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The ‘new academic teaching year’ is a disaster for students

How I believe the new academic timetable at UoB will affect students and has been poorly implemented


Imagine you’re a student finding it difficult to make ends meet. By December, you’ve run out of most of your student loan, so your only option is to work over Christmas. That should give you just about enough to cover rent until your next loan payment comes in. This is the reality for many students. It’s already difficult enough trying to balance spending time with loved ones and working – all the while making sure that all your assignments are completed. These students don’t need any extra stress. Their lives are already hard enough.

But next academic year onwards, the university is switching to a two-semester system, where exams will be held both in January and May. The Christmas holiday will be cut down from a month to three weeks and exams will be held immediately after. Following the winter exam period, there will be an ‘enrichment week’ before semester 2 begins. I don’t have a problem with this change in itself, it’s how the university have gone about implementing it that bothers me.

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I believe the poor implementation of an otherwise promising idea will have horrendous consequences on the wellbeing of many students.

The new changes don’t take students into account. Going from a month of holiday to three weeks doesn’t sound like much of a difference to people that have economic security, but for those who are struggling, it will have an immense impact. Currently students have four whole working weeks that they can dedicate to a Christmas job. The new changes will bring this down to less than three, making it much less appealing for employers to offer them work over Christmas. It’s not just a matter of getting paid less, it’s whether or not they’ll be able to find a job at all.

This isn’t the only impact the changes will have on working students. According to the official term dates there may be exams held as early as Saturday the 9th of January – the day after the Christmas holiday period ends. How is someone that is already having to work full time over the Christmas period, whilst balancing everything else, going to be able to revise for these exams? Students will have to make the choice between being financially stable or doing well in their exams.

This isn’t just wild speculation. I’ve already spoken to several students that have said that this issue will directly impact them.

“I've had the same job at Christmas for 4 years now and I can't do it next year because of the time we get off” I was told by one student, who can barely afford her commute to university as it is. She expressed to me that she has no idea what to do next year if she can’t find alternative employment.

Another student has said that the new changes will affect her on account of her disability. She has chronic fatigue syndrome, so needs to rest over the entire Christmas holiday period. Cutting down this time by a third and having the additional stress of revising over this period will make it extremely difficult for her to recover in time for the next semester. This will have a severe impact on her health and wellbeing.

Finally, the effect that these changes could have on international students is significant. It’s already hard enough being apart from your friends and family for months on end, so for those that choose to go home over Christmas it’s important to have enough quality time that can be spent with those you love. Some of these students will have to spend hundreds of pounds flying to the other side of the world, only to get a few weeks with those most dear to them. This limited time will be further impacted by having to spend most of that period revising. Several international students have already expressed these concerns with me.

Fundamentally, I’m not against what the university is trying to do here. My problem is that they don’t seem to have considered how the way they are implementing this change will affect the wellbeing of students. Surely there must be a better way of doing this. A way that ensures that we have all the benefits of a two-semester system, whilst making sure that students that are already struggling won’t have more on their plate to worry about.

Why not give us a whole month of holiday and a reading week before exams start? This would be best of both worlds, ensuring that students have enough time to spend with those they love, to catch up on our studies and, for those that need the money, to work over the Christmas period. I’m not confident that the university has fully taken student welfare into account, and I think that many other students feel this way.