We need reset space: Colleges should allow their students back a week before term

If the intensity of a Cambridge term isn’t enough, we’re still unpacking when it starts

Your humble writer has been in Cambridge since the 6th of January. No, I don’t have any special provision and I’m most certainly not a rower. My college (good ol’ Medwards) has allowed us to return to uni from the 5th. However, I recently learned others aren’t so lucky.

We asked you on Instagram whether you were allowed to come back before or after Thursday the 13th without special provision (exactly one week before term begins).

Over a third of you guys were given less than a week to get back! (Image credits: Instagram screenshot, Chloe Barnes)

While I’ve had time to unpack, settle in, and get a bit confused because a shop down King’s Parade closed while we were at home eating Christmas dinner, others have had to launch straight into the term without so much as a week to make Cambridge feel like home again.

It’s no surprise students already feel overwhelmed before lectures have even started.

There has been many a campaign for Cambridge to allow us our rooms over holidays (and trust me, I’m certainly a supporter), but I understand that might be a big ask to colleges who earn money off of hiring out the rooms. It seems like, comparatively, just asking for another week each side of the term is a small favour.

1. Flexibility (and I’m not talking yoga society).

For one, it offers students a lot more flexibility to get here and back when it’s best for them. Students who live in places that can’t be accessed without a car, for one, are often stuck with only a single weekend to get here before term begins because their parents have work during the week. This offers no flexibility for if something goes wrong or an event overlaps with the weekend.

It seems totally unreasonable that a student should be punished for their parents’ inability to drive somewhere on a particular weekend by losing a week of term, but this is the only option left for students if they have a single weekend to get back to Cam.

On my way back to Cam. Not pictured: my ridiculously enormous suitcase (Image Credit: Ruby Cline)

2. Barking dogs and grating siblings.

Students (such as myself doing my first uni exams, like, ever) with deadlines right at the beginning of term have no leeway if their home is a bad working environment. Students without their own rooms, with loud families, or in bad domestic spaces are forced to work less productively while our libraries sit empty.

While Cambridge might just be a space far away from a brother’s loud PS4 games for some, it should be seriously considered that balancing a bad home life with the Cambridge workload is unsustainable for many and puts already disadvantaged students in an even more difficult position. If Cambridge would like to brand itself as an inclusive and supportive place to be, it will have to work hard to convince these students of that.

A rare photo of my brother not screaming at his Xbox while I attempt to write an essay (Image credits: Ruby Cline)

3. Resources are made to be used! …right?

It would surely be to the benefit of both the university and their students for resources to be as accessible as possible. While I have nothing but love for the online resources we have access to (ignoring for now the fact that, as I write, iDiscover is flashing an angry error message at me), many books are only available in physical form. There is a limit to what we can expect from students with book lists only available at libraries they have less than four days of access to before they are meant to have read said books.

Personally, I still have an armful of books left unread before term begins regardless of my luxurious library access. But that’s on me and my inability to understand the Dewey decimal system, meaning that I’ve been able to find a grand total of (drum roll please) two of my books in my college library…

Some are happier to be back in the library than others (image credit: Adele Launay)

So where do we go from here?

I’m brutally aware that this isn’t just a uni-deciding-to-be-annoying-problem but a wider contractual one. Many students sign leases for only 36 weeks, giving them a sparing number of weeks surrounding each term. But there isn’t really another option for us, and the processes by which a student can stay for longer usually involve harsh day-to-day payment and various complicated forms to fill out.

Some international students at Homerton, for example, have reported having to pay £20 every day of the holidays in order to stay in their rooms this holiday despite being unable to go home because of COVID restrictions. At that point, it seems easier to make a temporary move into a Premier Inn!

When contacted for comment, Homerton said “All students are entitled to stay in accommodation during the vacations at the same pro-rata rate contracted for term time, which works out at approximately £20 per night. A large number of our international students choose to stay in College (even before Covid) rather than incur the cost of returning home.

“The College provides a means-tested scheme to offer free vacation accommodation for people who need to be on-site for study purposes and is always sympathetic to applications for hardship related to Covid or for any other reason.”

According to me, it may well be in colleges’ interests to consider lengthening contracts for the sake of better student welfare, access to academic resources, and ultimately giving us the time to make college feel like home.

The University of Cambridge was contacted for comment.

Feature image credits: Snapchat screenshot via Ruby Cline

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