Semesterisation: Illegal? Summer holidays to be cut by two weeks

Originally published in Volume I, Issue 4 on 23rd November 1994 by Roddy O'Sullivan. The college authorities have received legal advice that the introduction of semesterisation next September for years other than first year ma be illegal. The University Observer has obtained a copy of the letter which advises the Registrar’s office: “it has always been an unwritten rule that where feasible at least two years notice should be given of any changes in structure of degrees and examinations which directly affect students.” Semesterisation entails the division of the academic year into two terms and the abolition of the current three term system. As a result of a decision taken by the Academic Council in September, all UCD undergraduate students will have to return to college two weeks earlier, and no faculty will be allowed to teach during the month of January. This is due to the proposal that there be six weeks between the conclusion of teaching in the first semester and the commencement of classes for the second semester. The six week break would include two weeks of a Christmas break, one ‘review week’, two weeks of exams/assessment/project work and one week of an inter semester break. While all faculties have to semesterize their teaching year, it is up to the individual faculties to decide whether they semesterize their exams. Students in semesterised faculties have to sit exams at the end of both the first and second semesters. The letter from Kyra Donnelly, Assistant to the College Secretary, Gerry Wright, and informal legal advisor within Administration, states; “I would have difficulty in a proposal to run the 2nd Science examinations at the end of the First the current science booklet for 1994/95 does indicate that 2nd Science examinations would be held in summer and in autumn...Current 2nd Science students who may fail the examination...would be quite legitimately expect that the examinations in 1996 would also be held in summer and autumn.” “I accept this may slow down phasing in of end of semester examinations, but it would have the advantage of giving ample warning of the changes involved.” It is understood that the College President, Art Cosgrove, was anxious to implement semesterisation as quickly as possible and this letter is being seen by academic opponents of semesterisation as being a vindication of their concern at the speed of implementation and the alleged lack of consultation with faculty heads. A meeting last Thursday of the All Faculty Committee on Semesterisation saw one senior academic express grave concern that his faculty could not teach during the month of January. Another influential faculty head criticised the speed with which the proposals were being pushed through. Doubts were also raised about the ability of the already overstretched library to cope with another round of exams. While the Arts faculty will be forced to return early like everyone else, they are not thought to be considering introducing semesterised exams until the 1996/97 academic year at the earliest. Law are unlikely to ever semesterize their exams, and will probably plug the January gap in their schedule by assigning a substantial legal writing project to their students. Veterinary will almost certainly just move their Christmas exams to January to comply with semesterisation, while Ag have more or less conformed to the semesterisation system already. Science hope to semesterize exams for first, second and third years immediately, but Kyra Donnelly’s advice to the Registrar’s office would appear to cast doubts on the feasibility of such a move. The faculty of Medicine are meeting November 28th to decide how they will implement the new system. As part of the preparations for the introduction of semesterisation, the new Registrar, Dr Caroline Hussey, is looking into the instigation of a grant advance scheme to facilitate the early return of students who are relying on grants to maintain themselves away from home. Amongst the reasons cited for the introduction of a two term system in the Report of the All Faculty Committee on Semesterisation to the Academic Council are; “The duration of the Trinity term together with the length of the Easter break and the proximity of the Final Examinations have led to serious dissatisfaction with the operation and utility of the third term” “The traditional two week study period between the end of the Trinity term and the start of the formal Summer Examination period has been reduced to approximately one week in the last few years.”