International Timetabling Competition: The winning team from DTU 2020

DTU PhD students wins International Timetabling Competition

Friday 04 Sep 20

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Thomas Jacob Riis Stidsen
Associate Professor
DTU Management
+45 45 25 44 49

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Rasmus Ørnstrup Mikkelsen
Industrial PhD
DTU Management

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Dennis Søren Holm
PhD student
DTU Management

Grand Solutions project

Dennis and Rasmus’ PhD projects are part of a major Grand Solutions project called Data Science for University Management supported by Innovation Fund Denmark. The aim of the project is to develop new software to help universities plan their teaching optimally for the benefit of students and lecturers—and the economics of universities.

Read more about Data Science for University Management  

Read Innovation Fund Denmark’s news on Data Science for University Management

Though facing fierce competition, the Danish team with two PhD students from DTU and their supervisors won the International Timetabling Competition.

Overcrowded rooms, double bookings, poor use of resources, and complaints from lecturers and students are just some of the things you can avoid if you can plan an optimal timetable. However, there are many factors that come into play—so many combinations in fact that the total number quickly exceeds the number of atoms in the universe.

The aim of the International Timetabling Competition is to develop an algorithm that can produce the best timetable for a given scheduling problem. This year, the task was to create timetables for different semesters at universities around the world. In addition to Denmark, teams from France, Kosovo, Portugal, and Switzerland were selected for the final.

“We were presented with a very difficult problem this year. When you involve universities from all over the world, there are many different requirements for what a good timetable looks like—and our method had to be able to handle all these requirements. We’re therefore very proud to have won first place in this special competition,” says PhD student Dennis S. Holm, DTU Management.

Both he and his partner Rasmus Ø. Mikkelsen—an industrial PhD at the software company MaCom and DTU Management—research daily in mathematical modelling. The two also participate in a project supported by Innovation Fund Denmark under the name Data Science for University Management (the DSUM project), where together with MaCom and DTU, they explore how the Lectio software program can help universities produce good timetables.

“The competition has been ideal in further developing Lectio. Lectio is usually used for timetable planning in high schools, but we are working to adapt the software so that it can also be used for universities—and here Rasmus and Dennis are really producing some good results,” says Martin Holbøll, CEO of MaCom, the company behind Lectio.

The competition took place over a full year, during which time participants continuously received new data sets online that had to be incorporated into their solution method.

DTU already using model
Getting timetables and local planning to work together is of great importance for university logistics and economics—not to mention student opportunities—and that challenge has not diminished during the corona pandemic. Thus, DTU recently had to factor in both distance requirements and an increased intake of students.

This enabled Rasmus and Dennis to test their model in practice, and they therefore helped DTU to create timetables that meet the safety authorities’ distance requirements.  

“It made perfect sense to include Rasmus and Dennis in DTU’s timetable planning. Their algorithm is so versatile that it can be used at almost any university, so very few adjustments were needed for them to create timetables for DTU. Even with changing reports about local capacities and the number of students in the different study programmes, they were able to quickly produce new good timetables,” says proud Associate Professor and PhD Project Supervisor Thomas Stidsen, DTU Management. He emphasizes that participation in the competition would never have been possible without the access to the massive server capacity that DTU Computing Center made available throughout the process.

About the International Timetabling Competition

The International Timetabling Competition is a competition in which researchers and experts in mathematical modelling compete to produce timetables and schedules using complex mathematical algorithms.

This year the task was to develop an algorithm for timetable planning at different universities.

In addition to Denmark, teams from France, Kosovo, Portugal, and Switzerland were selected for the final, which took place online. A total of 36 countries participated in the competition.

The Danish team consisted of PhD students at DTU—Dennis S. Holm, and industrial PhD at the software company MaCom and DTU, Rasmus Ø. Mikkelsen—as well as former company supervisor from MaCom, Matias Sørensen, and current supervisor and associate professor at DTU Management, Thomas Stidsen.

Read more about the International Timetabling Competition 

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