Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6550

Wednesday 5 June 2019

Vol cxlix No 32

pp. 647–665

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

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

The following items were discussed:

Report of the General Board, dated 1 May 2019, on arrangements for the implementation of the Academic Career Pathways scheme

(Reporter, 6547, 2018–19, p. 562).

Professor E. V. Ferran (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the recent Staff Survey asked staff to say whether they considered the Senior Academic Promotions (SAP) scheme to be fair. Thirty-nine percent of the responses were positive but twenty-six percent were negative (with the rest more neutral), making this one of the highest negative scoring questions. No-one who has followed the very significant work that underpins the Academic Career Pathways (ACP) Report will find this surprising. A review in 20161 identified significant shortcomings with our existing SAP scheme. Whilst some positive changes were made to the SAP scheme in response, including increasing the weighting attached to teaching, it was clear from the dissatisfaction that staff continued to express in the Vice-Chancellor's mycambridge consultation and other fora that more far-reaching reform was needed. As Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations I am pleased therefore to champion the ACP Report as a timely intervention that will make a decisive difference in tackling some of the main areas of concern.

I want to put on record my gratitude to the dedicated, professional Human Resources and Equality & Diversity staff who have worked tirelessly on this project and also to the key stakeholders within Schools and the academic community who have participated in several rounds of consultation and helped to refine the proposals.

Turning now to key features of the ACP scheme, the adoption of clear progression and promotion criteria supported by examples of indicators of excellence responds directly to the frequently-expressed request from the academic community for greater transparency/more guidance on what is expected of them to progress in their careers. The indicative non-exhaustive list of examples, which may evolve over time, should ensure that those aspiring to progress and those asked to give advice are better informed.

Behavioural expectations are central to the ACP scheme, which has been designed to better incentivise and recognise inclusive leadership, collegiality and other positive behaviour in research, education and service. This also sends a strong signal that success achieved at the expense of others is not acceptable. The broad interpretation of education explicitly to include doctoral supervision and training of early-career postdoctoral researchers will help to ensure that outstanding contributions in these activities that are critical to the University's mission receive the recognition they deserve.

The ACP scheme maintains the emphasis on teaching in the Grade 10 University Senior Lectureship position but introduces a degree of flexibility by permitting the transfer of some points between criteria. This is a first step towards better recognising the diversity of routes to and through academia, especially at the mid-career stage. Ideally, further extension of the flexibility of the Grade 10 USL role will go hand-in-hand with the development of a full career pathway for teaching-focused staff, including those who are currently unable to progress beyond Grade 10. Adoption of the ACP Report will provide a solid platform for these projects to move forward. It can also serve as a platform from which to review academic titles more generally.

The ACP scheme includes probation within its scope to achieve an integrated career-long progression framework. Having a consistent framework is intended to help probationers to map out their career trajectory and to clarify the role of Heads of Department/Faculties and others in supporting staff to achieve their full potential. I am aware that some have questioned whether a probationer should be expected to demonstrate an 'upward trajectory' whilst others consider that this is already implicit in the existing requirement to perform at a level that is appropriate in the Cambridge context. What there should be no doubt about is that there is no hidden agenda here: the ethos that underpins the ACP scheme and related initiatives is that the University recruits outstanding academics that it wants to keep, will support these valued colleagues to reach the high standards that Cambridge sets, and publicly recognise their success in doing so; any other approach would be inconsistent with our values and would be in no-one's interest.

Incorporating probation into an integrated scheme will ensure that recognition of contextual factors, which is a well-embedded feature of the SAP that will be carried forward into the ACP, will apply also in the probation context. This has particular significance because academic probation often coincides with periods of maternity and/or shared parental leave.

The ACP Report proposes reforms that are intended to improve career progression for all staff. The budget for SAP has increased in recent years and I intend to continue to make the case for appropriate budgetary provision so that we can achieve the goal of fully supporting academic judgements on where the line should be drawn. Over time, the ACP scheme can be expected also to have a positive impact on our gender and diversity targets. The 43% increase in the percentage of women Professors since 2013 to 21.7% at present is broadly encouraging but we still lag behind the sector and must at least catch up with our peer group. This in turn should have a positive impact on our gender pay gap, which is rooted in vertical segregation and is highest in the academic staff category (13.8% overall; 4.7% at Grade 12). I am supported in making this connection between the ACP scheme and our gender pay gap by work done by the Government Equalities Office that identifies improving promotion processes, creating an inclusive culture and supporting women's career development as actions that employers can take to help close the gender pay gap. However, I am also conscious that simply adopting a new scheme does little by itself and I am keen to work with all interested parties to maximise its practical impact alongside other complementary initiatives.

Feedback since the publication of the Report has indicated a degree of hesitation within Schools about readiness to launch at the start of the academic year 2019–20. In response to this, the General Board will be asked to support the postponement of the implementation of the ACP to the academic year 2020–21. The Board will also be asked to remove the phrase 'upward trajectory' where used in the context of probationary arrangements to allow for fuller discussion of the issues raised. Adopting the Report and delaying implementation will give potential applicants and institutions more time to prepare for the new scheme, and will provide more opportunity for probation/promotion committees to familiarise themselves with the new framework. The longer lead-in period will also provide more time to confirm examples of indicators of excellence. Assuming approval for the postponement and amendment is forthcoming from the General Board, a Notice to this effect will be published in the Reporter.


Dr A. L. du Bois-Pedain (Faculty of Law and Magdalene College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it is no secret that the Senior Academic Promotions scheme has failed to ensure appropriate career progression for academic staff at all levels, but particularly in respect of promotion to Readership and Professorship. Its opaque and unaccountable operation as well as its outcomes have convinced a significant proportion of current staff of the unfairness of that system. In the most recent staff survey more than a quarter of academic staff have indicated that they positively believe the current system for promotion to be unfair. This is a ringing indictment of the practices surrounding career progression at this University when read against the very high approval scores achieved in other areas of staff experience.

