SeSam is Péter Szilágyi, Engineering Manager at Ustream, residing in Budapest, Hungary. This is his playground.

School Affairs Information Systems

As I’m writing this my brother is trying to log in to his university information system without any luck. His attempts just land him back to the same login screen.

This – I’m sure – is no news for anyone currently enrolled in an institution of higher education in Hungary. Every registration and exam registration period is a nightmare for university students.

Last week I kept vigil with BH because for some reason her registration for sports classes commenced at midnight. (Could be some university employee’s idea of a practical joke: let the students sit up late before their first day…) Naturally, when the clock struck twelve no-one could log in anymore: the servers couldn’t handle the hordes of students desperately trying to get into one of the classes. Because it’s also important to know that there are never enough spots for everyone. She managed to catch the last spot available even though the system kicked her out halfway. Just under 18 minutes every single class was full.

My bother has his own horror stories of registration. He told me his first year anatomy exams for the first week all filled in a minute. And of course every time he tried he got disconnected or just stuck at the login screen.

I remember during my own short but fruitless career as a Hungarian university student the system wasn’t any different. We even had an older version of the software they use now. Ours used ActiveX controls to remotely connect to the server. The modern ones are based on a .NET system (as far as I can tell). The reason why we never managed to have a good atmosphere in our classes was partially the fault of the registration. Even though we were sorted into groups we never managed to get into the same classes as our group mates or friends. Rather, we were happy if we managed to sign up for what we wanted to at all. This way of course there were usually only totally unknown faces and different people in every single class we had.

It’s understandable that it’s an IT nightmare to build an information system for universities: it has to be able to (in theory) stand the assault of throngs of students during registration period, while other times there’s barely (if any) use of it. At least this is how I see it.

Still, in Japan I had a completely different experience of registration. Most importantly there are no limits set for classes. There are – most of the time – no fixed number of spots. Registration goes for a couple of weeks, during which we can go to any class we want to and observe. Then when we made our decisions what to take (based on real classroom experience not just the syllabus) we can sign up for everything even on the last day of registration. The professors and the office know what to expect and when needed they just adjust the classrooms to the number of students. No-one remembers registration periods as constant headaches and ceaseless worrying. Concerns like “what if I can’t take enough credits” or “please God let there be enough spots left in class X” never existed.

I can truly feel for anyone who’s a victim of the Hungarian madness. It must be positively infuriating when issues possibly affecting people’s entire future are completely out of their hands. I simply refuse to believe that this is the only way – the best way – to handle these situations. And what makes it even worse students can’t hope to receive any help whatsoever from the university office employees. It’s usually regarded the student’s own petty problem if he/she couldn’t register for an important compulsory class or an exam. Tough luck, so to say.

I think it should be recognised that higher education is a kind of a service. It’s the students who could make a certain university great, and it’s not the institute’s job to crush them but to help them develop. I think the often heard comment, that this is what young people should expect from life and they better get used to it, is utter bollocks in most cases. Sure it’s not all pink Hello Kitty world out there, but life’s what we make of it. And what can we expect from young adults getting out of universities completely frustrated?