Please note all these views are my own and do not represent the universities I work for

A controversial topic amongst university staff at the beginning of each semester is whether to let students swap seminars groups or not.

Each semester there is the usual pleas from students in all years to swap groups because it does not suit them for a variety of reasons. These may be valid reasons like timetable clashes or regular hospital appointments, but more often than not they are due to not suiting the student’s personal circumstances and in particular an aversion to 9am starts. Another reason given is having to commute to university and not being able to make it in for 9am due to bus/train/traffic problems. However many would argue that this would never be a valid excuse to start work at a later time once you enter employment so professional standards should also be set at university.

The usual university policy on this is to only let students swap in exceptional circumstances, in advance of the semester beginning and via agreement with their allocated tutor. The request has to be made through timetabling and the student must swap with another student so seminar groups remain the same size overall.

Yet these procedures are rarely followed either due to poor communication from staff or students trying to make last minute changes without going through the proper channels. There is also inconsistency amongst staff as some allow swapping quite readily whilst others, like myself, are much more stringent.

Work committments

The biggest conflict however is when seminars clash with student’s part time work committments. Rather than arrange their full time university degree around their work shifts many students attempt vice versa. They want to come to university when they are not earning money rather than the other way round. But this can play havoc with seminars as students start flipping between different seminar groups each week which may lead to over subscribed sessions and inconsistency in their learning, as each seminar group covers slightly different work at a different pace.

Yet increasingly students HAVE to earn a living. They have high fees to pay, even though they are currently largely subsidised by the tax payer, and this situation is only going to get worse as full fees come in from 2012. If students are paying up to £9,000 a year should that payment entitle them to personalised timetables which enable them to fit in as much money-earning time as possible? Perhaps it should, but students and staff will have to learn to put policies in place first, communicate them effectively and make sure consistency prevails throughout departments otherwise the same old situation will continue where it is left to the whim of a staff member to decide on what qualifies as an exceptional circumstance.

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