I will focus my comments on the restyled criteria for promotion to senior academic posts (Readership and Professorship) against the backdrop of Cambridge's excruciating failure to provide its full-time academic postholders with a reasonable career and associated earnings trajectory over the course of an academic life.

The new scheme appears to increase expectations for promotion to senior academic posts when compared to the outgoing scheme. The criteria for promotion to a Cambridge Professorship are reminiscent of the academic equivalent of that fabled beast every farmer would like to keep, the woolly-haired pig that also gives milk and lays eggs. It is salutary to compare the tortuously long and demanding compilation of criteria in the Report to Oxford's standards for the award of full professorial rights and title to its Associate Professors. The Oxford criteria are:1

Research: An ongoing research record characterised by a significant influence on the field of study, of a high order of excellence and international standing, and the quality of which in terms of research distinction is at least equal to that expected of those appointed to full Professorships at other leading international research universities.

Teaching: An ongoing record of effective teaching for the University and for Colleges concomitant with the duties of the University post and the College Fellowship (where one is held).

Good citizenship: An ongoing record of involvement in University and/or College administration concomitant with the duties of the University post and the College Fellowship (where one is held), and demonstrable competence in such administration.

None of this sounds too difficult to achieve – and, indeed, it is not, as is evident from the point in their careers at which Oxford appointees tend to reach this stage.

Cambridge, by contrast, would like its applicants for Professorship to demonstrate research excellence by pointing to the sorts of indicators that Oxford tends to recognise in further pay increases to its full Professors2 (who, it should be pointed out, these days already earn in excess of £70,000 even before such increases are made).3 Cambridge would also like to have proof that these very active researchers have nevertheless somehow found the time to design and develop new programmes and lead departments. It will undoubtedly be objected that the last are mere examples of excellence, less may well be required. All that needs to be said here is that where lists of examples are given it is always possible to tell an applicant that they sadly did not exhibit just the very indicator that mattered most, perpetuating the current perception of a process where standards are unclear and some applicants end up being more equal than others.

By ratcheting up the criteria for promotion to levels of nearly ridiculous hyperbole, the Report does however at least come clean that this University is not committed to enabling staff members to progress through the system at reasonable speed, built on an expectation that academics whose work meets the standards of productivity and excellence which befit a top-ranked university, will in due course proceed up to professorial level in recognition of the fact that they can hold their own against their academic peers at other leading institutions. Surely, most Cambridge academics should, in due course, have a research record at least equal in distinction to that expected of those appointed to (not retiring on...) full Professorships at other leading international research universities. Assuming this to be the expectation of both the staff members themselves and the university which employs them, eventual progression to Professorship should be the typical trajectory for an academic who holds a full-time academic post in this University today.

An Academic Career Pathway scheme should set out clear criteria for progression in line with this aim. Just as one would hope that students at our distinguished University are, for the most part, lectured, taught and supervised by staff who can – in research terms – hold their own when compared to Professors at other leading international research universities, one would hope that this level of excellence on the part of the staff member concerned is, once reached, reflected in the post they hold here. Since it is, frankly, unlikely that Cambridge staff are on average so weak and slow compared to research-active staff at other leading universities that they need significantly longer time until they finally crawl across the threshold where their research output is comparable to someone appointed to a Professorship at these universities, the fact that staff here on average are promoted to Professorships much later in their careers than professorial status is awarded to staff at other leading universities, is an indication of the extent to which the senior academic promotions process fails to do the work it ought to be doing.

Tellingly, the Report informs us that 'the purpose of the promotions scheme is to recognise outstanding contributions and celebrate academic achievements'.4 With all due respect, the authors of the ACP scheme appear to confuse reasonable career progression with a prize-giving exercise.

Against the criterion I cited above – the criterion Oxford follows when awarding full professorial title and rights to one of its Associate Professors – it is an indication of the failure of the Cambridge system for career progression if a Cambridge academic who, while here, progressed only up to the point of a University Senior Lectureship, is appointed to a full professorial post at another leading institution. Examples abound. It is more than implausible that such a staff member would not have deserved to have reached at least Readership level while still at Cambridge.

The new criteria hold every promise of unnecessarily delaying the progression of deserving staff even further, widening the gap between Cambridge academics and those who hold full-time academic offices at other leading institutions, and particularly when compared to the institution we usually turn to first for comparison, Oxford. In doing so, they provide further incentives to early- and mid-career staff to seek appropriate recognition elsewhere.

In the context of a process that remains flawed at the core, it seems hardly worth pointing out some of the smaller absurdities and incoherencies of the new scheme. Given that this is the culmination of years of consultation, it is surely embarrassing that the Report twice, when giving examples of the theoretical possibility to apply directly for offices higher up than the next step on Cambridge's rickety career ladder, gives examples of applications that are, in fact, only to the next step.5

One must also call the authors of the Report to task for their unreflective use of that beloved new phrase, 'rising research trajectory'. The first thing to point out here is that this instantiates an uneven playing field for applicants. Those who were comparatively unproductive at an earlier stage in their careers will have a much easier time demonstrating 'a rising trajectory' than those who were already highly productive early on and have 'merely' continued to perform at this level – a level it has taken others a 'rising trajectory' to even come near to. Secondly, it is a nonsense to expect a 'rising research trajectory' when applicants proceed from Readership to Professorship. Those who proceed to Readership are already performing at a very high level and can realistically only be expected to continue to perform at that level, especially while also being expected to carry out time-consuming and research leave-limiting senior administrative roles within their Faculties, design new courses, and perform whatever other fancy footwork the University now advertises as additional point-scorers for professorial recognition.

The former SAP procedure was revealed as unfit for purpose by the outcomes it generated – outcomes that could never be convincingly defended to affected staff. A revised procedure that reaches the same results via a different path is the last thing this University needs. Yet this is what one must fear the new ACP scheme has set itself up to do. It fixes none of the significant shortcomings of the outgoing SAP process listed in the report, while some problems stand to be exacerbated.

