Suggestions for Improving Cambridge University

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007. 9:38pm

The below was written, following an invitation, to the graduate representative on the University’s Council and General Board

I’m going to limit myself to the most important items, which I think can be usefully dealt with at the level of the University’s Council and General Board and the other committees you are on.

  1. Introduce minimum standards for college disciplinary procedures, including time limits, caps on fines, written records, the involvement of more than one person (except perhaps in trivial cases), and restrict any summary punishments to cases where the the student pleads guilty. Those charged should have an automatic invitation extended to any representatives such as union reps or their supervisors who they wish to accompany them during all stages of the proceedings. Students charged should have the ability to answer charges put to them.
  2. Remove the pretence that Colleges have an academic role with respect to graduates and remove college veto over things such as changing PhD submission dates and PhD submission.
  3. Studentships (and postdocs) funded in-part by commercial sources should be underwritten by either the university/department/research council. There would be a minimal cost to the institution as what such a policy would do is ensure that contracts with companies were tightened.
  4. Standardise across the various degree committees the treatment of overrunning PhD students. (For example some remove students from the Register of Graduate students automatically at a (non-publicised) point after the submission date is passed, some don’t). Generally I think the treatment of overrunning PhD students could be improved; the situation where a degree committee won’t consider re-instatement to the register until a thesis is ready is ludicrous it means a student has to produce a thesis – taking a gamble on if a degree committee will reinstate them.
  5. All departments where there is biological work conducted should have biological safety committees. The Sub-committee for Biological Hazards should be responsible for ensuring these are functioning, the student member of the Sub-committee for Biological Hazards should be elected and their identity (or contact details) publicised to all those working with biological materials.
  6. Where University run elections are for positions with both a Union and University role eg. Faculty Reps the University should advertise both aspects of the role.
  7. The interaction and jurisdictions of the University wide and College specific complaints procedures should be clarified.
  8. The Junior Proctor’s role in regulating MCR’s/JCR’s should be clarified, are they classified as Students’ Unions – if not all of them – which ones are?
  9. Standardise across the Colleges’ the billing of PhD students in their 4+ years. If a college is providing no services there should be no charge.
  10. The Graduate and Senior Tutors committee should apologise to graduate students and supervisors for not effectively consulting them during the production of the college provision document. The college provision document should become a constantly evolving document and all parties should be invited to contribute.
  11. Your role needs to become more closely aligned with the GU, there’s currently no requirement for any link at all though recent holders of the position have worked closely with the GU

Those are 11 short points, I could write and speak extensively about almost all of them, in many cases I have made some progress with my own department/college and research council but comprehensive long term changes are really only possible if the University can take action. On many of them I believe lobbying for outside pressure on the University will be the best route to achieving change and I’m taking that route.

Richard Taylor.

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