back to article Edinburgh Uni email snafu tells students they won't be graduating

Edinburgh University in Scotland has insisted a "system error" caused this year's graduands to be told by email that they wouldn't be receiving their degrees after all. The cockup caused a number of students to receive emails telling them that, contrary to their expectations after three or four years of sex, booze and drugs …

  1. Locky Silver badge

    Full marks

    For at owning up and not trying to blame it on external forces.

    Reminds me of the time I discovered a powershell feature, and scripted everyone's out of office to say "I have now left the company" in the process

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Full marks

      Well, they didn't actually own up - they blamed it on a "System Error".

      I would be interested in hearing how that would work - sure sounds like human error to me.

      But you know: It would be worth hiring someone named System Error just to have a convenient scape goat to trot out as needed.

      1. Chemical Bob Bronze badge

        Re: Full marks

        Sure, the system they had in place to prevent stupid emails didn't work.

      2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re: Full marks

        ...they blamed it on a "System Error"

        We're all part of the system, aren't we?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Full marks

      It reminds me of the time I learnt about net send. Without engaging brain I sent a message to *. I pressed enter then to here a Doppler wave of notification pings echo throughout the computer labs.

  2. cbars

    Classic Outlook suggestions failure

    Could have been a voice command too!

    "Siri/Alexa/Shiny, send that email to 'Stewart Dent'"

    "No, not the 'Students' mailing list!"

    Butter fingers ;)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Classic Outlook suggestions failure

      Better than asking for a picture of Mike Hunt.

  3. Dr Who

    Email is a bit like KFC

    Sometimes it's fingerlickin' good. Other times it's just ass wipin' bad.

    The shit bit is things like this, spam, people still sending out messages with 500 recipients in the Cc field and then the people who still Reply All to that same message.

    The great bit is it's the last bastion of the Internet as it should have been. SMTP for all its faults is a protocol to which all email services comply. I can get my email service from anyone, or run my own email server, or write and run my own mail server and still communicate with everyone else who is on email, irrespective of where they get their email service from. The tragedy of FB, Whatsapp, Snapchat etc... etc... is that they are walled gardens. There is only one Whatsapp service in the world, and it's proprietary. This goes against all the early promise of the Internet, back to the dark dark days of Compuserve and AOL.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Email is a bit like KFC

      Tell me about it. I work in schools. Once a year or more, you will get a whole-school email blast (to parents, staff doesn't really matter) that has the wrong info, doesn't have the attachment, isn't configured right for mail-merge or just plain shouldn't have gone out yet.

      Email really needs Print Preview too. I've often considered implementing an email "hold-and-release" for everything external. Where your email client says it's sent but actually it doesn't get sent until you go into another interface, check the content (as they would see it, and clearly highlighting whether there was an attachment or not) and authorise it to actually go out for real.

      You just know that people would still be in the habit of releasing every tiny email and so would just release the 500 wrong emails too. And if you put in a size/recipient limit on such a hold-and-release, you just know people would forget to release it, even with all the system reminder emails in the world.

      Papercut gets it right for printing, and I think the functionality it employs should be in the core OS itself, we really need a way to get it right for email too. If nothing else, just to make people think twice about pressing Send, or realising that the email is blank before they fire it out. I'm sure it's not hard to code and I'm sure there's a plugin for Exchange or similar that would do just this.

      It would also give you an opportunity to "recall" a stupid email before it went to anyone. Though you can recall from a local Exchange server, there's absolutely no guarantee that the other side will honour it, and I only ever get recall requests for emails that have JUST gone out (but unfortunately, already made it to GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. accounts).

      1. Lusty Silver badge

        Re: Email is a bit like KFC

        Outlook does both of those things, and has done for quite some time now. If you mention an attachment it will specifically ask you why you didn't attach one. If you copy in more than (I think) 30 people it'll ask if you're certain you want to disturb world+dog with your drivel. It even tells you that people in your organisation are on holiday before you send these days!

        1. Pedigree-Pete Bronze badge


          Thanks Lusty, that'll be where that came from. PP

      2. Pedigree-Pete Bronze badge

        Re: Email is a bit like KFC

        Hi Lee D. Gotta agree so have an upvote.

        I can't remember where I got the warning from but something recently picked up on the fact I'd used the word "attachment" in my email text and reminded me to add the attachment. Quite cool. PP

        Icon>>'coz Friday.

