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Opinion | The new extended teaching hours will be a positive thing for students

As Universities scramble to fulfil social distancing measures in light of COVID-19, Bristol’s proposal to extend teaching hours until 8pm has proven controversial, as it has been argued that it takes away from the University experience. This is not the case.

By Emma Baker, First Year Law

As Universities scramble to fulfil social distancing measures in light of COVID-19, Bristol’s proposal to extend teaching hours until 8pm has proven controversial, as it has been argued that it takes away from the University experience. Quite simply, this is not the case.

Before coming to University, we are promised free time and far less packed timetables than those we had at school. Many of us have more free time than we know what to do with, and zero obligations to attend a single bit of extra-curricular – something wildly different to what we were accustomed to.

Student life is supposed to be a representation of freedom. It gives you the chance to get to know yourself and prompts you to get involved in new things purely out of your own interest. An extension of learning hours until 8pm seems to many like a theft of these freedoms, and ultimately the University experience as a whole.

However, this could be more beneficial than we realise. The extension of contact hours would increase our commitments during the weekdays and make us all busier.

Of course, the notion of the day being full until the end sounds more tasking than what we originally signed up for. But what if this were a good thing? What we fail to realise when we leave school is exactly what we’re leaving behind: routine, structure, obligations and a social network. These things are incredibly valuable to wellbeing, and once we go to University it is up to us to build them from scratch.

Whilst this is liberating and part of growing up, it can be difficult to recreate these necessary structures when a lot of your time is left open. Unlike at school, having less commitments reduces how much we integrate with others, so it can be tough to build social networks quickly.

Being busy and productive is commonly linked with happiness and fulfilment, and it is of little surprise that statistics show that going to University can be challenging. The statistics for student mental health in the UK aren’t pretty, with 94% of Universities reporting an increase in demand of counselling services in 2017.

Universities are eager to help students feel comfortable and heard, and in the last decade have fully established their wellbeing programmes. Moreover, no one is stopping us from keeping busy when there are endless societies to join, network events to attend and social nights each day of the week.

This could be more beneficial than we realise...being a bit busier may help a lot of people

But finding the initiative to do these things is more complicated as, for the first time in most people’s lives, it has to come from you. Of course, it can be argued that it’s a good thing to be put in this position as it forces you to either get out there or face loneliness and boredom…

However, some may see the new demands placed on us by the prolonged teaching hours as a relief, as they will force us to manage our time better.

Both feeling in-demand, and having a purpose are seen as two of the fundamental components of being happy. Increasing the role that our studies play in this can only help.

Yes, this may make us a bit later to Spoons or force us to work later than we’re used to. Yes, this may mean extra activities are harder to organise, and perhaps this whole idea does take away from a major part of University. But being a bit busier may help a lot of people.

Bristol Uni to extend teaching hours to 8pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Opinion | Allowing teaching to run until 8pm will have serious consequences for student life

Owing to strikes and the outbreak of the pandemic, everyone had far less time to establish themselves at University last year. From forming friendships to networking in places other than student accommodation, first year students were deprived of opportunities that students in previous years unknowingly took for granted.

Therefore, increasing contact hours may compensate for what was lost and give students a chance to immerse themselves further into University life. For a number of students, the benefits of this to general wellbeing could be huge.

Moreover, the financial loss we all suffered this year from strikes and lockdown needs to be compensated for too. University isn’t cheap, and rather than taking away from our University experience, these new teaching hours can be seen as a way of trying to make amends for the last academic year.

For that reason, perhaps we should be looking at these changes a little more positively, as opposed to viewing them as an obstacle to our University experience.

Featured: Lucy O’Neill

Do you think the extension of teaching hours could end up being a good thing for the University experience?