back to article Students outraged: Computer refuses to do any work for entire week

Computer systems at UCAS - the UK's clearinghouse for university places - has been down since the start of this week, preventing students from confirming their admissions to uni courses online. “We are currently experiencing some technical issues with our IT systems. Students who have already applied will find that they are not …

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Mushroom

heads need to roll

As usual NGOs and Govermental orgs get away with outages that would result in mass sackings in the private sector.

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Re: heads need to roll

I wonder how many private firms are involved in running it..

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Re: heads need to roll

Halfmad: "I wonder how many private firms are involved in running it"

That, in itself, is usually not the problem ... it's who those firms have outsourced it to that is usually the issue.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: heads need to roll

UCAS spent £4.2 million in pay on Information Services last year. This is more than 25% of their total wages bill (£16.1m) so that would make it about 110 of their 425 employees work in Information Services.

My guess is that there are no private firms involved in running it.

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Meh

Re: heads need to roll

*cough* Logica *cough*

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Re: heads need to roll

"As usual NGOs and Govermental orgs get away with outages that would result in mass sackings in the private sector."

Would it? I mean, really?

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Happy

Re: heads need to roll

Nah. It is likely the IT staff are underpaid like everywhere else. A disproportionate amount of the payroll funds likely went to marketing and to alumni relations. That's how it works in the States anyway.

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Re: heads need to roll

Orly?

how many bankers got sacked after they too our economy to Monte Carlo and put it all on red?

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Facepalm

Not very bright are they

Surely if it's offline it's offline and the laces will still be there when it comes online?

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Childcatcher

Re: Not very bright are they

Surely if it's offline it's offline and the laces will still be there when it comes online?

Yes, as an end user I assume the information is available in an offline server somewhere and that known good tested backups exist, and that given the volume of information being processed there is some provision for 'rollbacks' &c so that the data is consistent (e.g. if a University has made an offer, the details of the offer will actually be visible to the student when the system is restored).

The reason for a bit of panic is that Universities set deadlines for acceptance of offers, and families tend to go on holiday soon, especially when Tarquin or Felicity have finished their A levels and left school. It is a stressful time for students, and rationality can tend to go out of the window.

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"technical issues"

Where I used to work (a multi-national bank), the excuse "technical issue" was a euphamism for a fustercluck.

eg. a critical process was being run manually at 8:45am and the guy who ran it couldn't get into his PC because the previous night's Windows update had locked his AD account and IT support (in India) wasn't in until 9:30am to unlock it.

That sort of thing was always officially described as a 'technical problem'.

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Big Brother

Re: "technical issues"

Your international bank can only be accused of bad planning. Why not two PCs, or two people to do such a critical task (if it were critical) and support starting at 9:30 at an 'international' bank??

I have a pescatorial odour aout this

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Re: "technical issues"

Because management insisted on offshoring to save costs. The same international bank was bought by a major UK clearer a year later, which the shareholders subsequently discovered was full of the crap like what I just described.

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Re: "technical issues"

If both machines have auto-install patches enabled, then they'll both get fubar'ed at the same time.

However, that is a good reason to enable the nag-me-to-install-update option...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "technical issues"

You would be surprised what you see behind the curtain at banks. Ancient, creaky systems, multiple thing's installed in multiple different ways to no standard or logic etc

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It isn't just banks

Pretty much all organizations have ancient systems and processes keeping their bread and butter operations running.

One company I deal with that builds electronic stuff has some 386 PCs running MSDOS in their factory. If/when these die they are screwed. The software won't run on newer computers and they don't have the source code any more so can't rewrite the software.

They are certainly not an isolated case.

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Re: "technical issues"

A bank that is bad at planning? I refuse to believe that such a thing could be possible.

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Load of bollocks

It's not like you even need to use a computer to use UCAS, everything can be handled by mail. It's not even (yet) peak time for UCAS, so downtime to a non essential computer system in the slow period is not news worthy, people don't need to lose jobs.

The level of entitlement people feel towards IT systems is astonishing, this is not a mission critical system that must be available 24x7x52, and saying that people should be sacked for not making it such, or that we should spend even more money on it is just crazy.

If the system is still down on August 1st, then sure, maybe a problem. Until then, it's just blah, you can confirm your firm/insurance offers in several ways.

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Re: Load of bollocks

You forget, students today expect everything to be computer based, I often think they don't even know how to use a pen & paper anymore, and considering the typing skills most show..

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Re: Load of bollocks

Students are told everything is computer-based.

They don't have an option.

Computers=less staff=cost savings (theoretically)

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Re: Load of bollocks

Did you miss the part where decisions need to be made today about some things but the system won't be available until next week?

