Northern Ireland

University of Ulster offers withdrawn due to error

Congratulations email
Image caption Conleth is one of 370 students who were sent emails congratulating them on gaining a place
Apologies email
Image caption The university said a correction email was sent out within an hour of the incorrect offer
Apologies email close up
Image caption Mr Hendron said he would like a personal apology and guidance

Almost 400 students who were told they were getting a place at the University of Ulster have had their unconditional offers withdrawn within hours as they were made in error.

Only the Jordanstown Campus School of Engineering is affected. Its dean, Prof Richard Millar, has apologised.

He said those affected would be contacted.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, Prof Millar said an email was sent to all applicants by mistake.

He said 370 students had been sent emails of acceptance, when in reality only 180 places were available.

"This email went out to all live applicants in the system regardless of what result they had achieved," he said.

"We normally carried out the (acceptance) process by postal service and this is the first time we had tried this new system of communication with applicants by email.

"Clearly things have gone wrong and that's something we would want to put right and we will put additional checks in place to ensure that this is not repeated."

He added that the mistake was confined to the one faculty. The University of Ulster has campuses in Belfast, Jordanstown, Coleraine and in Londonderry.

Prof Millar said it would be impossible to accept all those who applied due to funding reasons and physical space limitations.

"I would love to be in a situation where we could tell these applicants, yes, we will stand over this and honour this, however that is not going to happen."

He advised that those affected should monitor their status on the UCAS track website, where their final decision will be posted.

The university's vice-chancellor, Richard Barnett, also apologised for the mistake, on Friday night, and said the priority was to work with those affected to "remove the distress that this university has unnecessarily caused".

He said the university was "working through" the issue on an individual basis.

"We are dealing with 34,000 applications in this university, we are dealing with 370 here," he said.

"It is relatively small, but for each one of those individuals I accept it is a disastrous situation.

"I and this university have let them down.

"We will work with them to seek to correct that situation, but the best solution for those individuals is not necessarily to say 'yes come onto the course', because it is no good at all setting young people up for failure."


Conleth Hendron, from Crumlin, County Antrim, said he has been left embarrassed by the error.

"I put it up on Facebook about an hour or so after I heard I got in. I wrote, 'great feeling knowing I got two unconditional offers'," he said.

"Now everyone knows about it and now I'm going to have to put something up to say I didn't get accepted which is kind of embarrassing.

"I got an email about it, but that's really impersonal, I'd rather they ring me personally and say they are sorry and offer some guidance or help to get me back on track again."

Another person who contacted the BBC said: "I don't think it's on, I think they should be standing by their unconditional offer.

"I had back-up plans if I had not got the grades to get into university, but I have contacted them to say I had got onto this course and I am now left with nothing.

"They need to stand by what they have told us, they can't go back on their word."

The Stormont employment minister, Stephen Farry, said the matter was of "huge concern".

"I have spoken to the vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster, Richard Barnett, to express my concerns and to discuss how the problem can be most effectively addressed.

"I have also commissioned an urgent report from my own officials and will continue to monitor this situation closely.

"My department will do all we can to assist, however, we need the university to clearly establish the precise extent of the problem and how they intend to address it and, after that, to ensure that a similar incident will not happen again."

John Carberry, from the exam results helpline overseen by UCAS, said he wanted to try to reassure those affected and advise them of other options available.

"There are still plenty of places around on the university system," he said.

"There are places in clearing and I would urge people to consider universities in Scotland and England, although I realise this may have implications from a financial point of view."

Any applicant to the School of Engineering who has not received an update by 24 August, is asked to contact the university admissions helpline on 028 7028 7028.

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