student life

Are long breaks really a good thing for students?

I had to laugh at Michael Gove’s recent advice to cut the traditional six week summer holiday for school pupils.

I had to laugh at Michael Gove’s recent advice to cut the traditional six week summer holiday for school pupils. He believes that to compete with our Asian counterparts, we must spend more time in education.

Well, Mr Gove, I am currently in the middle of my four and a half month summer holiday. Welcome to the world of an undergraduate student.

Yes, if the Education Secretary thinks schools are too lenient regarding learning time, he should examine the life of a typical student. After a term comprising of no more than ten hours of contact time a week and no exams, I have been on holiday since the middle of April. This may sound to you like an ideal life. I can assure you, it’s not.

Boredom and Monotony

Such an expansive break is a gift for some people. A few of my friends have partaken in volunteering programs in locations from Thailand to Ghana and I’m sure they are having the time of their lives, helping others while watching themselves grow as people and all that other wholesome stuff.

What about the rest of us? We don’t all have the funds and, indeed, the moral fibre, to give up our summers helping those less fortunate in sweaty climates.

My break has been on the whole one of boredom and monotony. Thankfully, I have a part-time job, which occupies part of my week and coaxes me out of bed in the morning. The rest of this time has been filled with TV box sets, the occasional gym visit and far more chocolate than I am willing to admit to.

I can’t even say I’ve had much of a chance to indulge in the favourite student pass-time of drinking. It’s hard to find a companion for the pub when all my friends are either working or building orphanages in Chiang Mai. Likewise, setting up visits with uni friends is an operation in itself, coordinating mutual free time between work, family holidays and other commitments.

Wasted Time

My four and a half month summer break is really only the tip of the iceberg. When I include the Christmas Holidays, Easter Break and two, half-term-like ‘reading weeks’ (which are largely redundant for a practical course like journalism), my total sabbatical amounts to a preposterous six months.

Six months.  I am away from uni the same period of time I am there. At this rate, my four-year course could be comfortably fitted into half the time. I am fortunate that I don’t have to pay for my degree; it is my foreign classmates paying £10,000 a year for the privilege of this six-month siesta I feel sorry for.

Now most lecturers will argue that during this time you should still be engaging with your studies somehow. What many of them really mean is; “Go away and amuse yourselves while I enjoy this holiday much more than you.”

As a journalism student, I do continue to write as much as possible and this break has freed up a little more time for me to pursue this. However, it has also separated me from the cosmopolitan city, full of inspiration for articles, and left me in my dreary hometown where culture and excitement are limited.

There is, of course, the option of work experience. It is definitely worth your while to spend some time experiencing your chosen career in real-life and not just study it. Nevertheless, I feel such opportunities are subject to a postcode lottery.

Living in the North East of Scotland definitely limits my chances of an internship at a glossy magazine or a big-time newspaper. My class was recently advised of an unpaid internship for the whole summer- in London.

If I can’t afford to live like the locals in Ghana, I certainly can’t finance four months in the Capital. I would need to save for at least a summer to pay for something like this and for most students, all holiday earnings are essential to survive the following uni year.

Return to Civilisation

Arguably, the best thing about this summer is that the tedium of home life has confirmed my love for the city and my desire to succeed in my studies. I am extremely eager to return to my beloved Edinburgh and continue on my path to becoming a top journalist, despite a sketchy first year.

Maybe that’s why they give us such a long break?

I doubt it.

What do you think of the long breaks? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Photo: Kevin Poh