There is a widespread concern among Cambridge staff in the humanities and social sciences that Cambridge does not offer adequate lifetime career trajectories, because signalling-effect career landmarks are not reached soon enough for the postholder to maximise his/her career potential in terms of international influence, recognition and impact. There is also increasing frustration at the widening 'lifespan career earnings gap' between those Cambridge staff who spend their whole academic careers in Cambridge, on the one hand, and staff who enter Cambridge late from other leading institutions or, indeed, move across to other leading institutions at mid-career stage, on the other hand.

It is high time that this University takes a leaf out of Oxford's book and devises a system that enables it to promote its staff on reasonable criteria at a reasonable point in their careers, and that moreover enables staff to trust that this will be the case and to know concretely on what realistically achievable basis they will be promoted.


Dr S. J. Eglen (Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and Magdalene College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak in strong support of the new ACP scheme committing to the principles of the Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA). DORA is supported by many funding agencies, including the Wellcome Trust who will require institutions to sign DORA, or equivalent, as a condition of funding. A key principle of DORA is simply that to evaluate the quality of a piece of academic work, one needs to read it, rather than rely on proxies of quality, like the name of the journal, or the publisher of the book. This is not a new idea: in 1995 Sydney Brenner noted that,

...we should remind ourselves that what matters absolutely is the scientific content of a paper and that nothing will substitute for either knowing it or reading it.1

This comes at a cost: reading articles takes significant time and energy. However, such transparent evaluation of scholarly outputs should help level the playing field, particularly for early-career researchers.


  • 1Brenner, S., (1995) Loose ends, Current Biology, 5:568.

Dr J. E Morgan (Faculty of Law and Corpus Christi College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to note that I draw some reassurance from the commitment made earlier in Professor Ferran's speech.

I wish to comment on one important matter in the Report under discussion. The most urgent failing of the current Senior Academic Promotions system is pithily stated at paragraph 2(d) of the Report: 'Exercise run as a competition so that candidates above the threshold but not promoted felt very dissatisfied'. Certainly, such dissatisfaction is both deep and widespread. It is welcome that the General Board has acknowledged it. But I fear that the Report contains no clear solution to the problem.

The new system (as summarised at Report paragraph 6) contains no commitment to address the dissatisfaction identified at paragraph 2(d). Paragraph 7 contains something more promising. It lists the 'Key Principles' underpinning the new promotions system. The ninth of these, 7(i) states: 'Appropriate budgetary provision should be made so that deserving candidates receive appropriate recognition and reward.'

This is welcome. It certainly sounds well. But might it be more rhetorical than concrete? It all depends on how the crucial (but vague) terms 'appropriate' financial provision, and 'appropriate' recognition, and 'deserving candidates', are to be interpreted. The current system, unsatisfactory as it is, unsatisfactory as the General Board acknowledges it to be, might continue unperturbed by Key Principle (i). Excellent disappointed applicants (ones above the threshold for promotion who nonetheless lose out in the opaque competition between qualifying candidates) could still be told that it had not been 'appropriate' to make sufficient 'budgetary provision' to promote everyone who reached the standard for promotion; that (therefore) only the top slice of those who met the standard were sufficiently 'deserving'; and that the 'appropriate recognition and reward' for someone not promoted (despite meeting the standard for promotion!) remained, as it always has been, nothing at all.

A crisper 'Key Principle' is needed. Paragraph 7(i) should be amended to read as follows: 'Sufficient budgetary provision should be made so that all candidates who reach the standard required for promotion are promoted'.

No doubt it could be said that this commitment would simply be too expensive. If that familiar argument is to be made, could the General Board inform the University how much, precisely, it would have cost to have promoted all applicants who reached the requisite standard over recent SAP exercises?

The reforms proposed in this Report began with a Working Group formed in 2016 under the 'Talent Management strand' of the 'University's People Strategy'.1 It is evident that the 'talent' does not feel it is being 'managed' very well. Who can blame early- and mid-career colleagues who depart for Chairs elsewhere when the Cambridge promotions system is glacially slow, and they see junior colleagues (junior not only in years) rapidly promoted above them at rival institutions? The remedy is obvious. Yet it is not expressed clearly enough in this Report. The University needs a clearer explanation why it cannot simply promote all applicants who reach the standard for promotion.

Dr S. E. Sebastian (Department of Physics):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am glad that the University is taking seriously the issue of academic promotion and career trajectory. However, I am concerned that despite the University's commitment to excellence at all levels, reflected by the diversity of its body, this still does not appear to be a priority in the ACP. To ensure both excellence and diversity at all levels, it is important to reconsider our notion of a successful academic. If we continue to consider a narrowly defined and rather inflexible model of an academic, it is unrealistic to expect a change in the constitution of our faculty, which is currently unrepresentative of several groups. In this regard, I would ask of the ACP, how much has changed with respect to the SAP? I would also ask that clauses such as the upward trajectory discussed in the ACP be reconsidered for their relevance within a progressive understanding of a multi-faceted academic.

Different people bring different skills to the workplace and achieving excellence requires rewarding all types of excellence. For full participation of diverse bodies of students, faculty, and community, it is crucial to recognise new ways of knowing and scholarship. As part of an academic promotions scheme, it is vital to discuss incentives that practically translate into how work is conducted at multiple levels and what kinds of activities count as important work. For instance it is important to consider the value given to activities such as mentorship, public engagement, novel pedagogies, community building within and beyond the institution, and their role in promoting diversity at all levels. The nature of any academic promotions scheme is crucial in this regard, it profoundly shapes how faculty members spend their time and how they are rewarded for those choices, ultimately determining whether or not these activities are performed. I would urge a redefinition of the ACP to incorporate a broad and fluid – not predefined – portfolio of excellence indicators, such that diverse faculty may be valued for their unique skillsets, if as a University, we are truly committed to valuing both diversity and excellence.

