Computer addles timetable

October 17, 1997

THAMES Valley University's high-tech "new learning environment", held up by the government as a model for the future of higher education, is in chaos because of timetabling and exam resit problems.

Hundreds of students have no timetables for "independent learning" periods, meetings with new directors of study and traditional lectures.

Some have been instructed to meet in rooms that do not exist, while others have faced exam result mix-ups and resit confusion.

Students and staff blame timetabling computer software purchased by the university to cope with a new range of study options and the late rush of applications for places.

They claim that Thames Valley's "big bang" approach to modernising its learning environment has strained the system.

Student union president Paul Kirk said some students had been "very distressed" by the problems.

"The university's new system looks very good on paper but clearly there are problems in getting it to work properly," he said.

Thames Valley's "new learning environment" involves giving students greater responsibility for organising their own study programmes and making greater use of new technology.

Last year prime minister Tony Blair and education secretary David Blunkett visited the university's learning resources centre and held it up as an example of the way ahead for British higher education.

But staff and students are complaining that information technology resources are under too much pressure because too many students are required to rely on them for learning.

Some students have been demanding course fee refunds as compensation for the difficulties they have encountered.

The university managers, its computer department and software manufacturers have been working round the clock to tackle the technical and administrative problems.

All-day help centres have been set up for students to find their way around the system without a timetable.

In a statement, the university said the situation had been addressed "as a matter of urgency", and solutions had been found to ensure every student had a current timetable and that the timetabling problems would not recur.

A team of senior staff were investigating systems and processes to ensure that problems with exam results were also not repeated.

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