Was enrichment week a waste of time or a much needed break?

Cora Herbert on the break students enjoyed last week

Cora Herbert
11th March 2021
Image: Jordan Carr via Newcastle Uni Students' Union on Twitter
As one of many changes to students’ experience at Newcastle University this year, we have seen the introduction of ‘enrichment week’. You might have heard it called a ‘buffer week’ or seen it compared to a reading week that you might be familiar with at other universities. Either way, this short break from lectures, seminars and tutorials is a new addition to the University’s calendar.  

But just how valuable and useful are enrichment weeks? There is some debate as to whether or not they are simply a marketing tool. Do they allow the University to make a slightly false claim to being dedicated to student wellbeing? Or are they are a genuine attempt to enhance the variety of student’s education? There are a range of activities on offer during the week break, all aimed at ‘enriching’ students’ learning, from wellbeing sessions to guest speakers. These sessions are of benefit to many. 

But some would argue that enrichment weeks are not constructive. Terms have already been reduced from the usual 12 to just eight teaching weeks. This has left many courses short on content or having to omit important topics from the curriculum. The quality, depth and breadth of teaching in the 2020/21 academic year is only hampered further. 

However, the reasoning behind these ‘buffer weeks’ is of less importance than the value they have on students’ wellbeing. Even just the short break from weekly academic activities was of huge benefit to students’ mental health. Just as each person’s needs are different, it was an individual’s choice as to how to use the time off. It could have been to catch up on work, preparing for assignments, job hunting, career planning or even going cold-turkey and stopping work altogether. This year has been extremely challenging for many students, and it is no exaggeration to say that a mid-term breather is the perfect remedy for student stress. Far too many students work overtime to try and keep up with the demands of their course. At the same time, motivation and engagement this year are at an all-time low. We should give ourselves permission to rest. That starts with the University taking off the pressure, even if just for a week.  

As students, there is much more we should be concerned about in regard to our sub-standard university experience this academic year than enrichment weeks. At worst, they are an inconvenient break from teaching. At best, they offer students the chance to briefly step away from the weekly demands of university work to relax and focus on their mental health.  

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