appears to imply that to adopt a policy of divestment from fossil fuel assets would in some way conflict with the obligations of members of Council as trustees under charity law. It looks as if charity law is being invoked here, as so often, to suggest that the University cannot do anything that would prejudice its short-term financial advantage.

As I understand it, under charity law, the obligations of Council members are to ensure that they are not acting in a self-interested way, such that they might benefit directly from their decisions, and that they act in a manner that is prudent bearing in mind the aims of the charity and the long-term future of the institution. Given the imminent risk of climate breakdown, recently reiterated in a deeply concerning IPCC report, it is clear that the long-term future of the University as an institution can only be secured by the most strenuous response on the part of the Council. It is therefore quite possible that, by refusing to act on the Grace calling for divestment, Council members are in dereliction of their duty under charity law.

It is a great shame that the Board of Scrutiny did not take the opportunity to scrutinize the report of the Divestment Working Group, a wholly inadequate document that fails to consider the case for positive action, choosing to put short-term profit maximization ahead of all other goals. The failure of the University to address what the Vice‑Chancellor has called the 'defining moral issue of our time' is a mistake that it will come to repent.

Mr R. S. Haynes (University Information Services):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Regent House members, I too would like to show appreciation for the Board of Scrutiny report, and would like to focus on a few particular concerns regarding the area of Human Resources.

The recommendation in Paragraph 73 of the Report suggests that:

As part of the further development of the People Strategy the Council should clarify the policy – and criteria – for the creation and filling of unestablished posts.

A concern raised among Research and IT staff in the University will hopefully be addressed by the current ballots concerning Regent House membership of Research Associates and Computer Associates.

Regrettably at times Regent House membership, which is intended by Statutes and Ordinances, has been made unavailable by omissions within some Faculties to ensure that their Research Associates and Computer Associates are added to the Regent House roll.

In addition, in too many cases in recent years some posts have been publicized and filled on the basis of role titles which are either not in Statutes and Ordinances, or are using a role title for everyday purposes while maintaining a parallel role title which is in Statutes and Ordinances. Regrettably, given such confusions, it is not always clear whether a role is intended to include Regent House membership or not. This is a particular problem for those roles which would otherwise include Regent House membership, but applicants are neither aware nor apprised of this intention due to the confusion created by alternate role titles.

I have experience of accompanying colleagues to appeal to grading decisions, and have received confirmation from HR that it is accepted practice to use such non-Statutes and Ordinances titles – or to use titles in a local sense which are at odds with Statutes and Ordinances titles. As an example, to use the role title of 'Senior Computer Officer' for a post which in actuality is graded and centrally listed as a Computer Officer. For established posts, Regent House membership is not normally a concern, but the role confusions are a problem for Computer Associates and it would seem some other academic-related posts.

May I ask the Council to investigate these role title anomalies, and provide assurance that HR will in future make clear actual Statutes and Ordinances titles, as well as Regent House membership where applicable to roles?

Report of the General Board, dated 3 October 2018, on the establishment of certain Professorships

(Reporter, 6521, 2018–19, p. 52).

No remarks were made on this Report.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor accepted a request from Professor Edwards to make a remark on a point of order.

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I apologize for arriving late to this Discussion, but I didn't really arrive late – I arrived at the East Gate before Great St Mary's had struck 2 p.m. and found it locked.

By the time I had walked down the road to the next gate Great St Mary's had struck 2 p.m.. I would like you to ensure that the East Gate is open for a Discussion. In my case it takes about thirty seconds to walk from my room in Tree Court so there is no likelihood of any delay.

It was simply that the Gate was not open when it should have been.