The NUS administration’s decision to expedite the mid-semester break by a week has met with disapproval from students.
According to the customary academic calendar, a standard six weeks of term precede the recess week. This semester however, the break was brought forward one week earlier by the university administration to coincide with the Chinese lunar new year holiday. This means that the second half of the semester will now be eight weeks long instead of the usual seven.
According to the registrar’s office, which is responsible for planning the academic calendar, it was decided that the recess week would be rescheduled to allow overseas students and staff to return home to celebrate the lunar new year.
In an official statement issued during a dialogue session with NUSSU in September 2009, the Board of Undergraduate Studies said that the shift "would allow (students and staff) to have more time to make their way home and not have to rush back to Singapore to work or attend classes when the holidays were over.”
The move has not been entirely well received however. Some students told the Observer that the change has impacted the dates of their mid-term tests, which are now scheduled for week six, when the semester will resume. It is common practice in NUS for mid-term tests to be held immediately after the recess week.
Ng Chok Chun, a second-year mechanical engineering student, said that the rescheduling of the tests would create problems for many students.
“Chinese new year visiting would be a problem. It takes a few days away from the one week break that we have to prepare for tests and to hand in essays once school re-opens,” said Ng.
The decision to reschedule the tests is contradictory to earlier announcements by the university administration.
During the September 2009 dialogue session, Associate Provost Prof. Bernard Tan gave his assurance that all mid–term tests across the university would take place on week seven, so that students would have the same amount of time to prepare for them as in previous semesters.
This was confirmed by Senior Associate Registrar Sitoe Yew Kok. “We had specifically told the various faculty deans and vice-deans that there should be no change in the scheduling of the mid-term tests, and that it should continue to be held in week seven,” he said.
It seems that these instructions have fallen on deaf ears however. Sivaprakash Packirisamy, a third-year communications and new media major, said that he will have mid-term tests in week six for three of his courses. The modules are GEK 1509: Introduction to Nanoworld, GEK1540: Modern Technology in Medicine and Healthcare, and LAH1201: Hindi 1.
“Chinese new year is supposed to be an enjoyable occasion," said Packirisamy, whose mother is ethnic Chinese. "But with all these mid-term tests the following week, it's always in the back of my mind, plus I have lesser time to prepare for them.”
Ng also has mid-term tests scheduled in week six. One of them is for his course, ME 2135: Fluid Mechanics 2.
Sitoe however said that the shifts should not be a major problem as students are expected to keep up with their work regularly in the first place.
“As students they should be consistent in their academic work and preparation. They should not wait for breaks in the semester to prepare for tests and exams," he said.
For Derrick Wong, a political science senior, the issue would not have become so problematic had NUSSU and the university administration made greater efforts to involve students in the decision-making process.
“I think what the students are most unhappy about is that we were not consulted about an issue as big as this,” said Wong.
“Why didn’t NUSSU at least ask us for our opinion if they were informed?”
NUSSU Welfare Secretary Kenny Teo however said that NUSSU had asked random NUS students about their opinions on the matter via an ‘‘informal survey’’. According to this survey, most students polled had accepted that the shift was a good idea.
Teo added that despite the potential problems, the rescheduling would benefit students in other ways.
“Students and lecturers would have the problem of make up classes if Chinese new year holidays fell on a normal school week,” he said.
Sashikumar Jaichandra, a fourth-year political science student, agreed with Teo.
“We will not have that problem of coming back (to campus) on free days to make up for classes that we missed during the holidays,” said Jaichandra.
Jacqueline Chan, also a political science senior, disagreed with Teo and Jaichandra however. She said that she would rather attend make up classes, if there are any.
“Not all lecturers will conduct make up classes,” said Chan.
“Most of the time they would squeeze the content into the other lectures or have webcasts so that students can view the lecture from home.”
Teo and Sitoe said that both NUSSU and the registrar’s office would be monitoring the matter closely so as to better address students’ concerns about administrative decisions in the future.
A factually inaccurate quote was removed from this article on Feb. 23.