Module sign up system likened to ‘bidding for Glastonbury tickets’

The History of Art department has run a heavily criticised ‘first-come-first-served’ module sign up system for the first time this year, leading to a number of complaints from students.

Students were requested to be present at the department in order to choose their modules for the following year. Second-year students were given first preference, whilst first years were invited to queue later on. The first student arrived in the department at 5.45am.

Many students have expressed their discontent with the system. First-­­year History of Art student and newly-elected University Senate Representative, Alexander J. Allison, said: “The misleading structure of the queue based system led many to believe that, should they turn up on time, they would be allocated the courses they desired. However, in reality the British desire to queue well in advance led to the whole process being absolutely farcical.”

By midday, first-year students with packed lunches crowded around bins in the waiting area of the History of Art department in preparation for their sign up at 2pm. Due to the number of students arriving early, their sign up commenced 20 minutes before schedule.

Charlie Leyland, Academic Affairs Sabbatical Officer, has commented: “Students want to know exactly what they can expect when signing up to a course.” She expressed a need to benchmark module choice arrangements against those at other universities.
Trevor Sheldon, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, has expressed his support for the Union through a tabling meeting to address equity, “all students must have equal opportunity to get desired module choices”, to be presented to the University Teaching Council in June.

Other departments, such as Management, use the same modular choice system. The History of Art department has implemented the system after careful deliberation over the most fair way to allocate module choices. Off-campus and combined course students, however, feel that they are disadvantaged through this arrangement.

“It is important that we look at ways in which we can communicate the way modules will be allocated and that this is done fairly and consistently.”

YUSU Academic Officer
Charlie Leyland

Lydia Blundell, a second-year History of Art student, said that “the idea in principle is a good one – giving choice into hands of students, but the way organised was pretty bad… it puts unnecessary stress on students.”

Leyland continued to say that “it is important that we look at ways in which we can communicate the way modules will be allocated and that this is done fairly and consistently… and to know what the current practice is, and how we can improve the student experience with the best bits.”

Another first-year History of Art student, who wished to remain anonymous, has stated: “People turned up like it was like a Harry Potter booking signing or bidding for Glastonbury tickets, practically camping over night. I’d rather be in bed! This isn’t really what I expected to be doing ­within my degree course at all.”­­

Another first-year student commented that “considering that I was around 13th in the queue, there was only one out my top five choices left, which goes to show that when they tell you how many choices to make, it’s not that democratic anyway. I felt sorry for the people at the end of the queue, I got there over an hour-and-a-half early and still didn’t get exactly what I wanted.”

An email sent out in February to History of Art students, from Dr Jason Edwards, Chair of the Board for Art History, stated that the department were “confident that this new system will remain democratic and fair and very much hope that we can honour the first choices of as many students as possible.”

He added: “It may also be worth reporting that this is a system that is already in operation at a number of our peer institutions, both in the UK and US.”

Samia Calbayrac, first-year History of Art course representative, has commented that “the second-year students all had their first choices, whereas the first-years complained about the organisation of the system. Concerning the first choice, unfortunately, there will always be people who have their first choice and those who don’t.”

An electronic survey will take place next year in preparation for module choices.


  1. 26 May ’10 at 7:25 pm

    2nd HoA student

    I think that the representation of this new system is highly biased – the majority of views coming from disgruntled 1st years.
    Having experienced both the new system and the old one (where students ranked module choices but it ultimately felt like pot luck which you were given) I feel as though the new way is by far the more democratic.
    If anybody is to blame it is fellow students, not the department, in scaremongering eachother in to a panic. Students were not encouraged by the department to turn up at 5.45am for a 9am sign in, everybody was given personal responsibility to decide what time to arrive. The majority of second years did not arrive until after 7am and the vast majority of my friends got both their first choices still.

    First years may be disappointed this year, but I am sure that come next year the feeling of disadvantage they may have now will be swept under the carpet when they then get first dibs on modules they want most and understand that when entering your third year where modules are weighted more heavily for your degree, it is vital that you are able to have the control over choosing modules which you will enjoy most or those that will be most useful to disertation research.

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  2. Dear Nouse: this is the balance your article reporting the experimental module sign-up (History of Art department) lacked. Of course, I appreciate that ‘the customer’ wants to read scandal, and you want to dish the dirt, and that it is your duty to flush out ‘injustice’. But perhaps in future you could at least pretend to be less wantonly provocative? You do appreciate, I am sure, that despite being framed in a philanthropic haze, The Media is driven by Capitalism and voyeurism? I hope you all saw Andrew Neil on election night…and I would love to be proved wrong…

    So, here is the stabilizer:

    In general the 2nd year History of Art module sign-up was successful. It’s true that some people queued early, and most were probably there before 9.30, but Amanda Lillie was there to keep spirits up, and deal with problems face-to-face. Apart from a very few popular modules, almost everyone got their first choice, and certainly their second. At the end of the day it’s up to whether the student wants control of their own modules, or is happy to place that decision back into the hands of a somewhat opaque system. The department is always interested in constructive feedback, and it isn’t too late to contact a member of the department directly if you feel you have a comment to make. There was no chaos – the queue was orderly. If you had been there you could have seen for yourselves. The first rule of good journalism is be on the scene. Even if it means getting up early.

    Please acknowledge that those of us who read your tabloid cannot take your journalism seriously since the discrepancies are questionable to say the least. It also damages the reputation of those talented professionals who do intelligent and discerning work. Lucky you to be able to call on anonymity – the rest of us do not have that luxury!

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  3. 9 Jun ’10 at 5:41 pm

    The Good Fairy

    If you were not there then I do not see how you could possibly comment and if you were not there picking modules for your course then I do not see how you could possibly know how people felt about the system.

    Amanda Lillie was wonderful at the 2nd year sign up. She came up and down the line and talked to everyone to see what they were thinking about the process and to help make sure they were filling their module requirements a, b and c with their proposed choices (a service that was most definatly not provided to every student with the previous system).

    With the new system you can see clearly that you are being given your upmost choice available. Whereas with the old system, as has been hinted, one had to wonder if it was all pot luck because you were entirely blind to the process.

    Yes people getting up at that time of the morning was really quite unneccessary (considering the building was not yet open at that time) but there has to be some way of deciding who gets which course. First come-first served if far better than someone sifting through papers detailing people they don’t even know and then deciding their fate behind closed doors. In addition, it has been explained that if there was a big enough demand then in some instances extra classes might be negotiated for certain courses. If you dont ask then you wont get.

    During the old system there was a confusion with the form I filled in due to my being a combined student and I was put to the bottom of the pile until I could be contacted (by which point the only options left were modules I hadn’t even numbered!) This kind of injustice is impossible with the new system.

    This incident was really very unfair. However, it was explained to me that the 2nd years get first dibs because its their last chance and so its just not possible for 1st years to get their first choice in every instance. I believe pretty much all 2nd years did get their desired modules.

    Basically my point is that you might not get your first choice but you will have a choice and you will definatly get a module. So if you’re a 1st year that didn’t get your first choice then dont worry because in all likelyhood they will run that module next year and you will get first dibs then.

    No system is going to be perfect.

    This system IS far better than the previous one.

    Unless you have a suggestion for a better system then you would be best not to critisize because it just makes you look synical and uninformed. I suggest you appoligise to the department directly. So much for University unity.

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