The University of Suffolk was originally established as University Campus Suffolk (UCS) in 2007 and transformed the provision of higher education in Suffolk and beyond. Subsequently, on the 1st August 2016, the first independent University of Suffolk was officially launched.
The University of Suffolk is based in Ipswich, with partner colleges across the region in Bury St. Edmunds, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, and another location in Ipswich. The university operates six academic schools.
In September 2014 the Executive Committee authorised the implementation of specialist timetabling software at the University of Suffolk. Until then the Tribal SITS student information system had been used to record events, but these were manually scheduled by course teams across the institution with no collaboration and then roomed by the Academic Rooming Team.
A Project Board and Project Working Group were established to inform the strategic and operational goals of the project, with representation from across the institution on each.
The overall aim of the project was the implementation of specialised timetabling software, as a driver for cultural change to timetabling processes, to improve the efficiency of procedures and space utilisation within the University of Suffolk which, before commencement of the project, was around 21%.
The primary objectives were to:
- Improve space utilisation
- Reduce general purpose teaching space on campus leading to long term estimated cost savings.
- Implement a specialist timetabling system for automatic room allocation.
- Achieve, where possible, synchronisation of teaching and any associated activities between the timetabling system and Microsoft Exchange, or equivalent platforms for mobile technologies.
A successful tender process resulted in the appointment of CELCAT in June 2015. The Project Team worked in conjunction with CELCAT Consultants to achieve a system suitable for the university’s requirements, with the aim of a live implementation for the 2016/17 academic year. This was an ambitious timeline for an institutional transformation project.
The overall system build, including integration, was completed by mid-November 2015. This paved the way for an intensive period of consultative training on CELCAT Automation for the timetabling team during the first quarter of 2016.
CELCAT worked with the Management Information Team to integrate with the following systems:
- Tribal SITS, student record system
- Omnivex, digital signage software
- Microsoft Exchange, email and calendar
- Telepen, attendance monitoring
- OASIS (the University’s implementation of Tribal’s eVision), accessing course level timetables
- SQL Server Reporting Services, operational reporting
- Active Directory, verifying student status
- Northgate Resource Link, staff information system
This led to a pilot and participation from members of the Project Working Group which included student ambassadors and academic members to complete user acceptance testing.
Timetable data for 2016/17 was received by the end of March 2016 and included a combination of fixed time (45%), semi-fixed time (10%) and time unspecified events (45%) ready for auto-scheduling.
CELCAT Automation was also used to auto-allocate general purpose teaching space.
Despite the ambitious timescales, the university successfully produced a draft timetable to academics using CELCAT Automation by the beginning of May, and high-level course timetables to students at the end of that month.
Individual student timetables were published and available online by end of June 2016. Due to issues around hybrid calendars because of the migration of staff and students from MS Exchange to Office 365, synchronisation with personal calendars was achieved in August 2016.
September 2016 saw the introduction of the user-friendly CELCAT Room Booker application that allows staff to search for suitable and available ad-hoc space.
Space utilisation - improvement from 21% to 32%
At commencement of the project, the space utilisation rate stood at 21%. By making effective use of CELCAT Automation, the utilisation rate for Semester 1 of 2016/17 was recorded as 32% for general purpose teaching space. The predicted utilisation rate for the year based on allocated room usage and cohort size was also 32%. This increase represented a 52% improvement from the commencement of the project, meaning the university is making more efficient use of space than before.
CELCAT Automation also highlighted an opportunity for the university to reduce the overall general purpose teaching space on campus. This led to the cessation of teaching in the East Building with effect from December 2016 and resulted in reducing the number of General Purpose Teaching rooms on campus from 46 to 39. This included the refurbished Atrium building, with a corresponding reduction of 196 seats; even after the conversion of two office spaces into teaching space on the first floor of the Waterfront Building.
This should lead to eventual long-term cost savings for the university.
Calendar synchronisation – improved student experience
CELCAT AutoCal Ex has resulted in synchronisation of teaching timetables with Microsoft Exchange and Office 365 for both staff and students, providing a benefit of accessibility to both groups and ensuring information is updated automatically when changed centrally.
In February 2017 after implementation, the Project Team surveyed postgraduate and second year undergraduate students. Respondents were asked “Overall has the change to timetabling processes been a positive or negative experience for you?” and over 75% of the respondents stated it was positive.
Accessibility of student timetables via Outlook was considered useful by over 95% of these respondents, which would indicate that the synchronisation of timetables into Outlook is of significant benefit to the student experience, as one student who responded to the survey noted:
“It is very useful to have the timetable in Outlook as this automatically updates onto my phone’s front screen and makes the process of planning study much easier.”
Exam Scheduler – measurable benefits
In recent years, the CELCAT system has been extended to the Validation and Exams department who have made effective use of Automation tools and specifically Exam Scheduler:
“At the scheduling stage, Exam Scheduler has helped us to maximise efficiency with regard to rooming. As a relatively small university with limited space and no designated exam rooms, this has been particularly useful. The scheduler has also helped to ensure exams are equally allocated across sessions, both in general and for students with multiple exams within a session. When we receive feedback from academics on our provisional timetables, using Exam Scheduler has made making amendments quicker and easier to track; likewise, when we have to add extra rooms to accommodate students requiring reasonable adjustments. Exam Scheduler also allows us to publish the finished timetables directly into our students’ Outlook calendars, helping to reduce the number of enquiries we receive from students regarding exam dates, location and times. The CELCAT helpdesk has always responded promptly when we have sent enquiries regarding guidance or technical issues.”
Other notable benefits to the institution
The introduction of a user-friendly room booking system that all staff can use which could in future be rolled out to students.
The project structure has been recognised as a well-managed and positive model and recommended for future institutional projects. CELCAT consultants repeatedly praised the Project Team for their foresight in reviewing the appropriate processes and policies and conducting student consultation before completing their tender process.
The Project Team established an early solid working relationship with CELCAT which was positive, communicative, responsive and honest. CELCAT was receptive to institutional requests for change in functionality; arranging conference calls for the Project Team to discuss the Product Roadmap with their Product Manager. They encouraged the Project Team to submit proposals for system improvements which would benefit the whole sector. One such example was the introduction of branding and customised content opportunities in the Room Booker Wizard introduced in the August 2016 release of CELCAT Timetabler v7.7 R12.
“Through the tender process CELCAT was able to demonstrate not only the functionality and flexibility UCS [University Campus Suffolk now University of Suffolk] needs as a growing higher education institution, but has also assured us that they are as focused on delivering the system on time and on budget as we are.”