Dr M. Mesquita da Costa (Department of Zoology and Lucy Cavendish College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Zoology, a committee member of the Postdocs of Cambridge Society, and a postdoctoral representative on the Research Policy Committee and Research Development Committee, although I speak today in a personal capacity.

I would like to show my support for the proposed Academic Career Pathways scheme, that will replace the current Senior Academic Promotions scheme. The ACP principles and guidelines address known weaknesses of the SAP, and I would highlight three of these: inclusivity, transparency and consistency.

I particularly welcome the introduction of evaluative criteria and indicators of excellence for researcher development, recognising the active, and significant role that academic staff have in encouraging and supporting the development of early-career researchers. The relationship between these two staff groups is mutually beneficial, and at the heart of the continued excellent research output in this University.

The publication of the new detailed criteria and indicators of excellence is a significant step towards ensuring there is transparency and consistency with how these are applied across the Schools. I welcome the recognition that subject specific indicators should be developed to supplement existing ones, and reviewed regularly. Having a transparent evaluative process will help to ensure that when applicants have mitigating circumstances, such as caring responsibilities, these are considered and judged fairly and consistently across the University. I also welcome the role of the Head of Department or Faculty in identifying and encouraging staff that meet the promotion criteria to make an application. It is recognised that this is a particular issue for under-represented groups.

Finally, as a Senior Research Associate, I very much welcome the current review of the Senior Researcher Promotions scheme. I hope the Recommendations of this Report are approved, and that the new ACP guidelines can be adapted and adopted by the new SRP scheme. This would ensure consistency and transparency across these two major promotion pathways in the University.

Dr P. R. Coxon (Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, a committee member of the Postdocs of Cambridge Society, and serve on the University's Postdoctoral Matters Committee, although I make these remarks in a private capacity.

I read with interest the report of the General Board on arrangements for the implementation of the Academic Career Pathways scheme.

The origins of the Academic Career Pathways scheme is noted and the Report details the significant shortcomings of the Senior Academic Promotions scheme which currently exists. I won't comment on that but I draw particular attention to Annex 1, point 2, which lays out the ACP Promotion criteria whereby an effective contribution to some or all must be shown by all applicants seeking promotion.

I welcome the inclusion of Criterion 3: 'Consistently ensures that early-career researchers receive excellent opportunities to develop their potential and prepare them for future success'. There are listed several possible indicators of success and impact by which this could be evidenced. It clearly sets out the University's commitment to its research staff. It would normally be my stance to rail against the ever-creeping administrative burden upon academic staff, but I don't consider this to be such, and am happy to see it included. Few academics I know, certainly those who were themselves very recently early-career or postdoctoral researchers would raise any rational objection to this. They realise the tremendous labour postdocs perform in undertaking research and teaching on precarious contracts and how much their own success is closely linked with that of the postdocs in their research groups and laboratories.

The previous Vice-Chancellor himself highlighted the postdoctoral community's contribution to the central mission of the University, calling it 'the engine that powers our research capacity'. Many labs are now entirely staffed by postdocs. Although there are somewhere upwards of 4,500 postdocs in Cambridge, it can be a lonely place stuck in the holding pattern of temporary contracts, which places additional stress on our youngest junior colleagues.

If I may quote Dr Liz Morrish from her recent publication on the pressures of academic careers upon mental health,

It should be recognised that universities bear a responsibility for the renewal of the profession via the development of newly qualified PhDs and postdoctoral researchers. This pipeline has now begun to leak talent.1

Cambridge is an excellent place to be a postdoc. Through the OPdA and PdOC an early-career researcher has access to a tremendous array of systems and structures offering guidance and advice to realise their maximum potential in whatever career they choose. This is far and above what any other UK university offers, and where Cambridge truly leads.

The relationship between a Principal Investigator and postdoc is an important one, as the PI nurtures and guides their postdoc junior colleagues to become potential future independent academic leaders themselves.

Supporting postdoctoral research staff should be a central duty of the best academic leaders. Not least to preserve a future stream of the most talented minds from a range of diverse backgrounds into academia – in this age of 'metrics' I would argue that a well-rounded and supported postdoc, emerging from this institution to pursue their career successfully in the wider world, whether in academia or not, is as much an 'output' of a research grant, as any number of papers in so-called 'high impact' journals. This University should be proud of its postdocs, and it is. How can we ensure the best leaders can excel in their career?

How do you measure a 'good' academic? We are reduced to numbers: amount of grant income, number of papers, number of citations, and number of students. We do it because it's easy to count.

Many PIs go above and beyond what is expected in the support of their research staff. And this is harder to count. They are the champions of change in going a little way to make academia a more inclusive profession for everyone within it, our friends and colleagues. Most academics are appointed and promoted on the strengths of their research excellence and possibly teaching, with little real training in how to manage people and prepare them for future success.

For those staff who manage people well and support postdocs, either through mentoring, or by working to build a welcoming and positive research environment, it is important that their efforts as good academic citizens be counted in when assessing cases for promotion.

Over the centuries the number of distinguished academics connected with this institution is too high to be counted. It is a place where new ideas are born and grow, and where people prosper. The new ACP promotion criteria shows clearly to the world that Cambridge is a place where being a good academic citizen and elevating others will be rewarded. By building a better research culture, and a more supportive profession we allow more people within it to flourish, and those who work to make it better, should be promoted within it.

Dr S. R. Seaman (MRC Biostatistics Unit), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have read with concern of the proposed changes to academic probation.

I regard the retrospective application of the upward trajectory clause (paragraph 4.5.1 of Annex 4) as unfair. I would like to know whether the University has received legal advice that changes to terms of probation with retrospective effect do not violate employees' legal rights.

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this University has a problem with women. The Gender Pay Gap stands at 19.7%.

The University has, very sensibly, recognised that its promotion system is one factor contributing to the GPG. Only in Cambridge can a woman become a Fellow of the British Academy before being promoted to Professor. And so, in every annual GPG report, the new ACP has been touted as one important initiative to address the GPG. Most recently, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Eilís Ferran has been telling staff that the ACP 'is expected to have a positive impact on the GPG'.

