Semester changes to fundamentally reshape student activities

Photo credit: Philippa Grafton

Photo credit: Philippa Grafton

The move to two 15-week semesters, instead of the current three 10-week terms, would have a significant impact upon the way both sports clubs and societies operate.

Sports clubs in particular would see a considerable change, due to an earlier start in September and a shorter Easter break.
Graeme Osborn, YUSU Academic Officer, commented on the plans saying, “This would impact every aspect of the student experience at York, from teaching and assessment to all the extra-curricular activities.”

The Chair of University Council told Nouse that the University will have to go down the direction of semesters in the future. This could mean term one starting at the beginning of September, with three weeks of assessment following 12 weeks of teaching before Christmas. After Christmas, there would be a further 12 weeks teaching and three weeks of assessment, finishing in early or mid-May, without a sizeable Easter break.

Many sports clubs use the Easter holidays to go on tour and Meg Phillips, President of the Women’s Football Club, suggests that under the new plans, “taking one [week] off to travel abroad isn’t as much of an option and would probably not be as successful or popular”. Sport clubs’ tours might have to take place in the summer holidays, if one were available, or not at all.

However, Phillips cites a bigger issue: Roses – the annual sporting competition between York and Lancaster.“If it’s kept at a similar date, this would be just before or during exams which, let’s be honest, is an unlikely option. York Sport Union would also be faced with two big tournaments in one semester as Varsity is normally in February and that may need to be looked at.”

Abisola Barber, the Performance societies’ chair, raised concerns over scheduling issues and access to Central Hall if the University switched to a two semester year.

“As things currently stand, yearly timetables for performances are structured in order to accommodate – as best as possible – the wishes of all societies who request to perform in the auditorium.

“This does require some sort of spreading out of performances across the current academic terms we have in place now, both to enable students to participate in more than one show, and to allow societies access into the building without having to share the space with another.”

Barber highlighted the issue that most performance societies will want to have their shows at the end of each semester. According to Barber, this would be in order to give them, “more time to cast, rehearse, fund-raise etc, leaving very little time for all performances to be squeezed into what would already be a chaotic end of semester and a sparse amount of regular performances during the semester itself.”

Another hurdle to be overcome with this change would be the college sport leagues. Currently, both the football and hockey college cups take place in the third term of the year. “It would be very disappointing to lose any of them”, adds Phillips, “particularly given the huge success of the football college cup, with many, both players and spectators, seeing it as the highlight of the college football year.”

In the past, York’s late starting time compared to most English universities has been cited as the reason for slow starts in BUCS matches at the beginning of the season. This year, there was a York Sport preseason week and most clubs have so far seen an improvement in performance.

While Phillips emphasised that “three weeks when everyone is in York and able to attend would undoubtedly give us an even stronger start.” However, she cautioned the impact of the change because, “if exams are during the last few weeks of term this hard work earlier in the semester could be wasted if students feel they can’t make matches and/or training due to a heavy revision and exam schedule.”

Barber added, “Of course, societies like Comedy Soc and Drama Soc who are able to create and produce weekly shows and sketches may not be so adversely affected; but the larger production societies like Central Hall Music Society, Fusion and Happily Ever After will greatly suffer – especially as the reduced holiday time they will face will adversely affect time to plan ahead, secure sponsorship, and so on.”

Celia Scruby, the Media Chair, however, commented that although it would be “hard to predict too much until the changes actually come into place”, she didn’t foresee that there would be too many fundamental changes needed. The main issue, and one that is apt for most societies, could be, “the prolonged time in which students involved in the editorial team would have to juggle their academic work and their commitment to their media society.”

Osborn, in a blog post last week added: “Semesters are widely used internationally, and would certainly make it easier for students wishing to visit York from abroad. They are also used by some other UK institutions, with a variety of interpretations.”

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