Or how this is *after* exam results are out and therefore the *wrong* time to be doing maintenance? The time to take this kind of service down for weeks worth of maintenance is after term has started but before results are published.

I strongly suspect this isn't a scheduled or preventative maintenance issue, it's a "someone clucked up and corrupted the database and we're fixing it by hand" issue. Having run systems a decade ago that were handing upwards of 500k transactions an hour and had ~2 hours of scheduled maint. a month, it's not rocket science if you design the software and scale the hardware appropriately.

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Re: Load of bollocks

Did you miss the part where A level exam results come out on 15th of August (7th in Scotland)?

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Headmaster

Re: Load of bollocks

"It's not like you even need to use a computer to use UCAS, everything can be handled by mail."

If someone still knows how it's done by mail.

There may be arcane bureaucratic rules encoded in a highly impenetrable way in that there down system.

ARE YOU SURE THEY ARE DOCUMENTED AND WILL PEOPLE BE ABLE TO FOLLOW THEM ALL?

ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOADBUREAUCRATIC RULE-BASED SYSTEM 15 LEVELS DEEP, WITH ADDED SALIENCE RULES.

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Re: Load of bollocks

You can send stuff into UCAS by post but then it still needs to be processed. If the system is down, that's just not going to happen. I don't think anybody would begrudge UCAS the occasional bit of downtime but the students are angry because the application system goes down every single year during the most important few months for applications.

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Facepalm

Re: Load of bollocks

"Did you miss the part where A level exam results come out on 15th of August (7th in Scotland)?"

Did you miss the part where all places are provisionally awarded before the A-Level results are even known? You seem to be suggesting this doesn't matter because everyone can just use Clearing.

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Trollface

Re: Load of bollocks

"system goes down every single year during the most important few months for applications"

It's like spring break! Hey El Reg, you missed the headline.

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Re: Load of bollocks

did you miss school the day they explained the meaning of the word provisional?

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Re: Load of bollocks

"The level of entitlement people feel towards IT systems is astonishing, this is not a mission critical system that must be available 24x7x52,"

This is a web based system, by definition it is at least expected to be running 24x7 except for planned down time.

If you worked in my IT department i would have just fired you for such an erroneous and cavalier view.

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Anonymous Coward

i never complain about this, but i currently have to decide what i want to do for the rest of my life, & ucas won't let me

I'm sure you will find that there will be a "University" somewhere that offers a degree in "Using the Shift Key" which may prepare you for the "rest of you life"

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Anonymous Coward

She never complains about it, except this one time when she is complaining about it, which is the one time it has happened (presumably) to her COMMAAND not to make assumptions based on daft names, silly selfies and the fact that someone who is not famous has a twitter account but COMMAAND no one really gives a toss if she doesn't yet know if she will be doing fashion and journalism at Trent or media and pop culture at Thames Valley?

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FAIL

What kind of person ...

... picks on an unhappy worried teenager for not typing a tweet to an immaculate standard?

You sad sour sneery git.

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FAIL

wtf?

If the students are so concerned, why don't they phone the admissions department of the University/College and actually tell them that they want to accept an offer?

Or is that too low tech and actually involve human interaction.

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Re: wtf?

How can they take up the offer if they don't have the results yet?

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Thumb Up

Re: wtf?

"Or is that too low tech and actually involve human interaction."

BINGO!! You have just won a prize.

The little darlings these days have no clue about how to actually TALK to other human beings. If they can't "text" their playmates, or post something one these asinine social networking sites, then they feel they have no way of communicating.

The world has bred a generation...or more...of complete dullards, who have no idea of how to open their mouths and speak.

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Re: wtf?

"why don't they phone the admissions department of the University/College and actually tell them that they want to accept an offer?"

Because UCAS has a monopoly on this and they have to follow the correct procedure through UCAS or some jobsworth will tell them they can't go where they want etc.etc. it's all bollocks tbh.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: wtf?

"The world has bred a generation...or more...of complete dullards, who have no idea of how to open their mouths and speak."

... But they know how to use the LIKE/upvote button ;p

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Re: wtf?

This 36-year-old thinks telephone calls are a terrible substitute for both face-to-face voice communication (where you can use body language and props and point to elements of your surroundings and all that good stuff) and text-based remote communication (where you are not under the synchronization pressures of voice communication).

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FAIL

AAAARGH!!!! - Re: wtf?

I don't believe how bloody sanctimonious some people on here are. Yes, youngsters can make phone calls these days, they actually have more of them than we did at that age (unless you count beepy call-me-up pagers)

Yes, you could make a phone call. After all, that computer system you got told to rely upon crashing wont cause any more phone calls to UCAS/the university etc will it? Duh! The reason kids have been encouraged to go online is to cut costs. Reckon they've upped the staffing prior to this outage? I doubt it. So welcome to queueing on that 0845 number on your mobile all day (if the switchboard hasn't crashed)

You couldn't get through in 1993, I doubt it's any easier now.

