‘Totally unnecessary’ pressure leads to call for Cambridge reading week

Tonicha Upham 16 January 2015

Pressure for reduced workloads has increased this week in light of damning results from the 2014 NSS survey. #endweek5blues, a group of students connected to Cambridge Defend Education, plans to take a motion to CUSU council this Monday (19th January) in order to garner further support for their campaign.

The NSS survey results released this week showed that just 55% of students considered their workload to be manageable, compared to 78% nationally. The statistics, demonstrative of the "unnecessary pressure" felt by many students, have led the students behind #endweek5blues to take more decisive action against what they feel are the main causes of stress within the University.

The #endweek5blues campaign is calling for a reading week. Sporadically appealed for since the 1980s, the campaign contends that this would give students time to "rest, recover, read around our subjects – participate in things that make university special, rather than just endless reading lists and problem sheets." 

The campaign notes that many students find themselves without the time to enjoy life in Cambridge beyond lectures, supervisions and libraries. It also argues that with reduced pressure and more time, students would be better able to complete their work to a high standard; this is especially important, since the NSS Survey reported that only 39% of Cambridge students felt that they had time to fully understand and digest their work.

Student testimonies support the idea that the current level of work is unhealthy. Martha Perotto-Wills, a participant in the #endweek5blues campaign, commented: "The pressure of my degree’s harmfully intense workload – and the total lack of a break from that – led directly to a marked decline in both my mental health and the quality and quantity of my academic output." She added: "this kind of unrelenting pressure is unsustainable, unhelpful, and totally unnecessary."

However, in an article for this paper, second-year HSPS student William Hewstone argued: "We are students of the best university in the country, and the second-best university on the planet. If we’re not feeling a little pressured, then what on earth are we doing?" He added: "The predictable student outrage at these headline numbers accompanies a tragic ignorance of the facts, the blame for which must rest with the students rushing to propagate this information."

In addition to bringing a motion to CUSU Council, #endweek5blues is encouraging students not to hand in work during Week Five as a means of drawing attention to the levels of academic pressure which are especially high during the middle of term.

#endweek5blues argues that by refusing to hand in work during what is considered to be the epitome of the University's stress culture, a clear message would be sent. In spite of this, the campaign admits work would still have to be completed in order to avoid falling behind on studies.

"An extra week in the middle of term to rest, recover and catch up on work could do nothing but help students' academic performance," campaign participant Hannah Graham also commented, "and, more importantly, our personal well-being and mental health."