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Fairness in examination timetabling: student preferences and extended formulations


Ahmad Muklason

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Professor of Computer Science and Operational Research

Barry McCollum

Paul McMullan


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 data sets 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 students 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.


Muklason, A., Parkes, A. J., Özcan, E., McCollum, B., & McMullan, P. (2017). Fairness in examination timetabling: student preferences and extended formulations. Applied Soft Computing, 55, 302-318.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 14, 2017
Online Publication Date Jan 24, 2017
Publication Date 2017-06
Deposit Date Jan 25, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jan 25, 2017
Journal Applied Soft Computing
Print ISSN 1568-4946
Electronic ISSN 1872-9681
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 55
Pages 302-318
Keywords Timetabling; Fairness; Multi-objective Optimisation; Metaheuristic
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: Fairness in examination timetabling: Student preferences and extended formulations; Journal Title: Applied Soft Computing; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version:; Content Type: article; Copyright: © 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


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