Students get more time with tutors, but it's no holiday

Uclan cuts Christmas and Easter breaks to try to improve teaching. Melanie Newman reports

March 13, 2008

Students' holidays are to be reduced at the University of Central Lancashire in an effort to offer more teaching time and cut dropout rates.

The Christmas break will be reduced from five weeks to three, and the Easter break next year will be reduced from three weeks to just 11 days. Assessments will also take place before Christmas rather than in January.

Patrick McGhee, deputy vice-chancellor (academic), said the move was a response to feedback by students in the National Student Survey that they wanted more teaching time. It also follows research by Mantz Yorke and Bernard Longden that points to increased student anxiety when there is a long gap between teaching and exams.

"We reviewed our academic calendar last year ... It was clear that not all modules and courses needed to use the post-Christmas period for revision and examinations.

"Bringing examinations forward ensures there is not an undue gap between learning and formal assessment," Professor McGhee said.

Pointing out that the university's student retention rates have improved in recent years, he said "this is just one of several measures designed to improve retention further. But there is no silver bullet - each institution must develop its own academic support and delivery systems. We will review the new arrangements next summer."

A spokesman for the University and College Union at Uclan said that although the union was committed to exploring measures that would improve learning, the branch had "yet to be convinced that the potential benefits identified will in fact be realised".

The UCU's spokesman said: "We hope to engage in further discussions with management on the issue."

Holidays have also become an issue at Leeds Metropolitan University, where the Easter break this year has been reduced from three weeks to two amid staff complaints that the new dates do not coincide with local schools' holidays.

The calendar was agreed only after consultation with staff, said Marie Stinson, director of flexible learning at Leeds Met. It "allows students to sustain engagement with their studies", Dr Stinson added.

Bernard Longden, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University, said long holidays damaged students' commitment to their institutions.

"Until students are embedded into their institutions, they are weak in terms of commitment," he said. "The first year is critical in terms of students forming that commitment. If they are spending a long time away from the university at that critical time, it isn't going to help."

Professor Longden said that long summer holidays also affected retention. "They might not want shorter holidays because they want to earn money," he admitted. "But longer association with the university is often better for the student."

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