Fewer weeks of classes. Good idea, or not?

'The length of the academic year is the hardest coconut from the highest tree'

No more four times ten weeks of classes, but four times nine weeks . That’s the plea art historian and faculty council member Annemieke Hoogenboom made on DUB. We asked around – should this hard coconut be cracked or not?

*Philosopher and former faculty council member Humanities for Rethink UU, Rutger Claassen: ‘It’s essential that class-free also means free of meetings, team days, tutoring, colloquium, etc.’

“I completely agree with Annemieke Hoogenboom’s argument. The fragmentation of research time is one of the biggest obstacles the universty’s employees face. A substantial winter break and a longer summer break are essential, at the current educational workload per person, to be able to do any kind of research during ‘working hours’.

The proposal of ‘four times nine’ isn’t drastic enough: Harvard has a year of 32, not 35 weeks, and that seems to be the standard for many American universities – that should be the goal for Utrecht.

It’s essential that class-free also means free of meetings, team days, tutoring, colloquium, etc.. The entire organization should be geared towards freeing up the researchers’ time during those periods. Perhaps we shouldn’t just open the academic year, but also symbolically close it twice a year.”

*Vice Dean of Humanities, Peter Schrijver: ‘The question remains whether the length of the academic year is the most important factor’

“We acknowledge the issues caused by high workloads, and indeed, with the long academic year at Dutch universities. For scientific staff who have substantial educational tasks, it’s especially hard to work on research for a long period.

On the other hand, it’s not as if scientific staff with research time are necessarily working on education for ten months a year: they can save up time for sabbaticals, and we stimulate further education to let them have one class-free block a year. On top of that, the class schedule of ten-week blocks provide the space for staff to schedule their eight weeks of education in such a way that they can, for instance, visit a conference for a week.

So the question remains whether the length of the academic year is the most important factor that contributes to people’s workload; the fact that we’re apparently unsuccessful in letting teachers use the freedoms described above, plays an equally important part.

The whole theme is important in the faculty board’s agenda: aside from rest on the work floor, we strengthen leadership in teacher teams regarding workload.”

*University council member Robin Wisse: ‘A semester system would offer more room for good education’

“Workload is an important issue, but unfortunately, this piece only looks at education as a burden that increases the workload. I’d rather have this conversation from the vision of what good education is: what is the optimal course length and set-up? How can we safeguard a healthy atmosphere at work, and stimulate interdisciplinary, small-scale education?

Looking at the issue from the perspective of these questions, I can only encourage the length of our educational blocks. My two cents: the 7 weeks of education I currently receive are not enough to get to know a topic in-depth. A semester system would offer more room for good education.”

*Educational scientist and DUB-panel member, Jeroen Janssen: ‘Shortening the educational time could be detrimental’

“The issue of workload and the competition between research and education in terms of time is definitely a familiar one. The proposal might ease the burden of workload for teachers.

But the question remains what the proposal would mean for the quality of education. Simply shortening the educational time might be detrimental: are curriculums also shortened, or will the pace be increased? Are we going to ask students to do even more independent studying?

Educational time is, to a degree, linked to study achievements. If the calendar is changed, that’s something that needs to be looked at carefully. I’d want to explore whether we could change to a system of 6-8 blocks, so students would only take one class at a time, and there are more possibilities for teachers to not have any teaching duties for one or more blocks.”

*Vice Dean of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Susan te Pas: ‘I doubt whether a shorter block of classes is the solution’

“At our faculty, we’re following the advice of the Board of Studies (BoS) and the Faculty Council to see whether we could work with four nine-week blocks of classes, in order to battle the workload and stress. But at Social Sciences, people aren’t asking for a longer summer vacation, but for a more equal distribution of the workload throughout the year, by implementing a class-free week in between block 1 and block 2. I can acknowledge the problem of the sky-high expectations in both education and research. But I doubt whether a shorter block of classes is the solution.”

*Student of Language and Culture Studies and Spanish, and member of the DUB-panel, Francisca Duiser: ‘Students also see the pressure on teachers’

“I think it’d be a good idea to change the academic calendar in such a way that there’s four times nine weeks of classes, instead of four times ten. Students also see the pressure on teachers, and this could offer some relief.

I do wonder whether that wouldn’t increase the pressure on students during the blocks of classes. The same number of papers will have to be checked, in less time. Isn’t that just relocating the problem?”

Vice Dean of the Faculty of Science, Gerard Barkema: ‘Our faculty still has re-tests scheduled during summer vacation’

“I would not be able to get everyone in my faculty on board to shorten the educational blocks. Discussions like these have been had before. Most teachers fear a diminishing of quality. I can’t find anything in Hoogenboom’s piece on what she thinks about this.

In the first place, we should aim to reduce the added obligations for teachers outside of those four times ten weeks. Our faculty, for instance, still has re-tests scheduled during summer vacation.

I’d also like to have more uniformity at the university. My daughter, a history student, has seven weeks of classes and three weeks of tests. My son is an IT student and has nine weeks of classes and one week of tests. Those differences are inexplicable.”