Exam timetable delayed, approximately no-one surprised

For those who still have questions about whether water is wet and whether or not the Pope is Catholic, it may come as a shock to learn that the publication of this year’s UCL exam timetable has been delayed.

The arrangements are complex. There are around 83,000 exam sittings to be organised. The ‘technical issues’ alluded to in an email sent to all students were in regards to issues with the software that the university uses to schedule exams with minimum clashes. The software is standard across higher education, but, explained one professor, it is also not very good. This year, problems with the system meant that data had to be re-inputted manually.

The system crashed three times this year which meant that the date kept being pushed back. Departments were told it would be week 7, then week 9, and now the last day of term. The professor acknowledged that, “this more or less happens every year”. One year, the timetable was not even published before the end of term. Another professor angrily stated “I’m pretty fed up with their excuses.”

Generally, a provisional version of the timetable is circulated to departments a little before it is published, to allow them to double-check for clashes or raise any concerns. But this year, the professor told us, they were only given a small window in which to review for “things timetabled in ways that won’t work for some reason that only departments can spot.”

The Cheese Grater also understands that one of the exam venues fell through after the supplier pulled out, providing a further problem for the timetablers. But, as much as anything else, the sheer number of students taking exams this year is the cause of much of the difficulty. UCL’s student population currently stands at around 40,000, with a little over 18,000 undergraduates. And next year’s student population will be even larger.

Kings College London, whose student population is only a little smaller than UCL, distributed exam timetables weeks ago.

UCLU officers have lobbied the University to purchase a new system. In a statement, Education Officer Halima Begum committed to ensuring “student representation during the procurement process for buying the new system” to prevent a further repeat of the situation.” But then how else can we be more stressed about exams?

Peter FitzSimons
Photo credit: UCL, London by Nick, available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license