The gap between lectures and exams is often a crucial time for students to regroup and prepare for the oncoming exam storm. So it’s understandable that a proposal by Victoria University of Wellington to remove it is causing a stir.
Faced with a condensed exam period and shorter break for students, Victoria University administrators have come up with a novel solution: ditching the entire pre-exam study period to make room for an extra week of exams.
The proposal is a flow-on effect from a decision made by the uni in 2016 to add a week of teaching to trimester three in order to bring it into line with trimesters one and two. That’s significantly shortened the exam period, mid-year break and grading period, says a representative from Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA).
“It has led to a multitude of problems, increasing pressure on students and staff in an unfair and unjustified way.”
In a statement, Victoria University of Wellington provost, Professor Wendy Larner, said that the option of removing the study break was put forward in order to “stimulate discussion”. And stimulate discussion it certainly did, with many disgruntled students taking to a VUWSA Facebook poll to air their views.
The poll posed the question of whether having a study week is important or not, and of the almost 2,500 votes, over 95% were a big fat yes. The answer was pretty clear: students want time to study.
Comments on the poll included statements such as “study week allows students to destress and take in the information they have been learning for 12 weeks,” and “I really appreciate having a break between the end of my courses and the beginning of my exams. It gives me time to regroup, de-stress and study with a fresh outlook.” Students said the break “prevents a burn-out situation” and gives them time to recuperate before their exams.
This feedback has been taken by student representatives to the Academic Board. VUWSA says they would be “shocked and extremely disappointed” if the response is not treated with the respect it deserves, and that it strongly advises the provost to “take removing the study period off the table.”
Although the student backlash was pretty immediate, Larner says no decision has been made to shorten the break. Instead, it was simply an option in a “wide-ranging Options Paper designed to canvas ideas as to how best to reduce pressures due to new Academic Year Dates.”
According to Larner, regularising all three trimesters is important to ensure consistency of student experience and education in all trimesters. But when Victoria University students already have to suffer the consequence of getting two weeks less for mid-year break than their mates at other universities around New Zealand, it’s not surprising that the suggestion to also cut out the much-needed study period would feel like salt on a long-festering, late-night assignment-writing, exam stress-induced wound.
Having a break from uni is like inhaling a good lungful of fresh air after being in a stuffy room all day – and this cleansing period is arguably needed most before returning to that stuffy room to write five essays in two hours. Yet for many students, the time off before exams is hardly relaxing, but rather a mad scramble to catch up on work, hand in final assignments, and begin the process of poring through notes in preparation for exams, punctuated by staring unseeingly out of the window for long periods of time.
Victoria University student Anahita Mukherjee says that the study break proposal ignores the fact that contrary to the name, the period is far from a break. “You’re trying to do lectures, you’re trying to juggle assessments and you’re expected to study for your exams because they’ve been condensed into two weeks and you only have like two days between your exams.
“They are treating it like it is a lull but it’s really not, everyone is ramping up in exam study week and trying to focus.”
Regardless of the final decision made, Mukherjee says the fact that the suggestion was made in the first place is disconcerting. “It’s disconnected. However way they try to justify it, I think the bottom line is that they obviously suggested it with no regard to what students need.”
University can be pretty draining, with exams the cherry on top of a stressful sundae, which is also why a decent break after exams is important. “If you don’t get an adequate time to unwind and release that stress between trimesters, it just keeps building up and can manifest itself in some really abysmal mental health outcomes. Above anything else, the university needs to make sure its students are doing okay, and are being set up to succeed and be well,” says a VUWSA representative.
Following the meeting with the Academic Board last Tuesday, VUWSA is hoping the board will see sense. “We can’t be sure when a final decision will be made but at this stage the next step is for the academic board to come back with a proposal at the next meeting (in a months’ time).”
And for those worn out Vic Uni students who have an exam on the last day and are then treated to a handful of days to recover whilst others swan off on a three week break? Well, other than the fact that they’ll probably have graduated by the time any change is implemented, Larner says solutions are being sought.
“The University is deeply concerned about its students and their well-being, and in consultation with the student association, it is currently thinking about alternative ways to set the academic year dates (from 2021) to facilitate a longer midyear break in the future.”