On busyness, leisure and learning

July and August are supposed to be quiet months for university academics in the UK. As Dr Lauren Redhead, a Senior Lecturer in Music at Canterbury Christ Church University, has recently observed on her blog, “if there is something that those of us who work in academia do look forward to about work over the summer, it is the chance to get ahead with our research”. July and August are the time for us to read, to think, maybe even to write – and certainly to recharge our mental batteries.

But in another sense, July and August are some of the noisiest, busiest months for academics. July in particular resounds with the applause, the whooping and the cheering of graduation ceremonies. My Faculty’s ceremonies at the Barbican last month were a riot of colour, the green of Dame Vivienne Westwood’s Arts & Humanities BA gowns contrasting gloriously with the multi-coloured doctoral robes from universities across the globe. The donning of gowns and the doffing of hats: all this might seem outdated nonsense. But for me, as I reflected here back in January after the winter ceremonies, all this is a very visible sign of community, the eloquent trappings of a ceremony of formal admission to a richly diverse society of scholars, a moment to recognise the achievements of students who have earned their stripes in the endless pursuit of new knowledge and deeper understanding.

Our newest graduates are also those who create more excitement still for academics in August, when we receive the results of the latest National Student Survey, which were published today. I’m delighted that, once again, finalists in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities at King’s have recognised the quality of the teaching we offer, with most of our departments achieving a satisfaction rating on that aspect of the student learning experience of over 90%. The results also give us pause for thought, though, as they suggest, for instance, that our students want us to do more to support them in their personal development. It’s important for me that we address this head-on, since it’s my firm belief that a Humanities degree from King’s should help our students to become who they are: it’s less about how to make a living and more about how to live – and how to live well.

Living well, of course, involves taking time for leisure – and leisure is vital for academics in particular. Our English word ‘leisure’ comes from the Latin ‘licere’, meaning ‘to be permitted’, the Greek equivalent of which is ‘schole’, from which we in turn derive our word ‘school’. So learning is about leisure, about having time and space for reflection and conversation, for celebration and recuperation. My Faculty at King’s aspires to offer such a space, to be a place of knowledge, wisdom and humanity.

And so – and this is the final reason why the summer months are anything but quiet for academics – I’m excited that we’re about to welcome into this space a whole new generation of undergraduate students, with A-level results being published tomorrow and places to study with us being confirmed for those who have met the offers we made them some months ago. Tomorrow will be a day of celebration for thousands of students across the country and beyond. For others, though, not meeting the conditions of their offers will mean that it is instead a time for reflection on what, where and how to study further. My advice to you if you’re in that position: don’t panic! Focus on what you’re passionate about studying and find a place to study where you can have the confidence to be yourself – a place where you have the leisure to learn.

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