A catalyst for change at Bloomsbury Institute

Posted by Semestry

Bloomsbury Institute is a unique educational facility in central London rapidly globalising their student body. Semestry is helping them to manage the scheduling complexities this creates.

Bloomsbury Institute is a small, non-campus higher education facility in the heart of London, offering undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses in business management, accounting, and law. Now in its twentieth year of operation, it is implementing some major changes, starting with the student body.

Tracey Boston, Head of Operations and Strategic Planning said: “Previously our students were predominantly UK and EU based, and often those who wouldn’t normally have access to education. So they tended to be older, to have not been in education for a long time, or not have been educated in the UK. They would be balancing both family and work.  Now we are 90% international. We have done a total 360, with the first intake of international students in June last year. At the same time, we have increased to three intakes per year, in June, October and January/February.”

To accommodate these changes a digital transformation is also underway, with the implementation of new systems including Semestry’s smart scheduling technology.

Emmanuel Cornu, Timetabling Manager, is happy with the new capabilities offered by the scheduling solution. They said: “The spread of our facilities, where we lease additional space around central London, creates extra challenges to timetable planning. The flexibility of Semestry has helped a lot. We had a complex integration to manage together, which makes life a little complicated on both sides, but the staff of Semestry have always been there to help, especially with our challenging needs in terms of room availability, and also to support our students. We have students with important needs – such as families and accessibility – and we need to be flexible in our timetabling as a result.”

The new change of focus to international students has brought some additional challenges. Cornu said: “Some international students have had to begin their term in their home countries because unfortunately, visas are taking longer to be issued. So, we need the flexibility to provide rapid changes in schedules and switch to online class options for students still abroad, while those here are taught face-to-face. It’s definitely a new challenge for us.

“We are in conversation with Semestry about implementing their MyTimetable publishing solution, which will make things much easier,” he added. “This will enable us to launch new services to students, allowing them to check the timetable on their phones, which they prefer, as they often do not check until they are in the building and cannot remember the room number. It also gives us integration with Microsoft® Teams, which is really helpful because there will no longer be messages and emails from students who have lost the link. For our next intake, we hope to have all of these services in place to help us ensure we provide a great experience to all of our students, regardless of their location.”

In retrospect, Cornu feels that MyTimeTable would have been useful during the pandemic, as the institution coped with the rapidly changing circumstances. They said: “The original issue with the pandemic was the switch to online, and that was pretty easy using Semestry, coupled with Microsoft® Teams. In many ways, it made it easier, as we didn’t have to worry about rooms. We didn’t have time to implement MyTimeTable, due to the many other pressures we faced at the time, which would have been very helpful in that situation.”

There are other areas too where the institution is upgrading its systems, as part of their wider digital transformation. Boston said: “The first thing that we are looking at is replacing our student record system.  It is a system that is not widely used within the sector, and we see it coming to the end-of-life and becoming harder to support, and it does not support modern integration such as API’s [Application Programming Interface].”

“It is going to be key for us to see how things pan out when we do have a new student record system with which we can use an APIs to pass the data into and out of the system. We are fortunate that we offer very straightforward degrees – business, accountancy, and law.  Not like teaching, dentistry, nursing or medicine, which are super complex courses, from a timetabling and administrative point of view. However, we have students that are taking accelerated courses, as well as the three intakes annually, so there are three terms for them as well. That again means more flexibility is needed in our choice of systems to accommodate all of that.”

Cornu added: “When we do change and integrate our system with APIs, it will bring even more flexibility. Currently, we have a daily update between our systems. Using an API we could have regular updates, even every few minutes. That would help us greatly as students enrol, and we can allocate them their timetable straight away. Semestry is already able to support this with their APIs. It will help a lot in flexibility.”

Semestry is pleased to be part of that journey and support the team in their global student ambition and their digital transformation.

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