Groupe d’études et de recherche en analyse des décisions

The Automation of the University Timetabling Process

Edmund K. Burke

EventMAP Limited was formed in 2002 to exploit the commercial potential of educational timetabling research carried out by the Automated Scheduling, Optimisation and Planning (ASAP) group at the University of Nottingham. The decision to form a company followed the identification of the obvious market need for a high quality software solution to the scheduling difficulties experienced within the educational sector. The focus of the company is to develop, market and sell examination and course timetabling software into the worldwide Higher and Further Education Sector. From a commercial perspective, we have analysed a wide range of timetabling environments from areas in Europe, Australia and America. In many cases consultancy has been provided and systems implemented. As a result of this work, it is clear that the market opportunity is currently defined by understanding the boundary between when automation is appropriate or not. In many cases, in particular with course timetabling, much human intervention is required in ensuring a workable timetable is achieved. From a research perspective, this identified boundary is currently defined by inadequate representations of the problem and therefore an oversimplification of the situation. This talk focuses on a number of key issues in relation to the gap which currently exists between research and practice in relation to the automation of university exam and course timetables. Firstly an overview is provided of the challenges and difficulties presented by these two very different timetabling problems. Secondly, existing heuristic and search methodologies are investigated which are currently used in aiding the automation process from both a theoretical and practical perspective. Thirdly, new approaches and emerging techniques are described which could potentially provide the link between the recent success of timetabling research and techniques which are applicable and efficient. In reaching this goal, eventMAP will be in a position to more fully address the needs of the market by implementing systems which are capable of producing efficient automated timetables while recognizing and embracing the need for human intervention.

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