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Modelling, Planning and Managing the Timetable and Estate Through Adversity - Coronavirus now Enrolments

August 27, 2020

The current ‘A Level’ grading controversy has thrown another ingredient into the mix, one that makes the whole issue around planning academic timetables and managing available space during the current pandemic even more difficult. This article discusses some of the issues, and suggests how some universities are trying to plan their response with the use of powerful scheduling algorithms.

Now that students’ ‘A’ Level grades are being based on teacher estimates, universities are now confronted with a new issue that will complicate their timetable planning for the coming academic year. A recent BBC article suggested that universities could be faced with tens of thousands of students now selecting to trade up to their first-choice university after having previously believed this option was closed. This, of course, raises concerns about the ability of some universities to accommodate demand. Leading universities, in particular, are now faced with finding that they are over-subscribed. So now there are, unsurprisingly, calls to raise the cap on growth, certainly on some courses. All of this is all further complicated by issues around social distancing, the potential for local lockdowns and moves to modify modes of delivery in order to mitigate some of the issues raised by the current pandemic.

In all honesty, the sector is having to move at lightning speed in an attempt to adapt to continually changing circumstances and guidelines. As if this was not enough, it is now being faced with the further uncertainty surrounding enrolments.

Another worry is how freshers and universities will cope with the start of the new academic year. Opportunities to visit the campus and acclimatise have been reduced, and universities have been forced to introduce procedures to reduce potential transmission of the Coronavirus. So, during the first weeks of the academic year, universities risk higher-than-anticipated numbers of confused students arriving on campus.

Universities are moving to cope with all of this, by introducing such measures as:

  1. Mixtures of online and face-to-face teaching
  2. Staggered start and finish times
  3. Locating hygiene stations outside buildings
  4. Enhanced cleaning of high traffic areas, and after teaching spaces are vacated, between teaching sessions
  5. The allocation of student bubbles

This is just to mention a few of the plethora of considerations universities are having to consider.

For some institutions, there may be a move to defer offers to the 2021 cohort. Of course, such a move may not remove the problem, it may just push it back to next year. The difficulty here is that this means the 2021 ‘A’ Level students will find themselves in competition with their deferred 2020 brethren, who are in turn benefitting from a premium as a result of the current grading fiasco. This may be further exacerbated by potentially increasing numbers of international students returning to study in the UK. It therefore seems that universities will be managing the impact of this pandemic for a little while yet. There are, as one would expect, a number of interesting and informative blogs and articles discussing some of these issues such as this one posted on the University College Union website, and this news article citing Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor University of Buckingham in the i newspaper.

Now, more than ever, it is being seen that universities need adequate planning tools to assist them in coping with the myriad of currently-changing constraints. Many of the conventional tools, some of which have been in use for decades, are just not advanced enough to manage these complex, ever-changing scenarios.

Currently, EventMAP are involved with several universities that are wrestling with course and space planning modifications resulting from the ever-changing scene. Our experience has long been in assisting universities to identify space, and to model their estate to understand where better use of it can be employed to accommodate projected surges in student demand, without the need to resort to acquiring additional estate space. Some of our published university case studies, detail projects where our space modelling and planning expertise has been employed to good effect.

Leading-edge scenario planning and optimisation tools afford the advantage that organisations can input their constraints and then quickly model various scenarios, and develop plans without the need to trial them in the physical estate. This has the advantage of taking the guesswork out of estate and curriculum planning during this unstable period. It allows this without needing to move a single desk or wall partition. It also means that, as guidelines and circumstances change, new information can be fed into the scenario modelling and planning tool to understand if the current plan can accommodate needed adjustments. If not, it will inform how plans can, and need, to be modified. It avoids a situation where institutions are forced to invest considerable time and effort into developing physical changes to their estate, only to then find their plans are thrown back up into the air when something like the ‘A’ Level grading issue happens, or a local lockdown hits plans.

At EventMAP we have considerable experience of modelling data for issues such as this. So, if you would like to know more about how we can help you, visit our website and submit an information request, or just email us.

Vernon Chapman


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