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Third time lucky? University tries for twelve week semesters again

Previous proposals to shorten semesters were defeated in 2017 and 2020

University of Sydney management will again propose to the Academic Board that semesters be shortened to twelve weeks of teaching, down from the current thirteen. 

Similar proposals were defeated at Academic Board in 2017 and in 2020. Last year’s proposal related only to Semester One of 2021, and the University indicated at the time that they would push for a permanent shift at the beginning of this year. 

A University spokesperson told Honi that the shortened semester “is in line with many other universities, and we believe it creates more opportunities for intensive teaching between semesters including internships, placements…and learning experiences that involve travel and cross-university collaboration.” 

Despite the proposed reduction in teaching hours, the University maintains that “course content and learning outcomes will not be compromised, as the changes largely involve removing the light introductory and course guidance week in the semester.” 

Somewhat ominously, the spokesperson said “we plan to make better use of online resources.”

Students’ Representative Council President Swapnik Sanagavarapu told Honi that the SRC is “strongly opposed” to the proposal, and that the move “would seriously compromise on the quality of learning.”

Sanagavarapu said that the extra week was critical to preventing students from falling irreparably behind in their studies, and that “the most affected students will be those with unavoidable commitments such as work or carer’s commitments, structurally disadvantaged students, and those with disabilities.”

National Union of Students President Zoe Ranganathan told Honi that the University’s attempt to cut semester lengths “shows transparently that the University only thinks of students in dollar amounts…A 12 week semester is a step down the path to trimesterisaton and the further commercialisation of our universities.”

A number of Australian universities have shortened semesters in recent years. UNSW moved down to 12 weeks before instituting trimesters. Other universities with 12 week semesters include Monash, Melbourne, ANU and Adelaide. 

Sanagavarapu told Honi that “unis such as ANU have seen increasing fail rates since the adoption of 12 week semesters.”

The NTEU, which has previously opposed 12 week semesters, was contacted for comment but failed to reply before publication.