Cardiff scraps semester rejig

June 18, 1999

Protest from staff and students has forced Cardiff University into a U-turn over its reformed semester system, after just one academic year.

A campaign by the student newspaper, Gair Rhydd, and a petition of more than 1,000 student signatures have forced the university to abolish the semester timetable it introduced at the beginning of the current academic year. From next year, the previous semester dates will be restored.

The changes have been overwhelmingly criticised as "shambolic". The reforms, which critics claim were introduced simply to allow staff more time for research, reduced the academic year by two weeks, cutting the Easter vacation by a week, and halving the two-week, autumn examinations period.

Some students in the sciences were furious that they had to sit up to seven exams in a week, and others complained that the shortened Easter recess cut essential revision time. Academics complained that their students were being unfairly penalised, and the shortened Easter break damaged plans to increase the university's conference income, wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds of investment in facilities.

The student newspaper attacked the university for giving priority to research over undergraduate teaching, and attacked anonymous officials for making decisions "behind closed doors" against the interests of students .

One anonymous former university senator wrote to the newspaper: "The pattern of the academic year is not a 'structure' -- it is a shambles which would not have happened if the right hand knew what the left hand was doing."

Gwyn Williams, academic affairs officer of the students' union, who led the campaign against the changes, said: "This has been a dramatic victory. We thought it would take years to change the system again, but the university conceded very quickly that it had got it badly wrong. They realised that student feeling was very, very strong."

The now defunct structure had been at least two years in the making. It was recommended by the university's teaching and learning committee in 1997, and was approved by the senate and council in May 1997. But campaigning from staff and students paid off. In February this year, 1,169 students signed a petition to the vice-chancellor. Late last month, the university council agreed to undo the changes, "following a number of concerns expressed by staff and students about the structure".

Students who were hit by this year's squeezed autumn exam programme will have their difficulties taken into account.

Vice-chancellor Brian Smith acknowledged that the U-turn had been rushed through. "Consultation has not been as lengthy as previously but there is a groundswell of support for a revised structure, which we are acting upon."

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