I would like to ask one simple question: how is this going to work?

There is evidence that under the SAP, there is a bottle-neck for women at the Reader to Professor step, which contributes to vertical pay segregation. Women apply later in their career than men, yet evidence suggests that they tend to be less successful. There is nothing in the ACP that suggests this will be remedied. (It would be very welcome if the University committed to publishing transparent and comprehensive statistics on promotion, which included not only application and success rates but also mean and median length of service and rates of unsuccessful promotion applications. Such data would also allow us to properly evaluate the effectiveness of the CV mentoring scheme.)

On the contrary, there are plenty of things to be worried about. The ACP will require each Department/Faculty to determine 'appropriate indicators' for their subject area. This looks like a recipe for chaos, rather than transparency. School Councils will be tasked with approving those standards. But who will be tasked with providing Equality and Diversity oversight for them? Who will make sure that the guidance issued by individual Faculties do not build in biases against protected characteristics? Who will be charged with doing Equality Impact Assessments for changes and updates to those indicators?

The current ACP proposal is an improvement on the version circulated in Lent, which included several provisions that would have exacerbated the GPG (for example, the mandatory waiting period between passing probation and application to grade 10). These proposals were only dropped after these concerns were raised by a number of Faculty Boards, staff, and Cambridge UCU at the consultation stage.

As it stands then, the promotion part of the current version of the ACP no longer promises to make things worse than they currently are. That may be a relief but it's hardly progress. The University talks a great deal about its commitment to equality and diversity; yet when it comes to concrete reforms, these concerns are not properly integrated into the formulation and oversight of policies.

When it comes to academic probation, however, the ACP proposal does promise to make things a lot worse than they currently are. It raises several very serious E&D concerns.

The proposal builds in a new requirement to demonstrate 'upward trajectory' during one's probationary period. But pregnancy and caring responsibilities will temporarily 'level off' one's career in some respects – if only by making travel and evening commitments more difficult. The ACP offers no adequate mechanism to take this into account. And long extensions of the probationary period are undesirable; they simply prolong uncertainty for staff, most of whom are appointed to permanent positions after a series of temporary contracts.

Second, the new proposal builds in a new requirement of 'promoting the University's values of mutual respect and a sense of belonging for all within the University community'. This may be well-intentioned. But there are gendered expectations around what constitutes 'being collegial' and 'fostering a sense of belonging' that may place more arduous demands on women and Black and Minority Ethnic staff. Vaguely worded, subjective criteria of this kind may invite biased decision-making, and deter junior staff (particularly women and BME staff) from reporting bullying and harassment, raising concerns about workload, or engaging critically within Faculty committees. To make a complaint, to say 'no' to a request, to disagree with a senior colleague risks being seen as 'uncollegial', a perception that under the new ACP proposal can imperil one's probation.

These problems with the proposed reform of probation are glaring. The University's own survey on bullying and harassment tells us that more than 20% of staff have been subject to bullying and harassment, most of which went unreported. A leading cause for not reporting was fear of professional repercussions. The Government's Equality Office emphasises the importance of 'clarity and transparency' of career progresssion processes to avoid bias. Finally, consider the first-hand experience of an anonymous BME academic, published recently in The Guardian:

The burden of raising awareness, researching policies, calling for transparency, and asking questions about institutional racism too often falls on people of colour, and often at great personal and professional cost. In my experience, the predictable has occurred: to call out a problem is to be cast as the problem.1

It is frankly embarrassing that such a flawed proposal (and the same goes for the version of ACP that was circulated in Lent) has gone out to consultation. It damages the University's credibility with respect to E&D: that it has an effective strategy to close the GPG and BME pay gap and to combat widespread bullying and harassment.

What is needed and missing in this institution are clear and obligatory structures for E&D oversight. All changes and innovations that have possible E&D implications (and that includes substantial changes to HR procedures) must systematically come past the relevant steering groups (Gender Equality, Race Equality, etc.) and then the full E&D committee, in that order, before they are sent out for further consultation. That is not currently happening. Admittedly this process is time-consuming. But ACP reforms have already been time-consuming because proposals have been released hastily, and sometimes with confusion about their effects, necessitating further rounds of revision.

The Old Schools seem to regard E&D consultation as optional, often as an afterthought. One can only hope that the current fiasco will invite a rethink on that matter.

Dr I. Möller (Department of Geography), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, with respect to the Report on arrangements for the implementation of the ACP scheme, I would like to bring to the Council's attention the report on 'Carers and careers: Career development and access to leadership positions among academic staff with caring responsibilities' published by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education in 2017.1

The Leadership Foundation's report is based on a methodologically sound academic study involving in‑depth interviews with 27 academics with caring responsibilities between the ages of 31 and 66, representing a range of positions from Research Assistant to Reader and Professor and a wide range of subject backgrounds (STEM, Arts and Humanities, and Social Sciences). Sixteen of these interviewees were women.

The report raises some key issues that currently hamper progress in achieving equality and diversity targets in academic promotion and career progression, of which two seem to me to be particularly pertinent to the ACP scheme at Cambridge:

(1)The lack of reliable, comprehensive, and regularly updated information on academic and other staff's caring status; and

(2)Staff on promotion panels and staff in charge of defining policies at central and departmental level currently do not adequately consider the needs of carers.

Could Council please comment on how precisely the proposed ACP scheme will ensure that:

(a)reliable, comprehensive, data is collected on staff's caring status,

(b)staff on promotion panels and those in charge of defining policies are fully aware of the needs and impact of individual staff's caring responsibilities on their research and teaching 'outputs' on the basis of which they are evaluated for probation and/or promotion, and

(c)clear criteria for taking maternity leave or career break impacts on promotion success and timing will be published within future ACP guidance?

