University places offered in error
Nearly 400 students face an agonising wait after they were given places at a university in Northern Ireland, only to be later told the offers were made in error.
The University of Ulster's Faculty of Computing and Engineering blamed the gaffe on an IT glitch which saw all those who had applied for a place being told that they were accepted.
The plans of the 370 students have now been thrown into chaos as the university reviews the applications - and some said they had already turned down other opportunities.
Vice Chancellor Professor Richard Barnett said: "I deeply regret that this mistake has been made and apologise on behalf of the University of Ulster to all those affected. We are working to rectify the situation as quickly as possible, and when the immediate issue is resolved, we will be reviewing our procedures to ensure that a similar incident cannot occur in the future."
Professor Richard Millar, Dean of the faculty at the centre of the episode, said: "Due to a computer error, an email was mistakenly sent out informing 370 applicants to courses in the School of Engineering that they had secured a place at the university - when in reality no decision had been taken on their applications.
"The error only affects applicants to the School of Engineering at our Jordanstown campus: no other schools, faculties or campuses are affected.
"The university deeply regrets this happened and has apologised to those who received the erroneous email at this most stressful time. The university has contacted those applicants who received the email to advise them of our regrettable mistake, and we will also be making personal contact to offer our most sincere apologies."
The university said that the Ucas system was unaffected by the error, and advised applicants to monitor their status via Ucas until they receive a final decision. They can also contact the university admissions helpline on 02870 287028.
Northern Ireland Assembly members were critical of the mistake and said it would cause great stress to students and their families. Sean Rogers, the SDLP's education spokesman, said: "This is a totally shambolic situation which has left many students and their families upset and uncertain. Not only have students had the places they were offered withdrawn but they have also missed a day of clearing to attempt to get into other courses."
Stormont's Minister for Employment and Learning Stephen Farry said the university gaffe was causing considerable distress to many young people and their families. "I have spoken to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ulster (UU), Richard Barnett, to express my concerns and to discuss how the problem can be most effectively addressed," said the minister. "I have also commissioned an urgent report from my own officials and will continue to monitor this situation closely."