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General Assembly


Minutes of the Fifty-fifth (Extraordinary) Meeting of the General Assembly held on Wednesday 20 November 1996.

The Vice-Chancellor was in the Chair and 216 members signed the attendance roll. Two apologies for absence were received.

96/7 The Structure of the Academic Year



In accordance with Statute XV.6 the Vice-Chancellor had called a meeting of General Assembly at the request of not fewer than twenty-five members, to consider the following motion:-

"General Assembly requests that Senate should initiate the implementation of a system of semesterisation encompassing two twelve week semesters (semester one before Christmas and semester two between Christmas and Easter) and a six week exam period after Easter".
The Chair advised that any opinion expressed by General Assembly as a result of the meeting would be submitted to the 310th meeting of Senate on 27 November 1996 to inform discussion.

At the invitation of the Chair, Dr W R Bowman presented the pedagogic and structural arguments in support of the 12/12/6 option as described in the agenda paper. Members received a second presentation in which Professor P Golding stated that the motion had been proposed to highlight the divergent views expressed by members of the Semesterisation Review Group. Professor Golding reiterated the pedagogic arguments in favour of the 12/12/6 option and stressed that the quality and integrity of teaching, learning and research at Loughborough University must be the prime consideration when deciding the structure of the academic year.

In response to the arguments forwarded in favour of the 12/12/6 option Professor J P Feather reported that many Admissions Tutors and the Admissions Office had agreed that an earlier start to the session would be feasible. It was noted that the Directors of the External Relations Office, the Residential Organisation and the Careers Service as well as the student representative on the Semesterisation Review Group all advocated the 14/16 option.

Professor Feather outlined the areas of common ground between supporters of both the 12/12/6 and 14/16 options and detailed the background to the existing system. Finally, a model for the 14/16 option was presented as follows:-

Semester One to be completed before Christmas.
An extended Christmas vacation to be introduced.
The session to begin mid-September and end in May.
Module Boards to be held electronically.
Viva Voce and Final Programme Boards to be held in Week 15 Semester Two; Part A and B Boards to be completed by Week 16.
In the ensuing discussion individual members of the General Assembly raised the following points:-
The meeting was asked to note that some Admissions Tutors had expressed concern at the proposed early start to the session due to the clearing process. It was felt more concessions were likely due to the shortage of time, further reduced by the August Bank Holiday which it was considered would adversely affect communication with candidates and remove the opportunity to carry out interviews. In response it was noted that the use of the clearing system was optional and that Departments should aim not to use it.
Concern was expressed at the implication that supporters of the 12/12/6 option were not considering the effect on students. It was advanced that one week between teaching and assessment was insufficient for revision.
It was felt that the vision presented of quality and improvement in teaching was not consistent with the mission of Loughborough University where less than half the income came from teaching an increasing number of students.
As the true definition of `semester' was a teaching period of six months, neither system discussed could be said to be semesterised. Both September and the inter semester break were considered to be invaluable periods for research which should be sacrosanct. It was suggested that Loughborough University should refer to models of semesterisation in other European countries where the system had been operating successfully for many years.
The view was expressed that both systems proposed were illogical and resulted in more examinations and consequently greater effort. To reduce this a reduction in the number of modules per programme was proposed. The separation of module and programme boards was considered to be logical and efficient.
Fourteen weeks teaching prior to Christmas without a break would be too stressful and lead to increased levels of illness. In some years the 12/12/6 option did not fit into the period between 1 January and Easter. A system of three 10 week terms was proposed.
More consideration should be given to timing of laboratory classes when setting the semester pattern.
`A' level admissions from mid-August to mid-September and then a 14 week semester before Christmas would be impossible to cope with and would lead to severe stress on staff.
The Chair expressed his personal view that many of the concerns expressed were the inevitable result of the student:staff ratio having increased by 50%, rather than the result of semesterisation. In the assessment process, setting and marking represented the bulk of the work, irrespective of the number of exam periods in a session.

In a subsequent show of hands the General Assembly voted with a large majority in favour of the motion.

Author - Mr N A McHard, Academic Secretary

Date - November 1996

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