An audit into postgraduate Wednesday afternoons – which are supposed to be reserved for free time – has found that they are widely used for teaching.
The audit was carried out by Nick Burstow, Imperial College Union’s Deputy President (Education), and Luke McCrone, President of the Graduate Students’ Union, with input from Central Timetabling and faculty staff. It was shown the protected Wednesday afternoons were only practiced on paper, with 239 teaching sessions – representing a total time of 594 hours – being scheduled for MSc and MRes students across the entire year.
Under Imperial’s Academic Timetabling Policy, all Wednesday afternoons are to be kept free from noon for all taught students for “sport and society events and activities of a non-compulsory nature,” providing a work-life balance.
Burstow told Felix: “Postgraduate taught students should be able to take part in the same activities on Wednesday afternoons as their undergraduate counterparts”, further adding: “It is unacceptable that some courses continue to schedule teaching for taught postgraduates on Wednesday afternoons, despite the academic timetabling policy currently in place”
The audit looked at timetabling within the Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Natural Sciences, and Institute of Molecular Science & Engineering. The Imperial College Business School is exempt from the timetabling policy.
McCrone said the report, which followed on from work completed last year, was “hugely important”. He told Felix: “We want to ensure PGT students have the space and time each week to achieve a balanced lifestyle during their time at university, including the development of skills outside of their taught programme.
The number of hours and sessions varied between faculties; the Faculty of Engineering took the lead with 124 teaching sessions scheduled for the year, against 110 for Natural Sciences and five for the institute of Molecular Science & Engineering. Physics was the department with the highest number of teaching sessions, 36, followed by Civil Engineering with 33. Earth Science Engineering has the most hours per teaching session, with an average of nearly five hours, closely followed by Civil Engineering with over three hours per teaching session.
One taught postgraduate, who has not taken part in any Wednesday afternoon activities this year told Felix: “I would have liked to get involved in societies, and if I was a member of sports teams I would have been annoyed [by the scheduled teaching]. My previous university was much more social – here postgraduates seem to just be focussed on work, work, and more work.”
Keeping Wednesday afternoons free has been a long-running goal for student representatives, with the last two Deputy Presidents (Education) promising to hold College to account on timetabling. In 2016, a paper presented by the then-Deputy President (Education) Luke McCrone found that almost half of all Msc and Mres students had been affected by the infringement of the Academic Timetabling Policy.
A College spokesperson said they were “very grateful to Nick and Luke for highlighting this”, and the curriculum review for postgraduate taught programmes should help “ease the pressure on timetables.” They told Felix: “Extra-curricular activities are an integral part of the student experience at Imperial. Setting aside Wednesday afternoons for students to participate in clubs and societies is important to us, and we are sorry that this hasn’t been the case for taught postgraduate students on some courses.”