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Societies and students are reporting frustration after a series of issues with a recently introduced room booking system.
The way in which undergraduate and PhD students reserve rooms was changed during the Christmas holidays, with the students involved having been given no warning. Previously a website system was used, in which the student could stipulate a room and time. Confirmation of the booking would then be received by email if the room was available.
The online system had not been mentioned to students as being subject to change in Week Ten of Michaelmas Term. PhD students were fully expecting to have continued access to room bookings for presentation practice and undergraduate teaching.
The new system was introduced at the beginning of this term, completely unannounced until unaware students began to use it. PhD students are unable to access the system, which is now solely reserved for staff.
The baffled students were redirected to their departmental officers after the first difficulties were raised. This in turn only caused more confusion, as many students weren’t clear on who their departmental officers were.
Mike Jenkins, LUSU Representative for Postgraduate Research students, raised the issue with LUSU VP (Academic Affairs) Danny Ovens. Ovens said that “Graduate Teaching Assistants and PhD students should be able to access the system themselves, especially when they are booking rooms for additional sessions to help undergraduate students.”
Jenkins said that “a sort of compromise was reached” with PhD students being given the option of contacting timetable manager Andrew Harding directly.
This should not, however, be a long term solution according to Jenkins, who pointed out that besides being inconvenient for students, it also takes Harding away from his work unnecessarily.
With presentations rapidly approaching for many postgraduate and PhD students, Jenkins maintains that there is cause for concern over this compromise. With a growing demand for rooms to practice and present in, Harding is going to be increasingly unable to provide the service the students need.
With the PhD access looking likely to be at least in part re-established, the rooms available to undergraduates remain solely Learning Zone pods, an approach which Ovens agrees with. He said, “I can understand the changes from an undergraduate perspective,” reasoning that most undergraduates do not need rooms for their use.
A separate system change for society room bookings has also experienced issues. All societies must sign up for a university webmail account to submit their room booking requests. LUSU VP (Finance, Events, Democracy and Societies) Andy Johnston is overseeing the assignment of the webmail accounts, and recognises that it hasn’t run perfectly.
The issues with the system were raised at Societies Council on Thursday of Week Four. Johnston admitted that there had been difficulties, mainly with the fact that societies are still in a transition period.
Johnston is at present determined to unify all society room bookings through society assigned webmail addresses. However, some societies have had trouble even beginning to set up a webmail address, due to problems contacting the ISS personnel they have been told to.
The combination of webmail addresses and private email addresses contacting Andrea Kitchen, of the Room Bookings department, is problematic. Johnston said that they are “constantly asked ‘are they a real society?’” when bookings from a private address are received.
The societies were vocal on the subject of setting up a webmail account, itself an apparently confusing process. John Harrison, representing the English Literature Society at Societies Council, stated that “it’s splendidly unclear, a matter of guessing.”
At present societies have the option to contact Johnston or Kitchen directly or alternatively through their new webmail address. Johnston confirmed that the confusion stemming from the transition is “definitely something to work on, and it will be [worked on].”