9am lectures should be scrapped

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By Katie King on

Research says students work better if they start later, but will law schools listen?

Research by the Open University and the University of Nevada has said university students would benefit from later tutorial and lecture start times. Unfortunately, academics can’t see changes to this effect being implemented in law schools.

The study uses both survey and scientific data to argue that university days, which usually begin at fixed times in the morning, do not properly take into consideration “undergraduate chronotypes”. The research states:

[I]n adolescence and early adulthood optimal wake and sleep times are shifted 2–3 h[ours] later in the day, and yet this group are still required to conform to education start times more appropriate to young children and older adults.

Early start times for teenagers and young 20-somethings are linked to “chronic, irrecoverable sleep loss”, averaging more than two hours a day. To combat this, the trio of authors conclude “much later” starting times of 11am or 12pm are “optimal” for university students.

While this suggestion by researchers Mariah Evans, Paul Kelley and Jonathan Kelley may make students smile, academics aren’t convinced they’ll be taken into account — not when planning law teaching timetables anyway.

Dr Paul Bernal, a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia, thinks later start times sound “very sensible”. But:

In practice our timetables are driven by forces well beyond our command. I regularly teach from 6-7 in the evening, for example. It’s mostly the business model of the universities, I think: they cram the timetable and bring in as many students as they can to fill every slot!

Dr Steven Vaughan, corporate law solicitor turned UCL academic, thinks attempting to align university timetabling with individual chronotypes is “simply unworkable”. And he has some home truths for law students: “Even if you start uni at 11am, you’re going to have short, sharp shock when you start a job after uni and realise other people get in before midday.”

While true, BPP’s Carl Gardner does note many legal workplaces seem quiet until 10am — perhaps a response to the realisation that young people tend to have their heads together a bit better later in the day. But there is a silver lining to early starts, Gardner says:

Don’t forget, the earlier classes end, the easier it is to bag the best seats in the pub.

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