That's all.

nK

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FAIL

Re: wtf?

When I was young (I was lucky if I got handful of hot gravel to eat before I was beaten to sleep by a rolled up newspaper) you could do such things. You could do a lot of things back then. You could meet up in person, you could call, the stores kept open if the power went out etc etc.

I have a healthy distrust of computers because I know they can fail, and if I am not handed some physical proof that I have done my part, I am calling each piece in the chain to at least get a verbal confirmation that whatever I am putting through is propagating through the system. It is a bloody pain I tell you, and I am of course a bloody pain to them. To get hold of anyone that know that isn't on maternity leave, sick, vacation, just didn't show, on a fashionable late lunch, is still working there, etc takes a while at each office I call. Sometimes I meet up in person. Well, I try. They do no longer have a place that is designed to meet their clients. But you usually get in, and after an hour you can wrangle out a piece of paper with a signature that states that you have sent in the form.

This is when the system is working. I imagine that a system that isn't even tuned to handle one paranoid geek, well, one geek is worth ten ordinary paranoids, but still, such a system I imagine would not be easy to reach on phone when it fails across the board. So, neh, young people are like all people, useless, but I can't blame them on this.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: wtf?

" If the students are so concerned, why don't they phone the admissions department of the University/College "

Last time I phoned one of the buggers I lost interest in a) the course I wanted to enrol on, and b) life in general after about five minutes of "press one for blah, press 397 for bleh, press..."

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Anonymous Coward

Re: wtf?

This 36-year-old thinks telephone calls are a terrible substitute for both face-to-face voice communication (where you can use body language and props and point to elements of your surroundings and all that good stuff)

this 50+ year old agrees 100%

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Coat

Have you got in?

Computer says: "......".

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Anonymous Coward

The problem is ...

.. that UCAS uses freshly qualified graduates to handle their IT.

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Anonymous Coward

The real problem is...

Too many people from the lower classes are still applying. Torries upped university fees t attempt to deter the common rabble but it hasn't worked. Next step? Block admissions to all those who don't have parents on the board of directors, or other high profile links.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The real problem is...

The Tories where just carrying on a system implemented by Labour who introduced University fees.

> Block admissions to all those who don't have parents on the board of directors, or other high profile links.

There are, on average, 150,000 students at each University. There are about 2000 companies traded on the London Stock Exchange. If each of these companies had 50 high profile directors that would make about 100,000 high profile directors in total. Higher paid people tend to have fewer children so I'll assume each of these directors has 2 children. Those children aren't all going to be of University age so if we assume a twenty year age range (reflecting the 45 to 65 age range of directors) then about 3 in 10 of the children will be of University age. This gives a total of 60,000 children. This would barely provide enough students for a single years intake in one University. What are the other 186 Universities going to do?

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Stop

Re: The real problem is...

Well done for carrying on the maths, even after it became obvious your base figure is nonsense. 150,000 students per Uni..... 187 Unis..... 28 million Uni students?

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Re: The real problem is...

The entire population of York is about 160k - thats a city, albeit a small one!

It wouldnt suprise me if some universities had student bodies that size in larger cities, but its certainly not the average (which with a normal distribution woudl imply some universities with 250k+ students)

Another quick check is that 186 * 150k = 27.9M, UK population is about 70M, which gives a rough figure of say 1.5-2.0M in each year group at the lower end of the age scale. With 100% attendance of 18-22 year olds and some mature students you could get the total University population to maybe 9-10M but I believe the current rate is nearer 50% of 18-21 year olds, which makes a more sensible fag packet number 4-5M.

That said, your point about the percentage of places that could theoretically be filled by priviledged people is fair - the point of privildege is that its a naturally small group.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The real problem is...

Misplaced zero, 15,000.

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Re: The real problem is...

The problem is too many people go to university. It should be just the top, brightest 40-50% who go to university, regardless of wealth or ability to pay. This is skewed by the richer parents paying the way for their less able spawn, which leads to a mis-representation of the classes at universities.

This mis-representation is seen by certain types as an outrage to equality. Tony Blair definitely saw it like that, and made it his aim to have every one go to university (whilst simultaneously crippling them in debt - hmm...)

A much better system would be to make university fees solely dependent upon academic success or lack thereof. If you're smart enough, full ride. If you're actually quite thick and still want to go, £50,000 a year please. Of course, this could never happen, as the traditional leftist view is that the rich can buy an education for their children, and therefore the grades achieved by them are not comparable to more 'worthy' candidates.

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Mushroom

Re: "100,000 high profile directors"

Pass the assault rifle, the herd needs thinning...

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