Frequently Asked Staff Questions

The frequently asked questions below will be updated and expanded during the course of this review as we respond to the different issues raised by various stakeholders.

How did we get here?

You may recall that on several occasions there has been mention of a review of the academic year which aims to consider the possible conversion from a semester based system to a trimester system with three teaching periods.  

Western Sydney University is currently at an important stage in its growth and development. A recent review reveals that at least 10 Australian universities already operate some form of a trimester system. The Western Sydney University Board of Trustees at its recent Strategy Day requested the immediate investigation of the development of a trimester model, recognising that this investigation will also require more efficient and effective timetabling and use of teaching and learning spaces. A trimester-based year would also provide opportunities to structure academic work differently.

We believe that a thorough investigation should be conducted to review ways in which we could be more flexible and provide students with a more enriching learning experience; and, it is important that in considering the implementation of a trimester system that we do so in the spirit of detailed consultation with staff and students.

This review does not signal a commitment to move to a trimester system. It forms part of a consultation process where we request feedback from you to help us to understand what some of the issues might be in your area of work. We invite you to participate in this consultation and have your say.

Why is Western Sydney University contemplating extending the academic year?

Like many universities in Australia, the academic year at Western Sydney University is currently organised across two semesters with a lengthy break over the summer period. However, many students believe that in the current system time is not utilised to its fullest advantage. There appears to be demand for year-round learning. This is particularly strong amongst those who are studying on a part-time basis and combining study and work. A number of universities are now moving to a trimester system offering students greater choice and flexibility over time and pace of study. Consequently, the long summer vacation will probably become less common in the tertiary education calendar. 

Western Sydney University is continuing to explore ways in which we can effectively manage future growth and also deliver a more student-centred and flexible learning experience.

Potentially, adopting some form of a trimester system may help to:

  • offer greater choice and flexibility over study, work and lifestyle commitments for students
  • ensure that Western Sydney University remains competitive
  • create a distinctive brand for the University
  • utilise the existing facilities, infrastructure and resources more efficiently
  • accommodate the anticipated growth in student enrolments.

A trimester system may also appeal to international students who may be able to complete their studies in a shortened period of time or begin or complete a degree at different times of the year.

What does a trimester system mean for students?

In a trimester system students may:

  • have greater choice and flexibility over study, work and lifestyle commitments
  • be able to begin or complete their degree at different times of the year
  • be able to fast track their degree and finish earlier
  • opt for a lighter workload and spread units of study out more evenly  across the year
  • take a semester off for work or travel
  • make up missed or failed units in the third trimester.

What might the new academic year look like?

If Western Sydney University adopts some form of a trimester system there will be three formal academic teaching periods. A possible trimester structure for 2014 could look like this:

Trimester 1: Late January to late April (13 weeks)
Inter Trimester Break: 3 weeks
Trimester 2: Early June to late August (13 weeks)
Inter Trimester Break: 3 weeks
Trimester 3: Mid September until early December (13 weeks)
End-of-Year Break: 7 weeks

The model above has a total of 13 weeks in each trimester, including 10 weeks of scheduled classes and two weeks for examinations. In this model there are three weeks between semesters with a seven week break over December and January during the summer period.

Would the trimester system be introduced University-wide?

The University is conducting a review into the possible extension of the academic year. Before making any decisions about the Western Sydney University academic year, we would like to gather input from our community to examine current perceptions about such a change. Following this consultation, an informed decision will be made on whether a trimester system will be introduced as a pilot in some of the schools, introduced throughout the University or not introduced at all.

How might a trimester system affect my workload and research time?

At this stage, no decision has been made to move to a trimester system. Staff and student consultation is currently being conducted to inform decisions about the Western Sydney University academic year. If a future decision is made to move to some form of a trimester system, appropriate steps will be taken to discuss and negotiate workload arrangements including research time.

When can we expect some feedback from this review?

Results of the Academic Year Review Survey will be available on this website in November  2012.

What is the timeframe?

If a decision is made to move forward with some form of a trimester system, it would not be implemented before 2014. Relevant systems would need to be modified in 2013 for a possible 2014 implementation.

Which other Australian universities use a trimester system?

Australian universities which currently use some form of trimester system include:

  • Bond University
  • Central Queensland University
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Curtin University of Technology
  • Deakin University
  • Southern Cross University
  • University of Canberra
  • University of Newcastle
  • University of New England
  • University of Western Australia

How can I contribute to the discussion on the issue?

The Academic Year Review Survey is now closed. However, you can still participate in any or all of the various forums to provide feedback. You can join the discussion group on the Academic Year Review, submit your feedback using the online form, or write or speak directly to a member of the Academic Year Review Team.