Comment: Your voice on the academic year shape does matter

Written by Paul Goodstadt, University of Bath Students’ Union Education Officer

As I’m sure the other Students’ Union Officers would agree, I’ve seen a number of concerned statements from students worried about how this potential change could affect them. The potential removal of Inter-Semester Break, 10 exams in May, finishing the year in July, all major worries that have been raised again and again.

Since the consultation opened, the Students’ Union Officers have presented the University’s proposal to every SU meeting including Academic Council, Executive Committees, Sports and Societies General Meetings, the lot! However, this left a lot of students that hadn’t been informed of the proposed changes and it only left the Students’ Union in one position: to demand an extension to the consultation and insist that all students have the opportunity to make an informed decision about the changes that WILL affect all students at this University.

Now the consultation has been extended, all-student emails have been sent out, a student working group has been set up and now, finally, a poll has been released on www.bathstudent.com/academic-year which gives the student body the opportunity to select an academic year that they would want to see, including the option to remain with our current structure.

Hold on…. How did you we decide upon these different propositions? Why are we even contemplating the idea of changing from our beloved ISB and short Easter vacations?

How the new academic year shape could look
How the new academic year shape could look

Firstly, our current academic year structure isn’t perfect. For instance, there are potential benefits to students of a longer Christmas and Easter vacations.

Secondly, with the student body providing their own suggestions of how the year should look arguably allows for more innovative ideas to be considered, such as the proposals around pre-Christmas exams, a formalised refresh week and a fixed Easter break before May exams that have been put forward in the poll.

Finally, these ideas haven’t just been imagined out of somebody’s arse because they liked the idea of changing when exams would take place. They’ve been developed by a group of around 15 passionate students (whose ideas have been posted on a Facebook group 130 additional interested students) who have been trawling through the comments that the student body submitted through various means during the consultation period. These new suggestions aim to mitigate as many of these concerns as possible so that any potential change will not negatively impact on students.

So what are we going to do when the poll and consultation close on Thursday?

With this sort of information to hand, we can continue discussions with the University based upon an informed student voice. If the results of the poll shows that the current structure is the only option for students then this is what we will tell them. If there are aspects of the other academic year suggestions that have been posed, such as a proper Refresh Week, which students would like see introduced then we will explore these opportunities with the institution.

Students are being asked to lend their voice to the conversation

And are they going to listen to us and do what we want? Possibly no, they have more incentives to change how this University works than just the student experience. There are clear pedagogical benefits to deeper learning and understanding which would fundamentally equip students better for the workplace, opportunities to reduce pressure on timetabling and room booking, the potential to improve the contingencies around snow during exams and increase holiday in between terms providing additional opportunities for staff and students.

While I agree, academic staff do sometimes ignore the needs of students, this isn’t always the case and I don’t believe that will happen here. Those who are picturing the Vice-Chancellor draped in a Cruella De Ville fur coat smirking at the horror that appears to be engulfing the student body are sadly mistaken.

The fantastic reputation that this University has developed over the past decade has been on the back of the student experience: sporting excellence, excellence in supporting the wider student experience, excellence in learning & teaching, all of which have translated into the fantastic National Student Survey scores that we’ve had for the past two years. It is the reason why undergraduate applications to this University have increased by 32% in two years. The University doesn’t want to lose its reputation or popularity and wouldn’t dare risk it, even to change the academic year.

So finally, what can you do? Initially fill in the poll. This type of information will be vital for us and in the next few months it will help us progress in talks with the University. But we feel we need to do more, then we will deliver. You can join our Facebook group {www.facebook.com/groups/1416516471975772/} to keep up to date with any further action we’ll be taking on this issue.

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