Vice-Chancellor: a statement on the University timetable
(5 November 2004)
Sir Kenneth Calman, Vice-Chancellor has reported to members of Senate on the timetable situation at the beginning of term. He explained the context for the problems, which were not due to specialist software, and also outlined the action now being taken. He confirmed that a full review, involving external expertise, was under way and that additional resources have been allocated to support the development of next year’s timetable.Current situation
The Vice-Chancellor reported:
- that the University timetable was clearly a matter of considerable importance and concern for the whole University, both staff and students.
- that there seemed to be a common view around the University that the major problems with the production of this year’s timetable were the fault of the computerised software but that this was not the case.
- that producing the University timetable was a very complex multi-dimensional task, which could no longer be managed without the assistance of specialist software.
- that the software package that the University has been using (Syllabus+) was the market leader, and had the largest number of installations in UK higher education institutions of any of the packages available eg York , Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham, Hull, Cardiff, Bath, Dublin.
- that the problems were not with the software but with the way the data had been structured. Once these problems were identified they were resolved and the software had been used to draw up the revised timetable. Without the software it would not have been possible to produce a timetable at all. At Durham the software package had also been used for a number of years to produce successfully the examination timetable and last year to allocate teaching accommodation at Queen’s campus.
- that while the timetable was not one that anyone would have chosen it did, in the main, work and was able to accommodate key degree frameworks and pathways.
The Vice-Chancellor reported that a number of steps were being taken to prevent the difficulties recurring next year. In particular:
- that the Registrar had already asked the Head of Internal Audit to conduct a thorough review of time-tabling, as a matter of urgency, with the aim of reporting back to the Vice-Chancellor by the end of November. The Head of Internal Audit would consult with Deans, departmental staff, both academic and administrative, and with student representatives. Arrangements had also been made for an external expert in University time-tabling to provide support and expertise to the Head of Internal Audit during the review.
- that the aim of the review would be to learn from this year’s experience and to make timely recommendations for the production of next year’s timetable. Its remit would include project management and resourcing.
- that the outcome of the review would be reported to Teaching and Learning Committee and Senate.
- that, given the seriousness of the current situation, time-tabling was now a standing item on the agenda for the University Executive Committee and would continue to be so throughout the year.
- that, pending the review, additional resources had already been allocated to support the future development of the timetable. These included the secondment of staff from the Academic Office and from the Information Technology Service as well as support from a department within the Science Faculty.
- that it would be essential that the new timetable project group was much more of a joint enterprise with input from senior academic staff and students.
- that, as the President of the DAUT had indicated to him, it would not be appropriate to pre-empt the outcome of the review but that it was already clear that there would need to be major changes in the production of the timetable for 2005/06, including a bringing forward of the date by which the timetable must be resolved to facilitate realistic student choices. The aim would be to provide a draft timetable by Easter.
The Vice-Chancellor also noted: