Comment: assessment proposals shows “complete and utter disregard for students”

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After a show of hands during Thursday’s Societies General Meeting, it became clear that a quiet yet overwhelming majority of students are against the University’s proposed changes to the academic year, that include scrapping January exams in favour of a longer assessment period in the summer. These changes would have an enormous impact on the University for decades to come, and given the number of students that seem to be entirely unaware of the considered plans, or at least of the specifics, the University’s open consultation on the shape of the academic year is horrendously underpublicised.

studying

The changes will move all assessment until the end of the year

Jordan Kenny and Freddy Clapson recommended that we should start discussions on social media concerning the proposed changes, regardless of our personal opinions. I threw together a petition in opposition to the reforms, shared the link to as many groups as I could, and went to an Algebra lecture. I chose to completely forgo learning in favour of compulsively refreshing the page, watching the signature count rise from 50 in half an hour to 100 in 45 minutes, passing 300 in just 2 hours.

After less than a day, over 2000 people had signed the petition. There are hundreds of comments protesting the planned changes, including labelling the ideas simply “bullshit” (Alex W.), “moronic” (Tom C.), and “possibly the worst ideas known to mankind” (James K.). Other commenters include a former Higher Education lecturer, who said that “[he does]not believe the new proposals have advantage over the tried and tested pattern that has been shown to work well” (Andy K.), and a Bath graduate who found the current system “effective”, adding that it is “unfair to ask so much of students at the end of the year” (Owen W.).

While I wasn’t nearly committed enough to research such things before opting to study at Bath, many students “chose this university because of the assessment structure” (Wadzanai P.). Several prospective students “will no longer consider attending Bath in September” (Carly-May K.) if the proposed changes are implemented, and others “would choose another university if the shape and style of the year was changed“ (Alex C.).

academic year

How the new academic year could look under the proposals

In point 9 of its discussion paper, the University insists that combining the assessment periods into a single, hellish month would mean that new undergraduate students would find the transition to university easier, having already taken all of their A Level exams in the summer. This seems to ignore the widespread criticisms of the reforms that led to the new A Level system, which tended to include the inherent increase in stress. In a 2014 NUS/OCR poll of 1765 HE and FE students, 71% anticipated that the reformed A Levels would be too stressful, a concern that is strongly echoed in the comments on the petition. At the time of writing, 83 comments mention stress, including the following:

  • “Changing [the system]will increase stress, decrease performance, decrease employability, decrease fun.” (Will W.)
  • “The stress the proposed changes would bring would severely affect my exam results and would be an unfair reflection upon anyone’s true potential.” (Elliot M.)
  • “The increased stress during single periods is damaging to mental health of many students and is misrepresentative of the real world.” (Giulia S.)

Having recently finished a £10.9 million centre for the arts, it’s baffling that the University is now pursuing changes that would “affect the Arts Societies by reducing the time available for students to participate in extracurricular activities”, leading to a decline in “the opportunities available for members and the experience they can gain”, according to Emma Henderson, Arts Representative on the Societies Executive Committee.

In considering implementing these changes to the academic year, the University demonstrates a complete and utter disregard for the student satisfaction that it holds so dearly. I sincerely hope that the petition’s huge support will convince the Senate not to “fix” a system that makes me and many others happy to study at Bath, and that certainly isn’t broken.

Want some more information? Check out this Discussion Paper which lays out the pros and cons of changing the academic year.

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Phil Herbert is a Computer Science student. He has campaigned on changes to the academic year-shape.

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