Otago Polytechnic is about to consult staff and students
on a plan to replace the traditional two-semester tertiary
study year with three trimesters.
Rather than the 32-week academic year running from about
mid-February to the end of October, the new system would
introduce three 14-week trimesters running from mid-January
to about the end of November.
A preliminary investigation last year showed senior staff
supported the idea, believing it had "considerable potential
merits", chief executive Phil Ker said yesterday.
This year, school of information technology head Lesley Smith
would lead a 10-person working party which would consult
widely on the concept and report back to the leadership team
by September 30.
If the proposal was endorsed, the change would begin in 2013.
Otago would be the first polytechnic to introduce a trimester
system, Mr Ker said, although the Wellington Institute of
Technology had a limited third semester, operating as a
The new system, the biggest organisational restructuring
since semesters were introduced about 25 years ago, would
reduce down-time during the year and bring "huge benefits"
for staff and students, Mr Ker said.
Academic staff would teach two of three trimesters, leaving
them a useful block of time for non-classroom duties such as
research projects, curriculum development and consultancy.
One-year certificate courses could be completed in eight
months, putting students on the job market ahead of other
Diplomas and degrees could also be completed more quickly. If
students passed all their papers, a three-year degree could
be completed in two years and a four-year degree in three.
Initial research showed that option appealed to students, Mr
"In today's era of tight finances, why wouldn't students want
to get their qualifications faster and save on living costs
and student loans? It would also save the Government money on
student loans and allowances."
Last year, the polytechnic commissioned a survey of New
Zealand school leavers and adults thinking about polytechnic
study as well as prospective students from India and China.
More than 60% of 802 respondents favoured the idea of
completing their qualifications more quickly and indicated
such an option would influence where they enrolled.
The proposal "was as much about addressing staff workloads"
as it was about attracting new students, Mr Ker also said.
Capped rolls for domestic student intakes meant Otago could
not enrol more domestic students without approval.
However, the trimester system could bring more international
The trimesters would each be about two weeks shorter than a
Traditionally, there had been a view that reducing class
contact time resulted in inferior teaching and poorer student
achievement, but Mr Ker said studies showed that was not
"Students might be required to do slightly more projects and
more independent learning, but there is evidence that is far
more useful for students' learning than sitting in a lecture
The polytechnic's midwifery degree programme already operated
on a longer academic year, which enabled students to complete
a four-year degree in three.
Mr Ker said students were enthusiastic about the
restructuring of that programme and monitoring showed student
achievement and the quality of teaching and learning had been
Otago Polytechnic Students Association president Michelle
Fidow said when contacted she had not heard about the
trimester proposal and would be interested in learning more.
Her initial concern was that trimesters might mean
polytechnic study breaks would not align with school
"All our holidays are pretty much the same as the school
holidays. I would have a concern for our students who are
parents if the holidays did not coincide."