We learned the result of the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise shortly before Christmas. The Department was pleased to receive a 5*A rating. 5* is the highest achievable rating and means that all our 15 research "sub-areas" were judged to be excellent on a national scale with the majority having international excellence. The suffix A means that we included more than 95% of the eligible members of staff, indicating that 95% of our colleagues are "research active" within HEFCE's meaning of this term. Since everyone's research "outputs" were assessed, it was important that everyone included should have made a positive contribution to the total research output and it was excellent that such a high proportion of staff could be included. The annual financial grant for research that HEFCE makes to Cambridge depends on the number of research active staff multiplied by an amount based on the quantitative research rating, so this is an important matter. The small percentage of staff not included in our return was composed of administrative and tutorial staff whose jobs do not permit them the time to undertake significant research. In a Department as large as ours some of our colleagues necessarily fall into this class.
The Department is now considering the appointment of five new professors. Due to the retirement of Professor Bray (on 30.9.97) and the impending retirement of Professor Schofield (on 30.9.98), two chairs become vacant. Professor Bray holds the Hopkinson and ICI chair of thermodynamics, and Professor Schofield an established chair currently assigned to geotechnical engineering. Also the departure of Professor Williamson means that another established chair, currently assigned to power electrical engineering, becomes vacant. The Faculty Board has decided that all three chairs should be filled in the same fields as before, and Boards of Electors have been appointed for each. In addition, the General Board has agreed that three established lectureships can be converted into two new chairs in the fields of Mechanical Engineering and Communications Systems Engineering. Boards of Electors have been established for these chairs too, and appointments are expected in the academical year 1997/98.
Two important Working Parties are studying issues of great importance for the Department. The Research Strategy Working Party, chaired by Professor Glover, is examining our plans for developing the research programme of the Department. We shall be setting out our long-term research plans with greater clarity than before and considering carefully where to concentrate our strengths and how to respond to the many new opportunities that exist in many different fields of our activity. The Resource Strategy Working Party, chaired by Professor Cumpsty, is examining how we allocate resources (money, space and people) to different groups and whether we should change our traditional organisation. Both Working Parties are grappling with difficult and controversial issues but we expect that sound plans for the future progress of the Department will result. To ensure that there is full consultation, the professors and senior staff of the Department met for a one-day consultations near Cambridge in January and July 1977 and this helped to promote the progress of both working parties.
During the 1996-97 year we have been preparing for a Teaching Quality Assessment, to be undertaken under HEFCE's programme for assessing all university departments. Over a dozen assessors will be with us for a week in January 1998 monitoring every aspect of our operations. To prepare for this assessment is a challenging task which is being led by our Deputy Head (Teaching), Dr Martin Cowley. The process began with the completion of a Self-Assessment document which was submitted in July. Dr Cowley will be retiring from his Deputy Headship at the end of this academical year, and the Faculty Board has appointed Mr K M Wallace to succeed him. Mr Wallace is currently Director of our Engineering Design Centre, where he will be succeeded by Dr P J Clarkson.
We are proceeding with a range of "minor works" to enhance the Department's accommodation. These have been planned by a Committee chaired first by Professor Williamson and, more recently, by Professor Calladine. The first of these improvements is to the Department's Library which has become far too small both for the number of people who wish to use it and for the number of books and periodicals that it can contain. Work has begun to enlarge the Library by annexing the whole of the first floor of the centre wing of the Baker building. Until recently this was occupied by the print room and photographic and drawing office activities. The print room was moved in September to a new home on the third floor of the south wing, with good access to the lift at the west end of this wing. Photographic and drawing office activities have also been moved and the proposed Library extension is now a building site. We hope that the extended library will be open before the Teaching Quality Assessment takes place because there is currently serious under-provision of library resources for students. Other projects include a major programme of decoration, with long-term plans to utilise the attic space above lecture room 3, to convert part of the structures laboratory into accommodation for research students and staff, and to introduce additional seminar and meeting rooms. There is an urgent need for all of these facilities, now that we have approaching 300 research students and almost 100 funded research staff.
The outcome of the RAE was excellent, but we are not complacent and determined steps are being taken to ensure that these high standards are maintained. We are also preparing for the Teaching Assessment in 1998 with the same determination. I am grateful to all my colleagues for their commitment and enthusiasm and particularly for their willingness to undertake burdensome administrative work on top of their teaching and research duties. With the unstinting support of the Director of Research, Dr Macleod, the two Secretaries of the Department, Mrs Hawtrey-Woore and Mr Collet-Fenson, the Superintendent of Workshops, Mr Julian, and their staff, we are trying wherever possible to reduce the administrative burden. But this has now become part of academic life that is impossible to avoid. The forthcoming Teaching Assessment is an example. I will report on that next year.
During the Michaelmas Term, we held a well-attended reception to mark the retirements of Dr Stan Evans, Dr Robin Porter-Goff and Mr Mike Sharman. Each had served the Department for many years and they were warmly thanked in the presence of many friends and colleagues. During the year Dr Norman Fleck was promoted to a Personal Professorship and Dr Roberto Cippolla, Dr Sergio Pellegrino and Dr Malcolm Smith to Readerships. Professor Ashby became a CBE and Dr Springman, who is now a Professor at ETH Zurich, an OBE. I congratulate all of them.
D. E. NEWLAND
[Table of Contents]
Last modified: 8 August 1998