The truth is the Cambridge Undergraduate education doesn’t work for everyone. Students have long known this, and senior figures in the University have admitted this at various points over the last decade. The evidence given ranges from the exacerbation of students’ loneliness; to students’ inability to explore areas of interest in depth; to students not being able to engage with extracurricular activities due to worries about academic work.
The truth is the Cambridge Undergraduate education doesn’t work for everyone. Students have long known this, and senior figures in the University have admitted this at various points over the last decade. The evidence given ranges from the exacerbation of students’ loneliness; to students’ inability to explore areas of interest in depth; to students not being able to engage with extracurricular activities due to worries about academic work. Our data on why students tend to intermit include frequent mentions of academic work- this is not because of the rigour of the academic syllabus, but because the structure of the term leaves little room for those without capacity to work at the rate demanded by our short terms. It only takes a glance at Camfess to work out that the culture of relentless intensity has seeped into the University’s response to the pandemic. “Look after yourselves and your wellbeing”, the University often says, followed by that now notorious phrase “academic rigour”, indicating to students that they should in fact do nothing of the sort.
At Student Council on Monday (01/02/20) I presented a bold proposal for how Cambridge can work better for everyone. I was elected on the promise that I would challenge the traditions of Cambridge education, and wouldn’t shy away from proposing comprehensive solutions to the problems that undergraduate students face. In the research that we have compiled as an SU, we found that relatively minor changes to the term structure for Lent and Michaelmas could see a monumental change in the quality of education and in student wellbeing:
By moving the start of term forward three days, and the end of term back two, we can create an entire new week in the middle of term that could be used as a ‘Reading Week’, whilst allowing for a full Freshers’/Welcome Week and (maybe most excitingly) giving students an actual weekend! These changes together would mean that students could have a proper chance to make friends and get accustomed to University life in Freshers’ Week; would have designated weekends to socialise and engage in extracurriculars; and would have a week to catch up on work, explore areas of academic interest, visit family and friends or just have a break in the middle of term. All of this still fits into the ten week lease structure that the vast majority of colleges offer, and wouldn’t cost students a penny more.
This would all mean:
A reduction in student loneliness and tackling the root causes of poor wellbeing around the University.
More designated time to enjoy all the opportunities the Cambridge student experience has to offer.
A reduction in the number of students forced to consider intermission for reasons related to academic work.
More time to explore areas of academic interest or pick up professional and study skills during the Reading Week.
I’ll be consulting on this proposal for the next few weeks, and want to hear your feedback. If you want to chat about it, message my SU Facebook or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.