Fairness in examination timetabling: Student preferences and extended formulations

Paul McMullan, Barry McCollum, Andrew Parkes, Ender Ozcan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Variations of the examination timetabling problem have been investigated by the research community for more than two decades. The common characteristic between all problems is the fact that the definitions and datasets used all originate from actual educational institutions, particularly universities, including specific examination criteria and the students involved. Although much has been achieved and published on the state-of-the-art problem modelling and optimisation, a lack of attention has been focussed on the students involved in the process. This work presents and utilises the results of an extensive survey seeking student preferences with regard to their individual examination timetables, with the aim of producing solutions which satisfy these preferences while still also satisfying all existing benchmark considerations. The study reveals one of the main concerns relates to fairness within the student's cohort; i.e. a student considers fairness with respect to the examination timetables of their immediate peers, as highly important. Considerations such as providing an equitable distribution of preparation time between all student cohort examinations, not just a majority, are used to form a measure of fairness. In order to satisfy this requirement, we propose an extension to the state-of-the-art examination timetabling problem models widely used in the scientific literature. Fairness is introduced as a new objective in addition to the standard objectives, creating a multi-objective problem. Several real-world examination data models are extended and the benchmarks for each are used in experimentation to determine the effectiveness of a multi-stage multi-objective approach based on weighted Tchebyceff scalarisation in improving fairness along with the other objectives. The results show that the proposed model and methods allow for the production of high quality timetable solutions while also providing a trade-off between the standard soft constraints and a desired fairness for each student.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)302-318
JournalApplied Soft Computing
Early online date24 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2017


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