We have a new style academic year at Keele in 2014/15. Up to Easter it felt pretty much the same as previously, but the differences began to become apparent last week. Before going any further I should say that the changes were intended to ‘improve the student experience’, and only time will tell if they have achieved that aim.
The first change was shortening the Easter Vacation from 4 weeks to 3. For many people, the Easter Vacation has been an essential catching up period, both for marking, but also research. In the past I’ve been able to go to conferences or even research collaboration visits; colleagues elsewhere in my school have run field trips. A 25% reduction in the time available makes all these things a bit harder to arrange.
Previously the 4th week of the Easter Vacation was used for resit exams, and then the finals started. Now we have a full 3 weeks before the finals start. OK, it gives more time for revision, but there was no evidence last week that this extra time was being used actively. Instead the campus still had a vacation feel, but with a few students around. Officially classes continue for 1st and 2nd year students for another 2 weeks (so 3 weeks in total), but previously the use of time post-Easter by many parts of the university for these students has been variable, to say the least.
It gets even sillier in a few week’s time. All the exams are crammed into 3 weeks instead of 4 (which was supposed to work because there would be less exams, which hasn’t happened as far as I can see). This means that the chances of students having exams bunched together increases. So much for improving their experience! And then, once the main Spring Semester exam period has finished, the Autumn Semester resits start, with just over a week in between. I simply don’t believe this is a better time for resits than having them in the last week of the Easter Vacation. Students may have several resits, so they will only have a week after their Spring Semester exams to prepare for them.
Of course, we won’t know the overall effect of these changes for some time, but I’m unconvinced by them so far. And a final note – the changes were largely the brainchild of a previous pro vice chancellor, who retired before they came into effect!