The University of Birmingham was founded in 1900 by Royal Charter, as a new model for higher education. This was England’s first civic or ‘redbrick’ university, where students from all religions and backgrounds were accepted on an equal basis. The university supports over 34,000 students, with 100,000 online learners and 4,000 international students.
The University was embarking on a £606m investment in the Estate. This included the Aston Web Student Hub, the Library, the Sports Centre, and new residences along with teaching spaces and the Collaborative Training Laboratory (CTL). In parallel, the university wanted to increase student numbers by 5% per year over the following 5 years. This essentially led to the need to identify the supply and demand on current facilities throughout the estate works, along with the impact on the management of exams and scenario planning of the timetable and scheduling for the new CTL facility to be shared by several faculties and across many courses.
This case study explains the work undertaken to review the current approach to timetabling and scheduling at the University using the current software tools in place to move to a optimised centralised timetable.
The review showed a clear need existed for the issues related to standardisation of process, timing, data, accessibility and choice to be resolved, whilst improving the student experience of course administration and personal timetable provision. The timetabling also needed to accommodate a hybrid approach in some cases e.g. improving student experience through allowing self-assignment into cohort groups which are made available both pre and post initial timetable construction.
The timetable was constructed on the basis of students making informed decisions on options guided by Schools. However, not all modules that could be taken as options were visible to students at when at School, which tended to lead to a structure that could be very be considered as ‘narrow’ and less attractive. Analysis was undertaken in way of examining this issue and solutions were presented via the creation of the next years academic timetable against a pressing deadline. Although this was an unchangeable deadline it was used to illustrate what was possible and what the risks were in the proposed approach. This was undertaken with information from the student admin system (Banner) to the timetabling system (Syllabus plus). The timetable developed needed to be flexible enough to permit students to be allocated within their chosen cohorts whilst leaving the possibility of the groups being subsequently being changed by individual lecturing staff at the beginning of the first term.
The provision of the timetable was a success using EventMAP’s experience of timetabling and scheduling software. EventMAP also I recommended the University to set up a metric relating to the following areas: space usage, staff flexibility, student experience and curriculum choice. Once this was in place the timetable could be assessed and used as a baseline model for the future. This would allow targets to be placed on subsequent timetabling solutions and instigate a process of continuous improvement in line with the Universities strategic needs and objectives.
EventMAP also suggested that as a large percentage of modules exist with either 0 or fewer than 10 students enrolled. In terms of timetabling, modules which had 0 enrolments from the previous year should be placed on a waiting list to be timetabled. This would declutter the provision of a solution for the following academic year. It was also suggested that the same situation should cover modules with less than 10 enrolments in terms of potentially not allowing that module to run.
A clear gap existed in the current process of not having information on staff availability as this should be managed in relation to when they would be available to teach in addition to when they currently do teach. This data should be collected through a dedicated portal making it easy for staff to enter and maintain the information. This process could also be used for collecting which staff teach on which activities to bring another level of data to timetable planning and delivery.