Timetabling and Resource Scheduling workshop-Birmingham

Last November, I had the opportunity to attend the JISC Timetabling and resource scheduling workshop in Birmingham. This event had several participants that include vendors like CELCAT, Scientia and Serco Facility CMIS. On this event, The Academic Registrars Council (ARC) timetabling practitioner Group and the Association of university Administrators (AUA) Space Management Special Interest Group (SIG) were launched. The main role of ARC practitioner group is to conduct periodic meetings, discuss the sector wide issues with respect to timetabling, analyse system and processes,exchange information through the mailing list (JISC-TIMETABLING@JISCMAIL.AC.UK).

Zeb Nash from Oakleigh Consulting Group presented the findings of the timetabling and resource scheduling study. The study focussed on common approaches to timetabling and resource scheduling across various institutions, identified the challenges, issues and considers the outcomes as a foundation for success to meet the challenges and issues. The main objectives of the timetabling study were based on the relation between curriculum development and timetabling. As a part of the study eight regional workshops were organised where 59 institutions and 95 participants were invited. Interviews with system suppliers such as CELCAT, Scientia were also conducted which identified student expectation, complexity of curriculum, culture and strategic ownership as its main drivers.

The main findings of the study include,

  1. No two institutions timetable in similar manner
  2. ‘Student led timetabling works better than staff led one’
  3. Developed four model approaches to timetabling based on the three main activities in timetabling(scheduling, requirements identification and location allocation) which are managed either in a centralised fashion or in a distributed manner

The most significant challenges impacting timetabling process were issues from

  1. Technology- A mammoth task in implementing a timetabling system with required functionalities
  2. Process- Dependent on the inputs from other connected processes such as Enrolment, Curriculum management processes
  3. People – People adapting to change (changing corporate culture) in an institution.
  4. Policy- Challenges in connection with conflicting priorities in institutions like teaching staff preferences regarding availability, efficient use of locations in producing a ‘student-focused’ timetable.

Following topics/ areas for discussion were discussed towards the end of the event

  1. Good timetabling policies adopted across institutions
  2. Strategic influence to timetabling /not considering it as a secondary activity
  3. Space charging issues
  4. Where should timetabling sit?-Needs championship at senior level
  5. Regular analysis on ongoing change requests and ways of managing them.
  6. Improved use of technology, usability/capability of systems must be highlighted in institutions
  7. To see answers from different institutions for questions like -‘Is your timetable meeting your drivers? If so, how efficient is it?

Finally, it was recommended to consider Timetabling as a strategic issue rather than an operational exercise.

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