Hours to suit larks and owls

Imperial's proposals to extend the working day have not been welcomed, writes John Morgan

January 27, 2011

The 9am start can be a moment for academics to question their choice of career, as lecture turns to lullaby for the handful of snoozing students who bothered to drag themselves out of bed.

So what would lecturers make of an 8am start to their working day? Or an 8pm finish?

These proposals are among plans being considered by Imperial College London's new "working group on the extension of the college day", in an attempt to maximise the use of teaching space.

The suggestion for longer hours was given short shrift by Michael McGarvey, University and College Union president at Imperial, who called it a "batty idea".

In Imperial College Union's response to the plans, students say: "9am lectures are poorly attended, ergo the attendance at 8am lectures will be even lower."

A college spokesman said that no staff member would be expected to work longer hours overall, and that "any new arrangements must be family friendly".

At its first meeting last week, the working group discussed plans such as extending postgraduate hours until 8pm on Mondays and Thursdays, and extending undergraduate hours to 8am-7pm on Mondays and Thursdays.

Dr McGarvey said discussions on the plans between staff and management had yet to begin, so he was not certain "whether (management) are serious or not".

He added: "It could be a huge problem if you started having students come in for longer.

"You have to have staff in. It's not an elective thing. People have a certain working week - 37.5 hours - they can't be expected to work over that."

Dr McGarvey said that technical and support staff, who would also be needed to cover longer hours, have fixed start and finish times.

Kadhim Shubber, editor of Imperial's student newspaper Felix, which has reported on the story, said: "It is near impossible to find an Imperial student who supports 8am lectures. It's not simply self-interest; most can't believe that their lecturers would be expected to start so early."

Some have suggested that the college's aims could include the generation of extra revenue by finding more space for taught master's courses.

Imperial's spokesman said the aim was to accommodate "the growing number of master's courses and extracurricular programmes".

He added: "The working party, which includes student representation, is investigating the feasibility of proposals and will be examining a range of possible options."


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