It just so happens that many, if not most, UK universities are moving from the traditional three-term year to a two-semester year. Hundreds of departments across the country have redesigned their courses in order to adjust to semesterisation, a process that has taken up thousands of person-hours which could otherwise have been spent on teaching and research. In the background to this change there were rumours that a 'third semester' might one day be imposed. Now we are threatened with four terms.
This, you report, would involve universities taking two separate intakes of students each year, putting on 'accelerated courses' and holding Finals examinations every term. Do we really want students (and staff?) at the same institution to belong to two separate teams? How could we possibly expect UK qualifications to be recognised abroad when our courses are already the shortest in the world? And what would happen to the quality of teaching and research if we quadrupled the time and effort we now spend setting, invigilating, marking, second-marking and externally monitoring Finals examinations? (Incidentally, where would teaching take place while four lots of Finals were sat?)
It is all very well for working groups (whose members will, for the most part, not be directly affected by their proposals) to come up with schemes further to increase universities' productivity, but half-baked proposa1s such as those you report can only increase disaffection among academics, many of whom have seen their student/staff ratios double in the past few years, and among students, whose financial situation is becoming ever more dire (as you report today, 'Students on course for debt'). You note that the authors of the latest proposals themselves warn that 'the quality of the student experience could suffer'. The (tongue-in-cheek?) observation by Mr E. K. Townsend-Coles (letter, 26 September), that the scheme would admirably suit Third World conditions, just about says it all.
University of Southampton