Dr C. L. Lee (Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, and Murray Edwards College), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I wish to raise some concerns in respect of the proposed changes to academic probation.

First, the intention to introduce the performance criterion of 'a clear indication of an upward trajectory' (Annex 4, 4.5.1.) is worrying. This is appropriate for the promotions process, but not for probation. I believe that, with this alteration, we would slip towards a US-style tenure-track system, with all the negative implications for equality, personal security and mid-career retention that this would entail. Such a system would leave early-career academics vulnerable to exploitation. It would likely also make Cambridge less attractive to international applicants, who might previously have chosen the University over a US institution on the basis of its more humane approach to probation.

Second, the latest proposal to introduce these changes retroactively, so that it would apply to staff who have already agreed to different conditions stated in their contracts, is not only unfair: the legality of the move is also far from clear cut. I join others in urging the University to seek and publish legal advice on this matter, confirming that employees' legal rights would not be violated by the measure.

Professor C. J. Young (Head of the School of Arts and Humanities and Pembroke College), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in my capacity as Head of the School of Arts and Humanities and member of the University's Human Resources Committee, I am pleased to recommend approval of this Report setting out arrangements for the implementation of the Academic Career Pathways scheme.

The implementation of this scheme will support the Schools in their academic recruitment as it will provide a clear career pathway for our University Lecturers, including a structured probationary and progression process. It will also provide a well-defined promotions pathway to more senior academic roles, setting out at each level the expected trajectory and transparent promotions criteria, including outputs.

Looking ahead, the University should welcome the development of a distinct teaching strand and scoring model using a similar structure to the Academic Career Pathway. This will recognise the outstanding educational contribution and leadership of specialist teaching staff alongside their service to the University and the academic community.

Professor D. Cardwell (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Strategy and Planning), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as the former Head of the Department of Engineering responsible for the management of around 170 academic staff, and the current PVC for Strategy and Planning, I endorse as strongly as possible the proposed Academic Career Pathways scheme. This represents a long over-due evolution of the Senior Academic Promotions scheme to a more transparent, fairer and representative method of performance assessment of academic staff at key stages of their career development. The recognition of the importance of teaching is particularly welcome within the ACP scheme, as is the alignment between senior academic promotions and the probation process, which will enable Heads of Institution to support staff more effectively as their careers develop. Moving forward, this will also be instrumental in helping Heads of Institution manage and communicate expectations across the various academic staff groups. Clarification of the criterion for promotion to Senior Lecturer, and their consistent application to holders of Lectureships is a further significant improvement to the existing SAP process.

Dr C. M. Lanskey (Institute of Criminology), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am concerned about the proposed change to probation performance measures and would like to make two points:

(1)The proposed 'upward trajectory' condition for probation management (para. 4.5.1 of Annex 4) is not likely to be appropriate for all new members of staff. If an already high performing member of staff is appointed, it would seem reasonable to expect the continuation of performance rather than necessarily an increase. A more appropriate approach to probation would be to tailor probation targets so that they recognise the career stage and existing performance level of new members of staff and the strategic goals of the Department or Faculty in which they are employed.

(2)The proposal to apply the changes retroactively seems unreasonable as it will require a review of probation plans that have already been agreed between new members of staff and their line managers. This action may adversely impact staff good will and the reputation of the University as a reasonable employer.

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

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this is in many respects an admirable piece of work, but given the history of problems with Cambridge's Senior Academic Promotions procedure – going back more than two decades now – one is bound to pick up a magnifying glass and read it closely.

If 'appropriate budgetary provision should be made so that deserving candidates receive appropriate recognition and reward' means the end of competition between candidates who all deserve promotion, with some not receiving it, that is of course very good news. But an earlier period when that was the case came to an end. Could the Council confirm that this promise will remain in force?

My first concern is that:

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

'Necessary'; 'in the light of experience'; 'effective running'? Weaselly words? The past history of General Board modification of previously reformed provisions for Senior Academic Promotions has not been encouraging.

For those unchanging Principles to which the General Board must continue to adhere are cast in fine but rather vague language. In the past the devil has been in the detail when it came to giving effect to requirements such as the present one that a committee's decision-making should be 'collective, fair, impartial and evidence-based' and such-like.

There is more talk of future change at:

These proposals are intended to be the start of an iterative process in the development of the ACP scheme. It is envisaged that the scheme will evolve over the coming years to ensure it meets the needs of the University and staff, with the continued input and support of the academic community.

When in this 'iterative process' will the Regent House get another chance to give its approval?

A second concern is the introduction of 'HR language' which should ring uncomfortably in Cambridge ears. The expression 'teaching-focused' seems to have appeared in the Reporter for the first time in this Report. It is of course very important that those whose calling is principally to teaching should be able to seek recognition and promotion. But I notice the use of this phrase occurring widely as a euphemism in other universities in situations where teaching-and-research staff are offered a choice between 'teaching-only' contracts and redundancy. Perhaps that description could be rethought?

'Leadership positions' seems to be a new expression for the Reporter too. That those at the top of a line-management hierarchy should 'role model' (verb) stated 'values' also appears to be something new in this Report. It is hard to see how it fits with the traditional collegial equality of Cambridge's academics. Perhaps the University Draftsman could take a firm line with language which departs from the normative conventions of Reports to the University.

I notice that the position of unestablished academic staff still seems to need more work.

Professor C. Abell (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research), read by the Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I really welcome the new Academic Career Pathway scheme. As someone appointed in Cambridge as a University demonstrator (a level now defunct) I have experienced the pressures of climbing the academic ladder, step by step. I think the present system is a substantial improvement on what preceded it, when everything seemed to happen in smoke-filled rooms (also now defunct). I see the proposed scheme as a positive evolution of the system that will effectively address specific important issues.

