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University terms could be 2 weeks longer, unless students vote against calendar restructure

The University of Sussex Students’ Union is calling for all to participate in the questionnaire that the university has opened as part of the final wave of consultation regarding the restructuring of the calendar for the academic year.

Senate decided at the end of last term that there will now be a mid year assessment period either in December or in January so that current informal class tests will be held in formal exam conditions.

There will also be an extension of the Autumn and Spring terms from ten weeks to twelve weeks long. These changes will be implemented in 2012-13.

This most recent questionnaire is part of a three-year consultation period to change the calendar by University Teaching and Learning Committee (TLC), and Senate (the university’s main academic body.)

However, last term (Winter, 2010) only 579 students out of over 12,000 answered the last questionnaire, and many respondents complained that the survey was not open long enough and badly publicised.

Since Senate, many students have felt indignant that they have no choice but to accept these changes, despite not having seen the questionnaire.

One student criticised Senate’s decision, saying that “one of the things that I love about this university is that there are no exams in January. In my A-Levels, we had exams in January and they did not give a person enough time for preparation”.

The university added that “the changes are not intended to increase the volume of assessment” and that it will be easier for some to “allow assessment to happen mid-year”.

In a previous article in the Badger, one student argued that a mid-year exam period would “put less pressure on the students who have to take exams in summer on what was taught in the autumn”.

One point posed in the questionnaire is to ask the students how best to implement the two twelve-week terms in the academic year. The problem with the calendar is that if students are to have the whole four-week vacation for Easter, the Spring term will be split on either side of the holiday so it may disrupt the continuation of teaching.

In these cases, the proposal is for the Spring break to be split in two, with a 3 week holiday in addition to a one week holiday over the Easter period.

Some students have argued against the twelve-week term idea altogether: “a 12 week term just seems far too long […] by the time you get to week 7/8 most people start to flag. With a 12 week term it will be even worse! Perhaps a reading week might help?”

The Students’ Union maintains that “any decision made by the university in relation to these proposals has to be fully and adequately consulted with the students before they are implemented.

“Officers have maintained that we could not back any decision until we could see the results of a campus-wide consultation process.”

Currently, the new questionnaire is suggesting that students have the option to choose whether to have their exams before the Christmas holidays, after them, or to have the period split before and after Christmas. They quote the results of the original questionnaire (Winter 2009) where apparently “Of 1061 respondents, 43 percent preferred before Christmas, 47 percent preferred after Christmas”.

The University of Sussex said: “A week of exams before Christmas would have to take place in the week after the Autumn term ends.

“On the current planned term dates, this could result in exams being scheduled right up to Christmas Eve in some years; the university thinks this is unacceptable.”

This would result in the year starting earlier and Freshers’ week being in week 1 rather than week 0, unless there are enough participants in the questionnaire to say otherwise.

The current proposal is for Schools to choose whether the exam week is held before or after the Christmas break, however, this poses a problem for some joint honours students, who might fall into two schools with different calendars, and only have a three week holiday.

The university stated: “The aim is to have simpler, more understandable programme structures that will 1) allow students and faculty to plan their work more effectively and 2) allow for more interdisciplinarity through greater scope for courses that can be shared across disciplines.”

Students have until 28 February to fill out the questionnaire. It can be found at
www.survey.bris.ac.uk/sussex/studentviews.

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