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Hybrid Meta-Heuristic for Efficient Course Timetablingby@heuristicsearch
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Hybrid Meta-Heuristic for Efficient Course Timetabling

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The article introduces a hybrid meta-heuristic for course timetable generation, including instance decomposition and an increment procedure. It surpasses commercial software in real-world testing, showcasing significant time reductions. Future research aims to optimize clustering and incorporate machine learning for further improvements.
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Authors:

(1) Jo˜ao Almeida, CEGIST, Instituto Superior T´ecnico, Universidade de Lisboa Portugal;

(2) Jos´e Rui Figueira, CEGIST, Instituto Superior T´ecnico, Universidade de Lisboa Portugal;

(3) Alexandre P. Francisco, INESC-ID, Instituto Superior T´ecnico, Universidade de Lisboa Portugal;

(4) Daniel Santos, CEGIST, Instituto Superior T´ecnico, Universidade de Lisboa Portugal.


6 Conclusion and future research

We propose a hybrid meta-heuristic for generating feasible course timetables. It uses elements from ALNS, GLS, and VNS. Moreover, a new instance decomposition and increment procedure is also introduced. The methodology is tested in real-world instances and significantly outperforms the commercial software currently used by the university.


We propose a hybrid meta-heuristic for generating feasible course timetables. It uses elements from ALNS, GLS, and VNS. Moreover, a new instance decomposition and increment procedure is also introduced. The methodology is tested in real-world instances and significantly outperforms the commercial software currently used by the university.


Solving the decomposed problem promoted significant time reductions in both the original instance, 18%, and its randomly generated subdivisions, 27%. This methodology eases the identification of local optima by dealing with more optimised versions of the problem in each iteration. This allows faster diversification rates to be more efficient. Moreover, since our methodology focuses the search on the time slots with more constraint violations and attempts to determine which constraint groups are the hardest to reduce, having simpler problems facilitates these processes.


However, decomposing the instance poses the drawback that some of the work done to find feasible schedules is fruitless, as later increments might reveal that the previous set of assignments is infeasible. Nonetheless, this effect can be reduced by clustering curricula that share some traits between themselves, such as professors or lectures, making the increments more contained. In the computational experiments, using ordered increments promoted solution time reductions 18% greater than those obtained when incrementing the instances randomly.


Regarding future research, several aspects of this work can be further explored. The methodology was applied to find feasible timetables. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to extend it to problems with objectives to be optimised. Moreover, applying the decomposition and increment procedure with different meta-heuristics and other problems should also be an interesting pursuit. Finally, the ordering algorithm implemented was simple, and it still significantly improved solution times. However, machine-learning techniques [39, 40] could be applied to find the best clustering for the decomposition and increment procedure.


Acknowledgments. All the authors acknowledge the Portuguese national funds

through the FCT - Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P., under the project

UI/BD/154023/2022. Declarations of interest: none.

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Appendix A Increment algorithms

Appendix B Initial solutions

Appendix C Neighbourhood structures


This paper is available on arxiv under CC 4.0 license.