Cambridge reading week – yay or nay?

All this reading isn’t for the weak

As the term draws to a long-awaited and somewhat anticlimactic close, you may be having slightly mixed feelings about how it’s gone. Maybe you submitted all of your essays two weeks early. Maybe, like me, you spent most of the term in your room stressed, finishing essays that were due 24 hours before.

Either way, I think we can all agree that the term probably would have been a lot easier to get through with a bit more rest and relaxation and maybe a few extra trips to Revs? Would this not be easily and readily supplied by a reading week halfway through the term – affectionately known as the dreaded Week Five? It would appear that the university thinks not.

Keeping term or keeping quiet?

In keeping with the other place, three neatly organised eight-week terms have been the norm in Cambridge for much of the university’s history. Students are required to be in Cambridge for 59 nights in Michaelmas and Lent and 52 nights in Easter in order to keep “full term.”

Where I shall be for 50 days next term if anyone needs me x

Now I may just be a lowly undergrad, but is locking students up in their colleges really essential to an adequate level of productivity? Personally, I find the same four walls of my room a bit too imposing to work productively within them and the presence of the college bar just thirty seconds away a bit too tempting to actually focus on anything with a deadline.

Would a refreshing trip home and the chance to do some reading in the nostalgic setting of their hometown library not leave students in better standing for the second half of term?

Mental health debate

Even if the university and I cannot agree about the best environment for the – frankly outrageous – quantity of reading we have to do, would a reading week not create a healthy work-life balance and avoid Cambridge becoming a place we HAVE to be rather than WANT to be?

… it would appear not.

Dreaming of a healthy work-life balance

In the University Council’s report for the academic year 2022-23, the Council claimed that despite the fact that “high workload had a negative impact on student mental health”, “the introduction of a reading week was not the best way to address this issue.”

The issues raised by the Council included “inequalities between student groups” such as home and international students and the likelihood that some courses would have to be exempted from the reading week.

Although the Council appears to have “commissioned a discussion paper on options to reduce student workload…in Michaelmas term (2023),” the findings of this are yet to be seen and the university is yet to propose a serious alternative to a reading week.

Student support

Despite the issues raised by the University Council, there is still a large amount of student support for the implementation of a reading week. The Reading Week Campaign has existed since 2015 and a recent opinion poll on the Cambridge Tab instagram found that 72 per cent of students were in favour of a reading week.

Can’t focus on reading in the Homerton library? Wouldn’t it be nice to go home for a week?

In addition to this, reading weeks which allow students to focus on coursework have already been implemented to some degree in courses such as Part 1A of the new History tripos which began running in 2022.

However, looking at the university’s outline for term dates which have already been decided until the 2029-30 academic year, it seems there is little hope for a reading week any time soon.

It seems that I am resigned to a dreary fate of yet another endless eight week term *sighs*. However, if you support the implementation of a reading week at Cambridge, you can sign this petition on

The University Council was contacted for comment.

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