Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6577

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Vol cl No 19

pp. 334–345

Report of Discussion


Tuesday, 4 February 2020

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

The following items were discussed:

Second-stage Report of the Council, dated 15 January 2020, on the refurbishment of 1 Regent Street for the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

(Reporter, 6572, 2019–20, p. 186).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Annual Report of the Council for the academic year 2018–19, dated 13 November 2019

(Reporter, 6573, 2019–20, p. 194).

Dr A. C. Faul (Selwyn College):

Deputy Vice‑Chancellor, I am a graduate of the University and a former Teaching Associate and Graduate Tutor. My remarks relate to health and well-being, especially of graduate students and staff. These feature in the Annual Reports of the Council and the General Board under the headings Student matters, Inclusive Cambridge, and Education and Learning.

The University has policies and procedures in all these matters. I want to draw your attention to the discrepancy between these policies and the practices across the University. Especially, as a graduate tutor I came across cases where policies and procedures were not followed. As graduate tutors we are bound by confidentiality and cannot act without the permission of the student. It is very frustrating to deal with the same issues again and again where the safeguards which are put in place by the University to prevent such situations are not followed.

Such issues are explained as isolated cases. Well, if there are many isolated cases it is a systemic issue. The University has no overview over the extent of the problem. Graduate students are too much aware of the power a supervisor holds to come forward, graduate tutors are bound by confidentiality and also split over Colleges. I suggested to the University a way to interrogate the data it holds on CamSIS to identify trends. This was not followed up. Such an exercise could also establish that there is no systemic failure.

I also came across similar issues in my role as teaching associate and was not bound by confidentiality. I raised concerns. They were investigated as a personal grievance while they should have been investigated under the whistleblower procedure. Aspects related to me as a person should have been separated from the general issues. I repeatedly requested that they be investigated under the whistleblower procedure.

Does the Code of Practice for Research Students form part of the legal training contract between the University and research students and/or funding bodies? The wording ‘...what you should expect during your study in terms of supervision, support and assessment...’ is perhaps not clear enough. Whether legal or not – I’m not qualified to answer – it is misleading to students if it is just an aspiration, which it seems to be for some departments. If it forms part of the legal contract, then the University is in breach of a legal obligation, even in a tight interpretation of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.

The Public lnterest Disclosure Act 1998 is under review by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Whistleblowing. Their definition of a whistleblower is

'a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public.'

The emphasis here is on the word unethical. Having policies and not ensuring they are adhered to is in my opinion unethical. To err is human, to repeatedly not follow policies against better knowledge is another matter. While the legislation is under review, the University should be at the forefront and create a climate that encourages anybody to come forward with concerns and separate these from the person making the disclosure.

With regards to universities, the Public Interest Disclosure Act is further inadequate in that no prescribed body is identified to make an external disclosure to. After working my way through the hierarchies of the University, I made an external disclosure to the Office for Students. I say this in this forum to show to anybody who witnesses something which they feel is against University policies that this ultimately is a possibility. After years of trying to be heard, the speed of reaction by the University after making the disclosure surprised me. It might be coincidence that I received a settlement agreement within less than 24 hours. I am also told that the gagging clauses are a standard part of a settlement agreement. I did not sign.

There is an underlying current in all the issues I encountered and that is the control of information. Gagging clauses are only one aspect. In Chapter 13 of the Statutes and Ordinances, entitled Finance and Property, the University subscribes to the Nolan Principles: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. I want to emphasise openness here. Lack of transparency is not only a problem, it is actively used as a tactic. As one example, if graduate students are not told about funds which are part of the grant to support their specific project, they will not apply for them. What happens to these funds? There is a way for graduate students and also postdocs to find out the exact funding terms of the grant. This is to make a Freedom of Information or a Subject Access Request, in the case where they are named on the grant, if not to the University, then to the funding body. If any member of the public can find out about the exact funding terms, why would the University not want to be transparent to the very people directly affected by them?

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

Deputy Vice‑Chancellor,

'The University has hundreds of committees, each instrumental in enabling the University and its many functions and activities to operate. The full list of University committees and other bodies, and their membership is published in Michaelmas Term and in Lent Term in the Reporter as Members of University Bodies, Representatives of the University (‘Officers Number’, Parts II and III).'1

The Officers Number issue for 2018–19 was not published last year until 5 July.2 In it are identified Statutory Committees of the Council, with their memberships, indicating to which other committee a given committee is subordinate.3 ‘Other Committees of the Central Bodies’ are also listed, with their members.4

Committees mentioned in this Annual Report may be on the record, but it is hard not to be struck by the number whose work is summarised: the Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee (ESSC); the Committee on Benefactions and External and Legal Affairs (CBELA); the Committee on Prevent and Freedom of Speech; the International Strategy Committee; the Research Policy Committee; the Open Research Steering Committee; the Postdoctoral Matters Committee; the Health and Safety Executive Committee.

How does one get onto one of these committees? In my time on the Council two decades ago I was on what was then called the Nominations Committee. It met for half an hour immediately before Council meetings and recommended names for some of the less load-bearing committees and responsibilities (such as trusteeships) requiring Council nomination. It did so on the advice of officers, which, as I seem to remember, was always then adopted by the Council on the nod. In the case of more important slots, as I recollect, Council members when newly-elected would be issued with their committees by a process which appeared opaque. I am sure it is all much better regulated now.

But while academics will be happy to see the University’s committees populated by academics, they may also reasonably ask who is really in charge of the decision-making. What exactly now falls to the members of that ‘Senior Leadership Team’? Are these Committees of Council and the General Board really run by the UAS as part of ‘’ and how transparently do they report to the Regent House? The University’s HR website assures the visitor that Cambridge has a central senior administrative team, ‘responsible for the management of the University’. Neither of these ‘teams’ seems to appear in the Statutes and Ordinances.

