Automatic turn-off

November 2, 2006

I was interested to see your report on the Higher Education Space Management Group's call for centralised timetabling of university classes ("'Waste of space' - staff are ticked off," October ) appear alongside an article bemoaning the impact of managerialism ("Academia has sold out, 72 per cent believe").

Experience at our university suggests that taking the timetable out of the control of academics has two effects: making more palpable the contempt the new business class of managers have for the academics who are their key resource; and the destruction of a coherent timetable to the detriment of students and staff.

Two years of auto-scheduling have given us a timetable that scatters teaching events seemingly at random across the week. This has a disproportionate effect on students with carer responsibilities, disabilities or in other circumstances, for whom every empty slot in the timetable is not equal, and it reduces academics' ability to make efficient use of their time.

Most disastrously, auto-scheduling a centralised timetable disconnects it from experienced academics and too frequently ends up dictating pedagogy.

It is not uncommon to find that courses designed around the discussion of lecture material in seminars have been auto-scheduled in such a way that seminars precede lectures because the software cannot "see" the connection.

Although improving the efficient use of space is important, I would urge any university considering centralised timetabling, particularly if it involves auto-scheduling, to think very carefully before proceeding.

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