In my role as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research I appreciate the contribution that many academics make to the University community through activities beyond their own research. It frustrates me that a small number of academics do not recognise that the University spends well over £60 million a year co-funding research – necessary because funding bodies generally provide less than 80% of the full economic cost, and much less in the case of charity funding. This is a huge and positive contribution from the University, but is sometimes overlooked by some academics when they are asked to put something back into the system, e.g. serving a term as Head of Department, sitting on a national committee, or even just leading a large grant application. I welcome the recognition in the scheme for those who do contribute to such activities.

Similarly, it surprises me that some researchers do not understand the need to actively and positively engage with the Research Excellence Framework. Without the £80 million a year QR funding this provides, we would simply not be able to perform the quality and breadth of research we do. Consequently I am very pleased the ACP scheme recognises contribution to the impact agenda of the University.

For many people, Cambridge is world-leading because of its research. For others it is the quality of the education we give to our students that is considered outstanding. Both should be recognised, and the ACP scheme does this. It is also important to recognise how we teach our graduate students, Masters and PhDs, and how we train our postdocs. The Wellcome Trust are pushing universities to look at Ph.D. training from the students' perspective, meanwhile the Concordat that determines the relationship we have with our postdocs is being revised to better recognise their needs. Both these developments are going to drive a fundamental change in the relationship between Principal Investigators and their research team. From my perspective, this is long overdue. The fact that we can recognise and reward these changes in the ACP scheme is very positive.

These are just some of the features of a scheme that I think offers a very good way forward and that I commend to you.

Professor P. M. Allmendinger (Head of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Clare College), read by the Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as Head of the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences, I support this Report concerning the implementation of the Academic Career Pathways scheme. There has been extensive dialogue with the Departments and Faculties within the School and consideration at the Council of the School. Working closely with the School HR Business Manager and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations, the proposals have evolved and, in my view, represent an improvement on the existing Senior Academic Promotions scheme.

An important consistency between the SAP and the ACP is the provision for promotion applications to be considered at Faculty level, which will allow for applications across different disciplines to be reviewed in a structured way before being further considered at School and University level. What is particularly welcome under the new approach is the stronger focus on inclusivity so that all applications, including those from under-represented groups, are considered and assessed based on the objective evidence, with Committee members bearing in mind how unconscious bias can impact on decision-making. The expectation that applicants will share the University's values in promoting collegiality and mutual respect, thus creating a positive working environment, is clearly set out, alongside the need to value a commitment to research integrity. I believe that adopting the ACP scheme represents a positive step.

Professor J. L. N. Wood (Department of Veterinary Medicine and Wolfson College), read by the Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as Head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the University's Human Resources Committee, I welcome and support the proposals set out in the Report on arrangements for the implementation of the Academic Career Pathways scheme.

The ACP scheme brings in a dynamic and flexible approach and a significant improvement in the transparency of our academic progression framework.

It is also an important breakthrough in that it is the first building block of a modern career progression system that will in due course give appropriate recognition not only to 'traditional' academics, but in addition to others such as clinical academics whose work is also vital to the mission of the University, and for whom career progression is essential.

Professor I. Smith (Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics, and Gonville and Caius College), read by the Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to raise both general and specific concerns regarding the proposed changes for probation.

(i)Many of the people we hire have competing offers from other world-class institutions, in particular from top-twenty universities in North America. That the probation and tenure process here is straightforward and will not involve wasting significant amounts of time and emotional energy is one of the very few points at which we can outcompete such offers, and it is a key such point. Recent experience shows that candidates – whose other institutions are much more transparent in terms of contracts, duties, points accrual and salary – do inspect the exact wording on which these processes operate.

(ii)We should be extremely wary of imitating the kind of tenure review that pertains in North America. In such processes part of demonstrating quality is often to get outside offers, and if our young people do that we will never match those offers (which pay up to twice the top of our lectureship salary scale) and we will lose them. The changes are likely to increase efforts to poach our top young people. Moreover, after the involved process to obtain tenure at top North American universities, salary typically augments considerably, whilst ours stays constant (or stagnates relative to inflation).

(iii)We should not instigate any change that restricts the possibility of leapfrogging the probation process by promotion directly to Reader, another important option for retention of key stars.

(iv)The term 'clear upward trajectory' (clause 4.5.1 of Annex 4) should be removed. At one extreme, in pure mathematics, some people are hired having proved field-changing results early on: their thesis might be a landmark result in the subject for decades. Others might work on slowburn problems of equal depth but completely different timescale to prominence. In the first class of cases it is simply inappropriate. In general, the question of who establishes and what constitutes such 'upward trajectory' is open to abuse, may contribute to existing gender-related disparities and exacerbate the undervaluing of broader contributions in teaching and outreach.

(v)The application of changes to staff currently in post is of questionable legality and is unquestionably disingenuous and demoralising. It contributes to the general disillusionment that another substantive change is being introduced with minimal consultation from a central administration ever more isolated from those of us actually doing the research the University's reputation is founded on.

Professor O. Leyser (Sainsbury Laboratory), read by the Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, academic promotion should recognise the contributions of academics to the University's mission 'to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest levels of international excellence'. This should include direct contributions to conducting high quality teaching and research and delivering societal impact, but also indirect contributions through creating the environment and systems in which these activities can thrive, now and in the future.

There are some inherent tensions in achieving this goal in a way that supports the diversity of excellent practice within and between disciplines, while at the same time being clear, consistent, transparent and evidence-based. Two such tensions are of primary importance.

Firstly, there is a tension between an itemised versus a holistic assessment framework. For a clear and transparent system, separating contributions into teaching, research and service is reasonable, as is allocating a fixed weighting to each. However, the separation between the three sections is certainly not clean, and indeed these activities are by no means fully independent. Under these circumstances, the separate sections with fixed weightings are a compromise. For example, service roles might contribute very strongly to the overall research output of the University, but might reduce the direct research output of those delivering the service. Similarly, it is possible for someone to conduct very high quality research, but in a way that significantly compromises the ability of others around them to do so. Their net contribution to research excellence is therefore limited. These considerations highlight the value of a more holistic approach to assessing the contribution of an individual to the University's mission.

