The Teaching and Learning Committee(TLC) met on 22 September to discuss a report from the Senate Working Group to consider restructuring the academic year at Sussex. The proposal plans to introduce a new 24-week teaching system that will be overlaid onto the current three term structure. The proposal is to extend the autumn term to twelve weeks instead of the current ten. This will mean starting earlier but still maintain a four week Christmas holiday. At present the suggestion for how to structure the rest of the academic year is as follows: introduce a two week exam and marking period at the beginning of January, followed by nine weeks teaching and four weeks for Easter, then returning for a further three weeks teaching with a four week exam period.
This decision has been made based on feedback from students, who voted to keep the four week holiday periods at Christmas and Easter for study time as well as time to undertake field work. It will also allow faculty to attend conferences in these breaks. The TLC is made up of faculty from each school in the university as well as student representatives to ensure that the student voice is heard. In 2009 the students and faculty voted against a change to the structure of the academic year. One of the key concerns raised was the wish to maintain a four week holiday period at Christmas and Easter, in particular for international students and those who are parents.
Another concern was the previous proposal including reducing the number of teaching weeks to 22; this was felt to be an inefficient amount of time to teach the whole of a course effectively and so the current 24 weeks of teaching is being kept. The University feels that the new system proposed this year addresses all the concerns from last year. However more consultation with students is needed as the length of Christmas and Easter were voted on together and many have said that Easter could be shorter. Teaching continues over this break and a shorter break might retain the attention and attendance of students.
The University of Sussex Students’ Union said “any decision made by the university in relation to these proposals has to be fully and adequately consulted with students before they are implemented. The results of last year’s consultation were inconclusive and so we have worked to make the survey clearer to ensure accurate data can be collected.”
The university also feels that a lot has changed in this past year to make it worthwhile revisiting the bigger picture.
An Anthropology second year student said: “I agree with having a mid-year exam period as this puts less pressure on students who have to take exams in summer on what was taught in the autumn term.” Another part of the university’s proposal is to change the credit structure of all first and second year courses by bringing them all in line as either a 15 credit or 30 credit courses. It is felt that a change on the structure of the teaching system is required for the measures to be implemented.
The reasons behind this change are to “remove anomalies linked to risks that 36 credit courses might unduly block students from progression. More importantly, it will allow a reduction in the number of small credit courses which will reduce the burden on timetabling and associated course administration loads.” The new system will also allow for re-takes of January exams in June.
“The Students’ Union has worked with the University to make a formal survey to consult with students which will inform the University’s proposals regarding the restructuring of the academic year.” These changes to the academic year are yet to be officially confirmed, the Senate will meet in week ten to discuss the proposal and make a formal decision. If agreed upon, the new system will not be implemented until September 2012.
The Union urges “all students to fill out the survey, even if they do not agree with the proposals or the consultation process” this is to ensure that the decision is representative of the students’ views. “The survey on the restructuring is now on the union and university website and we encourage all students to fill this in before the deadline of Thursday 2 December”.