AUT students are in an uproar over a sudden decision to start the academic year again from scratch after the coronavirus lockdown and then keep students studying until Christmas.

The university has announced a radical plan to restart the year's teaching for all of its 27,000 students in eight four-week blocks, with for each academic paper, running from April 27 to December 20.

Holidays will be reduced to two one-week breaks in July and October, and the academic year will end six weeks later than the previously planned finish on November 6.

All papers will be taught again but lecturers said they would allow for lectures already given since the academic year started on February 24.

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AUT head Derek McCormack, pictured (left) with architect Richard Harris in the new Sir Paul Reeves Building in 2013, wants all AUT students to start the year again from scratch. Photo / File
AUT head Derek McCormack, pictured (left) with architect Richard Harris in the new Sir Paul Reeves Building in 2013, wants all AUT students to start the year again from scratch. Photo / File

AUT vice-chancellor Derek McCormack and student president Sisifa Lui said yesterday that the change would support the shift to online teaching, which all universities have had to make during the Covid-19 lockdown.

"With block learning you can immerse yourself in one paper at a time. It's a more focused approach to learning and assessment," they said.

"Each paper will be delivered consecutively in a four-week block of study, with a total of eight blocks in 2020. Say 'goodbye' to the stress of juggling multiple papers and having assessments due at the same time."

No details have been announced about which papers will be taught in each block, but further "updates" are promised on this and on "how we will be recognising your learning so far in 2020".

Almost 1000 students have signed a petition against the plan, many saying they rely on working in the holidays and part-time through the term to pay for their studies.

"Depending on their block timetable I might have to drop work which, for many students, myself included, is something they rely on to live and get to uni. Plus doing seven months straight with two one-week breaks is stupid. Lots of people are gonna burn out," wrote student Loren Kelly on the change.org website.

Jacob Pietra wrote: "My university has seriously made it difficult to have a normal school experience. I am also not scheduled to be in the country during the extended semester. It is not necessary to introduce an innovative approach during a pandemic! We need stability!"

Eva Lok wrote: "We are only two weeks behind on our learning, it doesn't make sense to extend the academic year by seven weeks and to RESTART all our papers (regardless of whether or not we're getting credited for those papers)."

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Petition organiser Ryan Bircham, a student ambassador and president of the AUT computer science club, said the change did not suit students with year-long projects or taking more than the standard number of papers.

"One of the main reasons I chose to attend AUT was because of its Capstone projects, or its research and development projects, where I got to spend a year working with an external client. Others got placed in internships, or researched innovative technologies," he said.

"Obviously year-long projects will not fit into a four-week block. The university has failed to address this."

AUT staff have also started collecting names on a petition to reverse the changes.

An AUT spokeswoman said research students "will continue working with their research supervisors online in many cases".

"We have yet to resolve issues for students with research projects that need access to labs or specialist equipment or involve interactions with people," she said.

She said the university was considering feedback and "looking at how we might adjust the model" to enable students to work to support their studies.

"The block learning model allows students to do their learning in their own time – this means they will be able to flex it around work and other responsibilities," she said.

"We know this is a new approach and our students need time to get used to it, and we are continuing to provide information, listening and responding to questions and concerns.

"Going online with a quality product, however we do it, is radical – for us and most of the other universities in NZ.

"The key difference here is the order of delivery of papers – they will be offered in series, not in parallel.

"This approach is one that will allow our students to complete their studies, regardless of the Covid-19 alert level. Indications are this level could move up and down over the coming months. Our approach can cope with this, and provides flexibility for our students.

"It also gives us the opportunity to rearrange the order of papers to put the considerable number that require hands-on practical work towards the end of the year when the Covid alert status might be more likely to allow on-campus activity."

student told the Herald she was "excited" by the changes.

"There are significant advantages to studying in a block format," she said. "Being able to remain focused on one subject/paper is helpful in terms of consolidating one's understanding of the subject and topic versus moving between four different subjects."

• Official advice: covid19.govt.nz.

going online with a quality product, however we do it, is radical – for us and most of the other universities in NZ.