The Council’s Annual Report notes that:

'In April 2019, the Council drew on a revised draft of the Priorities Framework to help identify the top priorities for action. In July 2019, following further refinement, the Council saw a first draft ‘programmes of action’ for the next three years. Over the summer, the Vice‑Chancellor circulated the draft programme to various groups for consultation and the senior leadership team met to discuss the draft alongside indicative costings. An updated version with an outline of costings returned to the Council in September 2019.'

This circulation omitted consultation with the Regent House and mention in the Reporter until now.

The ‘Senior Leadership Team’ is a relatively new expression but more and more frequently used:

'The Council approved a proposal for a new risk management process in January 2019, together with a new risk management framework. The framework is designed to allow the senior leadership team to consider the University’s key risks in a more meaningful way, and within the context of the University’s evolving priorities, before the University’s risk register is scrutinised and approved by the Audit Committee and the Council.'

Even if members of that ‘team’ are academics this seems to indicate a preference to work with Council rather than through the Regent House. One might almost wonder whether the Senior Leadership Team has read Statute A  III where the Regent House is stated to be the governing body of the University and its powers comprehensively set out.


Annual Report of the General Board to the Council for the academic year 2018–19, dated 5 November 2019

(Reporter, 6573, 2019–20, p. 202).

No remarks were made on this Report.


Reports and Financial Statements for the year ended 31 July 2019

(Reporter, 6573, 2019–20, p. 210).

No remarks were made on this Report.


Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 20 January 2020 and 27 November 2019, on the introduction of a final degree classification

(Reporter, 6574, 2019–20, p. 300).

Dr N. Holmes (Department of Pathology), read by the Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice‑Chancellor, I am a member of both of the Central Bodies which put forward this Report, but the remarks I am making are given in a personal capacity.

This proposal has had quite a long gestation and has been the subject of considerable consultation with Faculties and cognate bodies. It has also been modified in response to the well‑argued cases by Faculties and others, such as the Committee of Management for the Natural Sciences Tripos which I am fortunate enough to chair.

When I first saw this proposal in an earlier form, my view was robust and clear. In common with almost all my colleagues in the sciences, we have always regarded our third year Part II Tripos results as an overall B.A. degree result, a true reflection of the standard attained by our students. The idea that we might want a separate degree class which blended results from previous years was very unattractive. In the case of Natural Sciences, there are a number of good reasons why it would be anomalous to mix data from Part I. The details are not relevant here precisely because the General Board have listened to those arguments and accepted their sense, so that one of the two default models proposed is exactly what we have always assumed our final degree to be, namely 100% Part II.

However, we are not a ‘one size fits all’ institution, and the Report proposes two standard models. In addition to the 0:0:100 model, there is a 0:30:70 choice which other disciplines feel reflects their educational provision better. The Report goes further and allows for Faculties or Tripos Management Committees to propose alternative models based on the circumstances of their Tripos, which the General Board will be able to approve.

With this flexibility built into the overall degree classification, I am content that each Tripos will be able to achieve a meaningful outcome which reflects their individual arrangements.

Why is an official overall degree class needed, you may ask? The answer, it seems, lies in the lack of understanding of our particular system in the wider community. While Cambridge undoubtedly enjoys considerable recognition and esteem around the world, this does not mean that our terminology and ways of reporting exam results are well-understood by all, or indeed a majority, of those employers and funding agencies our graduates look to for future advance. Perhaps it was once so. Maybe at a time when most Cambridge graduates followed familiar paths to particular universities, the Civil service, Inns of Court and a few blue-chip companies where their qualifications were familiar, often judged by a previous generation of Cambridge alumni, there was no need for further clarification. The world is a more diverse and connected place now and a number of people’s real experiences have persuaded me that we need to make our degree results clear to all, primarily for the benefit of our graduates.

In summary then, since we preserve the ability to formulate the new official overall degree result according to the specific educational arrangements of each Tripos, I am happy to support this Report.

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

Deputy Vice‑Chancellor,

'For Cambridge graduates proceeding to Cambridge postgraduate courses the University uses the final (Part II) result as a proxy for a final degree class, rather than recognising performance across all three years.'

The notoriously infamous condition of registration with the Office for Students imposes the insistence that:

'the provider must deliver successful outcomes for all of its students, which are recognised and valued by employers and/or enable further study.'

The Report’s concerns focus on the second part of this statement, the alleged risk that employers and others could be confused by a Cambridge degree classification and the University face sanctions as a result. Should Cambridge not be asking whether ‘the University may become non‑compliant with B3 and the conditions of registration with the regulator’ if it fails to guarantee those undefined ‘successful outcomes’? Unless it is clear what ‘outcomes’ means, it surely cannot be apparent to what expectations the words which follow the ‘which’ refer.

The unsatisfactoriness of the Report’s ‘cumulative’ grading plan is surely apparent in the contorted proposal for Management Studies in paragraph 9. And in the case of ‘candidates who have changed Tripos or subject in their final year of study’ (or their second?) how will the Final Examiners be competent to frame the academic judgement necessary to add up ‘performances’ in two different subjects, one of which is not their own?

The implications of moving to a ‘cumulative class’ would surely be far greater than these proposals acknowledge? It would allow an undergraduate to build a degree classification by piling up a series of ‘performances’ over the duration of the course. That would come close to the change Cambridge rejected years ago when building a degree with ‘modules’ became fashionable elsewhere. There may well be a case for formalising Part II as the defining degree classification, but it seems less clear that a ‘cumulative’ calculation can be consistent or fair.