Timetabling and the Cycle of the Academic Year


Timetabling processes and timetabling software are both complex areas of management practice. The business of timetabling is a year-round activity, and its impact is wide-reaching. The business of the institution will usually comprise a number of different yet simultaneous pressures, and the institution’s timetable can often be the flashpoint for these conflicting pressures, at the point in the academic cycle when there is least leverage available for solving these pressures.


The nature of the academic cycle is that despite the dominance of in-cycle activities, it is essential to look at least one and often two cycles ahead. Timetabling is no different in as much as it is vital to schedule next year’s timetable, it is equally vital to engage with curriculum and strategic planning for a period of 2 to 3 academic years ahead.


Universities would often like to realise the following potential benefits linked to timetabling:


  • An enhancement of the student experience and boost to levels of student satisfaction;

  • Improved space efficiency with a rationalised use and allocation of space;

  • Improved timetabling policy and practice with automated timetabling and processes;

  • More efficient use of staff teaching delivery to release time for research priorities;

  • A more responsive and attractive curriculum.


Our teaching space analysis model (TSAR™) is used in conjunction with a process review and an investigation of the complex effects of timetable constraints to help our clients to explore these issues. 


Our work in this area has been described as powerful and profound for the insights it provides and for making a complex set of inter-connected problems accessible to both academic and professional services staff across the institution. 


The challenges which arise at the interface between curriculum, space and timetable are many and varied and their roots run deep in the history and customs of institutions.  Taking meaningful action and avoiding damaging unintended consequences requires new tools and techniques.


Our TSAR™ model provides a comprehensive view of teaching activities, which enables clients to:


  • Understand the paradox of appearing to simultaneously have too much and too little space;

  • View the impact of timetable constraints on the utilisation rate and institutional capacity;

  • Target measures designed to improve utilisation rates and enhance the student experience;


The findings and analysis from the model allow our clients to gain a deeper understanding of how policy and process is impacting space utilisation.


The alignment between policies, processes and systems is critical


Timetable processes must be robust enough to manage:


  • The significant amounts of complex data and to get the best from software solutions;

  • Several layers of sub-processes and inter-connections between a range of core processes;

  • The maintenance of the timetable focus according to the institutional aims through coherent policy choices.


Our process review steps back from the operational issues to view Timetabling holistically, to identify the impact of the conflicting priorities at work within the creation of the timetable and to explore how current practice within inter-dependent processes is affecting the institution’s timetable ability to deliver the institutional aims.  It is equally vital to recognise where software can help and where rational policy and effective practice overwhelmingly offer more scope for improvement than any algorithm ever could.


Curriculum Design and Timetable Constraints create high levels of complexity when scheduling


The timetable and observable space utilisation levels are a product of curriculum and resourcing decisions taken long before timetabling actually takes place. Our investigation into the deep structure of the curriculum demonstrates the complex effects of subject and module combinations, and the student choices which arise from these combinations, in particular the time pressures which can arise from the available combinations.


By breaking down the different constraints at play within the timetable we enable our clients to take a strategic approach to the decision-making required for tangible improvement.


Our clients regularly attest that working with us makes it easier to:


  • Differentiate issues requiring a curriculum-led response, from those needing a timetabling or estate solution;

  • Recognise the root cause of problems, and to counteract misperceptions, about space utilisation;

  • Discuss issues of student satisfaction and attendance;

  • Consider implications for curriculum design, learning and teaching policy and course viability;

  • Focus attention on meaningful actions and particularly to avoid misguided policy choices which have little or no effect;

  • Understand where software solutions and process automation will offer traction (and, crucially, where they will not);

  • Align estate plans and timetabling policies, with curriculum planning processes.


Logistical view of
Timetabling Process
Timetabling Process

© 2018 CPB Projects

Click on image to view it at full size

Integrated Solutions for better performance

Enabling clients to tackle complex projects and challenging performance issues