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General Assembly


Minutes of the Fifty-seventh (Ordinary) Meeting of the General Assembly held on Wednesday 27 May 1998.

Present: Professor D J Wallace (Chair); 65 members of General Assembly signed the roll.

98/1 Minutes


The Minutes of the Fifty-sixth (Ordinary) meeting of General Assembly held on 30 April 1997 were confirmed and signed by the Chair.

98/2 Vice-Chancellor's Report

The Vice-Chancellor presented his Annual Report. The full text is available at this link.

.1 Teaching Quality

The University had continued to achieve excellent results under Teaching Quality Assessment: in assessments during the current Academic Year Electronic and Electrical Engineering had achieved 22 points out of the maximum 24 available, Drama 23 and Polymer Technology and Materials Engineering 21.

The University had received 423k under Phase Two of the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme, the largest of any University and was one of only two Institutions to lead on two projects (Civil Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering).

The Vice-Chancellor reported that the audit team at the recent QAA Continuation Audit had complimented the University on its professional approach.

.2 Recruitment

There were two major uncertainties in regard to undergraduate recruitment:-
Could Loughborough continue to attract an adequate number of students through UCAS notwithstanding the introduction of tuition fees and abolition of the maintenance grant?
Could Loughborough continue to attract overseas students against the background of the strong pound and the decline of some Far East currencies?

Whilst the overall number of overseas applicants was up by 2.8%, applications from the Far East had declined by 30%. It was vital that all Departments achieved their targets for home undergraduate recruitment, and that those Departments with declining overseas numbers redoubled their efforts.

ACTION - Deans/HoDs

.3 Research Grants and Contracts

Income for research was apparently marginally higher than in the previous year, but only because contributions in kind were now included, with estimates of value. Compared to the sector as a whole the University achieved good overhead recovery rates, and research income remained vital to its overall financial strength. It was a cause for concern that the acquisition of new grants and contracts was uneven across the Faculties, and the Vice-Chancellor urged Science Departments in particular to review their activities in this area.

ACTION - Deans elect (SCI)

It was essential that every active researcher should investigate the opportunities provided by the Framework Five Programme.

ACTION - AD(R)/HoDs/PVC(R) elect

.4 Finance for 1998-99

The overall increase in funding from HEFCE was 2.7%. This should be viewed in the context of a salary increase of 2.9%.

The University's budget projections allowed for a drop of 500k in income from overseas students' tuition fees. Any improvement to this position would be to the direct benefit of Faculties and Departments.

ACTION - Deans/HoDs

.5 Resources Allocation

The new COMA (Central Overheads : Method of Apportionment) system would be introduced in 1998/99. COMA apportioned the cost of central services against their estimated use by Faculties and Departments, and in future no central overhead would be taken for additional income achieved above budget.

HEFCE had changed its finance methodology for teaching, and the implications of this were currently under consideration by Resources and Planning Committee.

Nonetheless the broad outlines of the 1998/99 budget had been agreed, with support services cash constant apart from some additional funding for the Library, and total savings of 300k being required of Faculties from a total expenditure of 47m.

LUSAD would be fully integrated into the Faculty of SSH within three years at most.

In reply to a question the Vice-Chancellor confirmed that central supplements to Departments in deficit were being discontinued, with deficits in future being dealt with at Faculty level. He felt that problems encountered by some Departments in failing to meet recruitment or research income targets were better resolved at Faculty rather than University level.

98/3 Estates Strategy

The Senior-Pro-Vice-Chancellor presented a progress report on the current state of the previously established Estates Strategy. This included proposals for the construction of new buildings on the West Site together with the refurbishment of existing buildings to create an Integrated Engineering Faculty, and consequent proposals for refurbishing the Central Site. The cost estimate for the Engineering Project was 14.5m, and it was confidently anticipated that external financial support would be in excess of 1.5m. Contributions from HEFCE and from the Garfield Weston Foundation had already been agreed, and the Wolfson Foundation had indicated a willingness to make a substantial contribution. The overall financial strength of the University meant that the development could be undertaken without any adverse impact on its other activities.

In reply to a question the Senior-Pro-Vice-Chancellor confirmed that there would be no additional teaching accommodation under the proposals. It would still be necessary for students to travel across campus between lectures, but it was hoped to minimise inconvenience by continuing to improve the use of existing space.


98/4 Support Services Review

The Senior-Pro-Vice-Chancellor summarised the recommendations of the Support Services Review.

The full report can be found at this link.

The recommendations were as follows:-

Recommendation 1 - To put in place mechanisms that will ensure the provision of support services of a level and quality that will meet the continuing and on-going needs of the University.

Recommendation 2 - To create quality improvement teams to review each support service section establishing core contribution, critical processes, benchmarks for performance and recommendations for budgets in medium term.

Recommendation 3 - The restructuring of the support services to provide a Student Recruitment Team and a Central Programme Administration and Management Team.

Recommendation 4 - The establishment of a Research Support Team.

Recommendation 5 -To clarify the operational practices and remit of the Resource Planning Team.

Recommendation 6 - To create a team to implement Administrative IT.

Recommendation 7 - To re-align the work of the Personnel Services in ways that will give more prominence to the establishment of best human resource management practices in each department.

Recommendation 8 - To create an improved and better co-ordinated external image.

Recommendation 9 - To complete the review of the Committee Structure.

Recommendation 10 - To target savings for the 1998/99 Support Services Budget

Recommendation 11 - Faculty management and relationship to central support services be resolved by designing the Faculty Support Team and reviewing support to PVCs.

Recommendation 12 - to put in place mechanisms to oversee the implementation of the proposed measures to improve the quality and efficiency of support services, to achieve savings and to liberate resources for new developments in IT and some re-alignment/restructuring of services.

One member suggested that the outcome of the Review was disappointing. Proposals had not been adequately explained, ideas had not been thought through, and evidence presented to the Review Group had not been taken into account. Furthermore the Implementation Groups appeared to be unco-ordinated and to be working to different agendas: the status and role of the proposed Teams had not been clarified in relation to the Committee Structure, Management Structure, or Organisational Structure of the Administration. The speaker felt that until such clarification was forthcoming the Report would continue to be a source of mistrust and demoralisation amongst both Administrative and Clerical staff.

The Vice-Chancellor responded by indicating the importance of identifying the services necessary to support the University's core activities. Current reporting lines were too long, and responsibility for core activities - for example, recruitment - needed to be more clearly identified. There had to be change, and inevitably this was sometimes unsettling. The overall aim of the Review was to enable Support Services to do their work more effectively.

The Registrar indicated that he had now met all Academic Registry staff to discuss the Review, and would ensure that information about the membership of the Implementation Groups, and the mechanisms through which consultation would take place, was disseminated as soon as possible. He saw the Review as a framework for future development, and regarded the involvement of the staff concerned as essential.

ACTION - Registrar

98/5 Fixed Term Contracts

General Assembly received and considered the following motion, proposed by Natalie Fenton and seconded by Andrew Hedgecock.

"General Assembly notes that it is Loughborough University policy not to have any HEFCE funded lecturing posts on fixed term contracts. This policy has been frequently ignored and casualisation is becoming more and more commonplace. Fixed term contracts seriously damage career progression, create great insecurity and erode academic freedom. This reduces not just the quality of higher education (HE) employment but also the quality of HE teaching, research and administration. This meeting calls on the University to a) implement its stated policy and b) develop policy to reduce the number of staff on fixed term contracts and limit the future use of such contracts. This resolution should be forwarded to Senate and Council for implementation."

In introducing the motion Ms Fenton drew attention to the increased use of fixed-term contracts, not only for research staff but also for mainstream academic and academically related staff. The figures in February 1998, excluding retired full-time staff who had been re-employed, were:-

Academic staff 32 (Total 501)
Academically-Related staff 106 (Total 254)
These figures did not include the increasing number of hourly paid staff, who suffered even more from the growth of casualisation.

The main argument used to justify this was the need for flexibility, given the uncertainty of future funding. However, it was counter-productive. Good staff left in order to gain secure employment elsewhere; recruitment costs increased; loyalty and enthusiasm were not fostered as staff went through a process of hyperactivity followed by stress and often culminating in sullen resentment. A move to increase the percentage of permanent contracts would immediately lead to a more committed, more efficient work force.

One member questioned the assumption that research staff should necessarily be subject to fixed term contracts. Research teams often had a long life working on a series of projects. In this sense research money was no more "soft" than teaching money, which could only be guaranteed for the lifetime of a cohort of students.

The Registrar indicated that HEFCE funding accounted for approximately one third of the University's total income, and overall staff costs exceeded total HEFCE funding. Given the volatility of the other sources of income, and the University's continuing policy of no redundancy for permanent staff, the use of fixed term contracts was inevitable. However in many cases the University had moved to rolling contracts, and a Dean reported that a number of fixed-term contracts had recently been made permanent. The Head of a Research Centre commented on the appropriateness of industry-type contracts.

ACTION - Registrar

The Vice-Chancellor agreed that the University would enter into discussions with Loughborough AUT with the aim of reducing and limiting the use of fixed-term contracts. The outcome would be reported to the next meeting of General Assembly. The proposers accepted this undertaking and accordingly the motion was referred.

98/6 Research Funding

General Assembly received and considered the following motion, proposed by Professor James Horne and seconded by Professor Ernest Edmonds:-

"General Assembly notes that the University is introducing a new model for the apportionment of overheads, and seeks reassurance that this will act as an incentive to those people managing research grants and contracts."

In introducing the motion Professor Horne stated that research managers in Departments whose budget was in deficit no longer had direct access to the overheads on their projects. These overheads provided investment for future research, and were the means by which thriving research groups could seed-corn new ideas, pump-prime initiatives, supplement bench fees for research students and create a funding buffer for key contract staff between projects.

The Bursar explained that under the COMA funding model research overheads were paid in full to the Department, and their management was a Departmental responsibility within the parameters of the Departmental Business Plan. The non-pay budget could and should be used even (and particularly) in deficit Departments in the way the motion requested.

A member suggested that a per capita allocation of perhaps 2,000 per research active member of staff funded out of a Department's non-pay budget might be appropriate, but the proposers of the motion indicated that funding of a substantially greater order of magnitude was required to seed-corn large research contracts. This could not be achieved within a Department in deficit, where discretionary funds were capped, notwithstanding the goodwill of the Head of Department.

The Vice-Chancellor accepted the motion. He emphasised the importance of protecting and encouraging research and individual researchers in all Departments. Resources and Planning Committee would prepare clear guidelines for Heads of Departments on minimum thresholds of non-pay spend so that research leaders could develop future research programmes irrespective of the overall financial position of the Department. He would also ensure that the Management of Research was an integral part of the training programme for new Heads of Departments.


98/7 Date of Next Meeting

To be determined.

Author - Mr D L Wolfe

Date - 2 June 1998

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