Cambridge SU has been campaigning for a reading week and full Freshers’ Week for several years, and this work is reaching its final stages. This is a really exciting campaign for me to work on, as it’s a huge opportunity for the SU to make big changes to University structures and cultures to improve student mental health, student communities and the academic culture at Cambridge. There has been extensive work with students through SU Council, Executive Committee, Academic Rep Forum, College Forum to ensure - but here are the key highlights of this campaign.
July 2020: Student Loneliness Report published
Edward Parker Humphreys, CUSU President (2019-2020), released the Student Loneliness Report based on the results of a student survey conducted in Michaelmas Term 2019. The findings of this survey highlighted that 62% of students surveyed felt that their intense academic workloads were a barrier to making friends and having a healthy social life, and 18% of students surveyed did not participate in any extra-curricular activities while at university.
March 2021: Policy passed at All Members’ Meeting
Ben Margolis, Undergraduate President 2020-21, proposed a motion to lobby the University to reform the Cambridge term structure at the annual Cambridge SU All Members’ Meeting. 83% of the 158 students present voted in favour of this motion, which mandates Cambridge SU to continue this work until the end of the academic year 2022-23.
May 2021: Reading Week Working Group established
Ben Margolis, Undergraduate President 2020-21, presented a paper to the central University’s main committee in charge of teaching and student issues, the General Board’s Education Committee, proposing the introduction of a mid-term reading week and a full Freshers’ Week. The Committee was supportive and agreed to establish the Reading Week Working Group to discuss the logistics of implementing this proposal.
Michaelmas Term 2021: Reading Week Working Group consulted with staff
The Reading Week Working Group met for the first time and put out a consultation to collect feedback on the proposal from Faculty and College staff, with a mix of responses. There was a clear sense of the depth of student support across the university for the reading week and its aims. A lot of consultation responses also raised really important concerns about how the reading week could be implemented and making sure it worked, like lining up the reading week with school half terms to support staff who are parents, or how to make sure work didn’t creep into the reading week over time. The revised proposal was able to respond to those concerns, getting us much closer to a final detailed proposal of a reading week that works for everyone.
March 2022: Reading Week Student Referendum
During Cambridge SU’s Lent Term elections, there was an all-student referendum which asked students: “Do you support the introduction of a full freshers’ week in Michaelmas Term and week-long Mid-Term Break/Reading Week in Michaelmas and Lent Terms?” Of the 4300 students that voted in the referendum, 64% supported the SU’s continued work on campaigning for a reading week and full Freshers’ Week.
June 2022: Support from General Board and University Council
Zak Coleman, Undergraduate President 2021-22, presented a paper proposing the introduction of a reading week and full Freshers’ Week to General Board and University Council, the University’s highest governing bodies; this proposal had been updated in line with feedback the SU had received from students and staff. Both committees approved the proposal in theory, and offered further ideas to improve it.
Michaelmas Term 2022: Regent House Report
This term I’ve been working closely with Neve, Undergraduate Access, Education and Participation Officer, to update and strengthen the previous proposal paper. We’ve already met once with the Reading Week Working Group, which has been expanded to include more staff representatives from the Colleges and Schools, and will continue to meet with them this year.
This updated paper will take the form of a Capital ‘R’ Report, which means it will likely be brought to a ballot of Regent House, the University’s democratic body of staff. There’s clearly a lot of work to be done, but I’ll keep you posted on updates as they happen!