Newcastle students campaign against semesterisation

April 2, 1999

A survey of 220 students at Newcastle University has uncovered widespread opposition to the semesterised academic year.

The survey organisers, the students' Courier newspaper, argue that students across the United Kingdom are struggling with a gruelling semester system that encourages surface rather than deep learning and places undue pressure on students.

The survey found that the overwhelming majority of respondents - 90 per cent - were in favour of abolishing or changing the semester system. Most (81 per cent) thought the last term was too long and 86 per cent said the Christmas break was too short given the impending exams.

Union executive officer Martin Pollard said the switch to semesterisation meant that the weeks were overcrowded and that just when students were getting to grips with a subject, it was time to move on to the next.

Academics were also said to be unhappy. Some in the survey called the system "barbaric" and "the worst of all worlds".

The Courier has begun a campaign to overturn semesterisation, and the organisers hope that other universities will join the fight against the "ill-fated" system. One alternative being discussed is for two terms of teaching and one term of revision and exams.

University vice-chancellor James Wright is sending out letters to complainants in which he says he is aware of the concerns about the shape of the academic year "which is felt by many students and staff".

The vice-chancellor says that the main difficulty arises from having to fit in two sets of degree examinations, one at the end of each semester.

"There has been a very powerful movement over the past 20 years away from reliance on the final examinations and towards frequent in-course assessment, and this has had the very strong support of student representatives," Mr Wright says. "It is paradoxical that our responsiveness to that demand has now led us to a situation where we are accused of being insensitive to student concerns."

The matter has been referred to the University Teaching Committee.

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