Cambridge offends top-flight dons

March 28, 1997

Cambridge University contravened its mission statement by denying its staff "long-overdue" promotion opportunities after spending Pounds 1.2 million drafting in new recruits to boost its research assessment exercise rating, academics have claimed.

Cambridge history lecturer Gill Evans, who leads a campaign for the reform of the university's promotions procedure and policy, said that the international standing of Cambridge's academics was "embarrassingly undervalued" as a result of an out-dated promotions policy. "Top-flight academics in their 50s still have to call themselves lecturers," she said.

The Pounds 1.2 million spent on newcomers was contrary to the university's "staffing strategy" mission statement, which promises "incentives and rewards" for high achievement, she claimed.

"To spend Pounds 1.2 million on the RAE transfer market when it had already promised incentives and awards for the existing staff is not on. There are a very small number of promotions here and it is humiliating for those who illegitimately miss out," she added that the Pounds 1.2-million spend belittled Cambridge's achievements in the RAE, and damaged staff morale.

Cambridge set aside Pounds 280,000 for 12 professorships and 29 readerships in the latest promotions round to take effect in October. Financial constraints limited the number of promotions available.

Dr Evans has argued for a new model in line with Oxford University's promotions system, where academic staff can be given a "distinction" and be called a reader or professor without an increase in salary and responsibility.

David Livesey, secretary of the general board of the faculties at Cambridge, said "extensive consultation" on the promotions issue was still underway and the University general board would report back before December 1997.

"The number of promotions and the weight given to outstanding performance in research and in teaching are matters still under active consultation involving the whole university," he said. "The proper recognition and reward of the academic staff is a key element of the university strategy. It is very important the university has in place promotion mechanisms that reflect the contribution that the staff make to the university's reputation for excellence. But like all institutions, Cambridge faces difficulties brought by the combination of Government pay policy and the erosion of the unit of resource, which means we have fewer degrees of freedom."

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