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“Work to ease timetable congestion is expected to return the use of the 6-7pm slot to previous levels.” – A Lancaster University spokesperson
The University announced an extension to teaching hours in July 2018 to offset the insufficiency of the available teaching space as student intake increased. The proposal took effect from the beginning of the academic year 18/19. Lectures given by some departments could now run until 7pm.
Then acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Atherton argued that the extended timetable could provide a ‘greater flexibility’ and ‘work-life balance’ and promised that class hours scheduled to finish after 6pm would constitute less than 1% of lectures.
The decision was poorly received by students, many of whom complained that an extension to 7pm could interfere with extracurricular activities, part-time work, and family and social life. Long-distance commuters may be especially inconvenienced. As one student noted in a previous SCAN article:
From the point of view of someone who has to travel for an hour and walk at least 10 minutes to-and-from my car to the lecture theatres, teaching hours continuing until 7pm could mean that I don’t get home until after 8pm, and I know this could be even later for other people. In winter months, this means dark and potentially icy and dangerous road conditions. If I happened to have a 9am lecture, it could also potentially mean leaving my house 12 hours before I’d be setting off from university to come home. These are uncommonly long hours, particularly if I have no lectures or seminars to fill the middle hours of my day.Anonymous student
The Students’ Union has been against 6-7pm lectures since they were first proposed. Their position hasn’t changed: VP Education Bee Morgan said, “While we understand the University’s ambitions to grow, we believe this shouldn’t happen at the expense of student experience.”
Morgan assured that “the Union has raised these issues with university management repeatedly, but seen no sign that the concerns of students are being taken seriously.” As a result, she had taken a paper to the Executive Committee, which then unanimously withdrew from University recruitment events “until the university can demonstrate that it has plans in place to ensure the university grows at a sustainable rate.”
The impacts of this change on students and academic staff have been far-reaching and varied. Among those worst impacted are students with caring responsibilities, students with disabilities, those who need part-time jobs to cover their living expenses, those who want the time and facilities to pursue extra-curricular activities, and graduate teaching assistants.Students’ Union VP Education Bee Morgan
The primary reason for the timetable extension is the growth in student intake that Lancaster University plans to achieve. A University spokesperson said, “Additional teaching hours were required to accommodate larger cohorts on some modules and to ease timetable congestion resulting from new course and module offerings.”
This has meant that in the year 19/20, “20 out of 31 departments have some teaching sessions after 6pm (0.5% of all teaching sessions), involving just over a third of our students.”
The University’s council-approved 5-Year Capital Plan sets out a target of 17,000 students at the Bailrigg campus by 2025. The plan includes a “framework for re-balancing the university from 2020 to 2024, by holding [undergraduate] numbers at 12,000 and increasing [taught postgraduates] by 6% per year and [postgraduate researchers] by an additional 100 students per year, and then capping at 2,000.”
Looking ahead to 2020-21, work to ease timetable congestion (e.g. improvements to forecasting methods for student module enrolments to better allocate teaching spaces) and the introduction of new teaching facilities – including the new 400-seat lecture theatre, Health Innovation Campus and LUMS building – are expected to return the use of the 6-7pm slot to pre-2018-19 levels.A University spokesperson
The University is investing £4.7m to build what will be the largest lecture theatre on campus. The new 400-seat lecture theatre is part of the University’s growth strategy and will inevitably alleviate some of the pressure for additional learning space on campus.
EDITORIAL: Lancaster University is a thriving institution, desperate to firmly establish itself as one of the world’s top 100 universities. Which student could argue this would be a bad thing? Despite locals’ concern over the general expansion of student accommodation bulldozing through Lancaster to make room for the ever-expanding student population, Lancaster University is here to stay. As the University attracts more students on its road to global prestige, there will inevitably be some mismatch between capacity and student numbers. Hopefully, the inconvenience of an unusually late timetable will be reversed by 2021. But for now, perhaps late lectures are an acceptable price to pay to work and study at a leading and accelerating global institution.