Secondly, there are tensions between recognising and rewarding diverse contributions and providing specific and transparent criteria for assessment. In recent years, a range of drivers has pushed the assessment of academics toward using a set of very specific evidence types, including metrics, all focused on the direct contribution of the individual. This has increased pressure on individuals to deliver on a narrow range of metrics that provide rather poor evidence for performance against the true assessment criteria of interest. The assessment of quality in teaching, research and service is inherently qualitative and while it can be rigorously and transparently evidence-based, there will always be a significant subjective element to the assessment of the evidence. This is why a well-trained and diverse committee is needed to carry out the assessment in a fair and robust manner. The committee must make a nuanced and balanced judgement based on the sum of all the evidence before them. A reward system based on narrow, specific evidence, read out in a rigid way, will inevitably fail to reward the diversity essential for high quality research, teaching and service in the University overall.

The new Academic Career Pathways scheme recognises these tensions and sets out proposed solutions. Of particular merit are:

(1)The use of non-exhaustive examples of evidence that could be provided to support the assessment criteria is helpful for applicants and prevents the use of overly narrow and prescriptive evidence. This approach will only work if it is truly understood that these are only examples, and applicants are encouraged and supported to include anything they consider to be evidence that they meet the criteria, and committees are encouraged and supported in their assessment of this diverse evidence base.

(2)The emphasis on the need for balanced judgement by well-trained promotions committees should improve the quality of the assessment process.

(3)There is some ability to change the balance in weightings between the three assessment areas. This recognises their limitations and supports diversity.

Overall, I think that the system is a major step in the right direction in establishing a good balance between the factors inevitably in tension in the academic promotion system. I think more could be done toward achieving a holistic assessment, but the new system includes some major changes to existing practice and should be allowed to bed in before further evolution.

Dr J. Guarneri (Faculty of History and Fitzwilliam College), read by the Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I wish to ask that the language of 'clear upward trajectory' and 'highest international standards of excellence' be removed from section 4.5.1 of the Academic Career Pathways scheme. These phrases seem entirely appropriate criteria for promotion. They are not appropriate criteria for probation.

The period of probation is meant to assess whether a member of staff is doing their job well enough to stay at the University. This period is also one with a steep learning curve. Many staff are coming from different university systems, and must learn all the particularities of Cambridge. Some staff are hired quite soon after completing their Ph.D., and have limited teaching experience, so they are learning the ins and outs of lecturing and supervising during their probation period. To ask members of staff to demonstrate the 'highest international standards of excellence' in their research during probation turns the probation period into something much more akin to tenure in the US, in which the candidate is essentially being assessed for probation and promotion at the same time.

If this language remains (though I urge you to remove it), and ACP models Cambridge probation after US-style tenure, this career step ought to come with the same rewards as US-style tenure. When an Assistant Professor is granted tenure and promoted to Associate, they receive a raise of around $10,000.

I want to spell out some of the consequences we can expect if this language remains. I would expect this language to further shrink the proportion of women academic staff. Many staff in the probation period have substantial caring responsibilities; it is often the moment when they finally feel secure enough in their careers to have children. As it stands, the Cambridge system of probation and promotion makes some room for these staff to care for children (or aging parents, or disabled siblings) in this period of their lives. They can strive to meet the criteria for probation first, and aim to meet the criteria for promotion slightly later. The new scheme makes no such room. Staff with caring responsibilities will be less likely to pass probation at all. Given the time and space, they are capable of doing world-class research. But if Cambridge insists that they prove their ability to do that world-class research at precisely the moment when they are starting families, they may never get the chance to do it at all. Please do not be surprised if the proportion of female faculty declines after this change.

The new language expects a 'satisfactory performance of duties,' but when it comes to research, it expects a 'clear upward trajectory' and the 'highest international standards of excellence.' The University is making its priorities clear with this language, and we can expect staff to get the message. Unless that 'upward trajectory' can be explicitly made to encompass teaching, College involvement, and administrative work, the ACP will disincentivise staff from devoting their time and energy to any of those other tasks in the first five years. They will do what the language demands. Their teaching and administration will be 'sufficient'; their research will be excellent. Does the University actually want to disincentivise creative, challenging teaching or dissuade Lecturers from taking on important administrative roles?

I urge you to remove this language, and to maintain a period of actual probation for new staff, rather than turning probation into a 'promotion' that comes with no pay raise.

Dr S. E. Hakenbeck (Department of Archaeology), read by the Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I (and many colleagues in Archaeology) welcome the move to a widely accepted, fair and transparent probations policy but feel that there should be clarity about what is meant by a 'rising trajectory of productivity'. If research is an important measure, with staff expected to show an 'upward trajectory', then the following points should be considered:

(1)The variable expectations between appointments across the University should be recognised. Small departments may have high teaching loads and new staff are of necessity usually thrown in at the deep end. With the high teaching load comes coordination, administration and examining expectations from which new staff in large Departments are often shielded. College appointments come with additional load. There will also be expectations about starting research projects, fieldwork or setting up new laboratories. This may be very time consuming and yield delayed returns. In our field it is exceptionally unlikely that someone coming from a Research Fellowship to fill a post will immediately be able to show an upward trajectory in research and productivity and should not be penalised for that.

(2)An increased and increasing focus on publications and grant capture would put significant pressure on new staff and would not sit well with University-wide initiatives to promote diversity and equality, staff well-being and family-friendly working. In particular, this would put pressure on those with young families or who wish to start families.

(3)An over-emphasis on the quantity rather than quality of publications and other outcomes would lead to falling standards, cause reputational damage and make it harder to recruit and retain the best candidates. The fear is that this policy is a move towards a US-style tenure system, which is widely recognised as dysfunctional, oppressive to staff without improving academic quality significantly. Existing probation procedures are already perfectly sufficient to respond to the rare cases where it turns out that someone who was hired was inappropriate, and further and more bureaucratic and time consuming procedures are neither needed nor desired.