Cambridge rejects accountability rules

December 25, 1998

Accountability measures recommended by Cambridge University's internal standards watchdog have been rejected by the governing council.

The council voted against recommendations made earlier this year by the university's board of scrutiny to appoint an external buildings surveyor and for report on the university's policy governing the balance of support between schools.

In its third report earlier this year, the board recommended that an external surveyor, rather than a member of the university's estate management department, should be appointed to conduct the five-yearly survey of the university's buildings and estates.

The board was concerned that the university's financial accounts did not fully conform to the statement of recommended practice (SORP) for higher education institutions because buildings are accounted for in financial statements without consideration of their depreciation, against accounting standards.

"We think such deviations from SORP should be explicitly identified," said the board. "Such a procedure may result in an overstatement of the university's financial position."

But the board's recommendation to appoint an external surveyor for the regular buildings reviews has been rejected on the grounds of cost.

The university said its accounting policy had already been changed to include depreciation in the 1998-99 accounts.

The board had also been concerned about the imbalance in financial support between arts subjects and science subjects. Spending on staff had favoured the sciences, the board warned, which was widening the gap between rich and poor, and harming staff morale.

It asked for a report on the university's policies regarding the balance of support between the schools.

But the council said a report was not necessary. "The annual report of the general board provides the appropriate mechanism," it said.

The council did, however, agree to the board's recommendations to increase transparency in the vice-chancellor's discretionary decisions to offer merit awards, and to "strengthen" the staff team responsible for implementing a new management information system.

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