LS talks to Greg Sturge about why he feels Leeds students are being denied the chance to outshine other graduates in the jobs market and why we need Wednesdays free.
It is a long-upheld tradition that Wednesday afternoons at university are free from teaching so that students can participate in extra-curricular activities like sports, societies and volunteering. It’s a timetabling practice in place at the majority of universities across the country, including institutions like the Universities of Manchester, Durham, Bristol and Birmingham. Why, then, are there still over 5,000 hours of lectures, seminars and ‘non-compulsory’ talks timetabled every week after 1pm on Wednesdays at our university? It’s an injustice our students have been suffering for years and a question we’ve been asking for nearly as long, but this time round there’s someone who’s really gunning for a change.
As this years’ Activities Officer on the Student Exec, Sturge is campaigning for students in Leeds to take back their Wednesdays by petitioning the University to reduce the contact hours after 1pm by 50 per cent. His passion for the campaign stems from his sense of injustice that students across the University are being denied opportunities to get involved in all aspects of university life. “I know of far too many students and friends who have been forced to miss out on opportunities” as a direct result of this timetabling issue, he says. With over 5,000 hours of timetabled teaching time on Wednesday afternoons this academic year, assuming each of these sessions has “a minimum of 10 students (with some larger lectures holding over 100 students)” Sturge argues that “this year alone there will be at least 50,000 opportunities to take part in co-curricular activity denied to students.”
The campaign is of most obvious interest to the university sports teams, with the BUCS league games and training sessions often taking place on Wednesday afternoons. A member of the Rowing society told LS he wants “a ban on teaching in the afternoon, not simply the option to get exemption from classes” on Wednesdays.
The campaign isn’t just beneficial for sport players, however, as even for those whose society events or volunteering sessions fall across the weekend, the Wednesday afternoon would become their chance to get into the library or the lab. And for the students who aren’t involved in any teams or societies, the campaign will still help them to find ways to love their time at Leeds, as there is so much potential for Wednesday afternoons to become a time when the Union comes even more alive than it normally is, from running welfare training sessions, to mass campaigns or debates.
Sturge says “our degree is becoming less and less important in the eyes of employers. It’s no longer enough to say that you graduated from the University of Leeds with a 2:1 – or even a 1st. It’s increasingly necessary to have – and be able to show – transferable skills, many of which are very difficult to gain and very hard to demonstrate through simply completing your degree. This is why co-curricular activity is so important”.
In the current economic climate, with an average of 46 applications for every graduate vacancy, it’s more important than ever for job seekers to have a real edge over their competition and sustained involvement in sports teams, societies, volunteering opportunities, part time work and other extra-curricular activities is one surefire way to accomplish this.
Being involved in societies and teams allows you to acquire, hone and demonstrate these valuable skills in ways which are easy to evidence on applications; as Sturge says, “from the leadership and teamwork gained on the sports field, to the event and time management constantly displayed through volunteering, to the communication and presentation of performing on a stage – these are the qualities that employers want to see.”
As the vast majority of universities in the UK already dedicate Wednesday afternoons to sports and societies, Leeds graduates are at risk of lagging behind graduates from other institutions in terms of employability as a result of these denied opportunities.
In so many ways, this is a policy which puts the students’ personal development at the forefront but the sad truth is that there is little chance the University will ever be able to keep Wednesday afternoons completely free of commitments for all subjects – some courses simply have too many contact hours for it to be any other way. By campaigning for a 50 per cent reduction in contact time, Sturge hopes that this will enable “as many stydents as possible … [to take advantage of ] this time away from the classroom, especially first and second years who still have the time to make a real impact on their personal development”.
In order for this campaign to come to fruition and create change at the University, it needs support from its students – you can read about the campaign on the Union’s website and sign Sturge’s petition online on change.org.