More hard work than magic

February 25, 2016

As one of the administrators mired in the greyness of bean-counting and space usage targets, I was entertained and inspired by Andrew W. Robinson’s suggestion to improve university timetabling (and therefore, teaching) by introducing a little magic (“The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang teaching model”, Opinion, 11 February.)

However, I don’t recognise the premises of his arguments based on my experience as a timetabler or as part of the profession of dedicated administrators who support learning and teaching.

I, for one, would be more than happy to support a shift in the teaching day to better suit students’ body clocks. However, when I’ve made such suggestions to teaching colleagues in the past, I’m (rightly) reminded of our family-friendly obligations to our academic staff. To meet both the needs of our weary students and our staff with families, we’d have to reduce our teaching day to just a few hours. In any case, I suspect that this is not a sensible solution as courses increase in complexity and interdisciplinarity, and students demand their fair share of contact time under the £9,000 tuition fees regime.

In reality, timetablers are artists and scientists, but rarely magicians. The targets and measures we use are generated by our desire to provide programmes that academics want to teach and that students want to study. Administrators must understand the end goal, and academics would build better programmes if they understood the web of constraints in which we’ve been asked to operate. If we can get this right, we can still be up there, flying.

Sam Bayley​
Timetabling manager
University of York

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