  4. Julian Bradfield

    not an email error

    It wasn't an error in sending email - it was deeper than that. The students were getting these messages on their student portals, and copies by email. The student portal is, or should be, driven entirely from the student records database.

    1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

      Re: not an email error

      My nephew got the email.

      Lucky for him, his friends had seen it first and had been talking about it...

      Man, if they hadn't admitted to the cock up, I'll wager my sister would have had a cow.

      Unlike you locals, foreigners pay to go to Uni... it ain't cheap, but its a fair deal for a good education.

  5. Mr Dogshit Silver badge

    three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

    paid for by taxpayers like me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

      paid for by taxpayers like me.

      Once upon a time maybe. I graduated in 1975 with no debt and £12.00 in my Bank.

      Now? Not a chance. My Grandson graduated last year with just under £30K worth of debt.

      Thanks to the bank of me, that is now zero.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

        "Thanks to the bank of me, that is now zero."

        You're a good grandfather - hope your grandson appreciates you.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

        And what rate of income tax did you pay on your first income .... today students start paying income tax at 20% which increases to 29% when they earn over £21k and loan repayments (in reality the graduate tax) kicks in. I got "free university tuition" ... but started paying tax at 30%.(with, I tihink a much lower personal allowance in real terms)

      3. Only me!
        Thumb Up

        Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

        Well done....more people need to put back in, what they got out.

        Everyone says they paid tax for x years.....and they are now entitled. That was a golden era! (Maybe fairer after post war?)

        But now we have spent the money people put in and young have to pay for themselves the old and a house (which they cannot), but odd how they can pay for the rent that pays for the house!!!!

        House deposits are killing them as are the student debts.......or will cards are a whole other world of pain.

      4. Brenda McViking

        Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

        Very noble of you for paying off 30k of your grandsons debt.

        Also rather foolish - it could well be you don't understand the system properly. If you did, you likely wouldn't have done so - the student "loan" is not a conventional loan by a long shot. The government backing of such loans expects full well that the MAJORITY will not be repaid in full. It's actually a temporary graduate tax on successful graduates, but to actually pay off the balance in the time alloted, you have to be a very high earner indeed. Most professional engineers like myself for example will not pay off the balance before it is wiped, because we don't and wont ever earn enough. Lawyers, doctors, bankers - perhaps. But marginal, and it assumes they never have a career break.

        Far more details on why paying off a post 1998 student loan is usually a bad idea at moneysavingexpert

    2. JoshOvki

      Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

      Thank you! All of the sex, booze and drugs made for a really a fun 4 years.

      Now lets talk about why you keep taking money out of my pay slip every month? What is all that about, I thought people like you paid for it?! What you didn't have to pay for your degree at all? I guess it is actually people like me that are not paying for yours too.

    3. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

      paid for by taxpayers like me.

      And it's not like you'll ever need heart surgery, is it?

      If only because they wouldn't be able to find your tiny, cold heart.

    4. MarthaFarqhar

      Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

      If you'd studied harder at school, you'd know how to avoid paying that tax. Or be able to pay someone to do that for you.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

      You know what I hate? An educated workforce. I really hate it when people reach their potential, and expand the frontiers of human understanding.

      All this progress needs to stop.

      1. Mr Dogshit Silver badge

        Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

        Nah... you're right m8.

        Carry on studying the sex life of an ant, or writing a thesis on the feminist poetry of the indigenous population of Tierra del Fuego or whatever ever it is.

        And don't forget to claim those student discounts wherever you go!

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: three or four years of sex, booze and drugs...

      @Mr Dogshit

      Have you been elsewhere in the solar system for a lot of years?

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ....after three or four years of sex, booze and drugs dedicated academic work star trek, pizza and wanking over a paused VHS when Deanna Troi was onscreen in a tight outfit, alone in the student digs at night like all the other comp-sci grads.

  7. b0llchit

    Security issue

    Dear El Reg,

    I salute you for optimistically putting this story in the "Security" category. I presume you are telling us that letting a flock of graduates flow into the current market is a security hazard. I totally agree. Better to have them rethink their strategies and get some more ECTS points to cover all the security bases.

    (yes, I'm still in the illusion that students can learn security or think independently, and I refuse to accept reality).

  8. Still Water

    Tribal SITS

    For all you Uniface lovers: Edinburgh use it. Enough said really.

  9. Andy 97

    I can only guess the worry of some of the medical students about calling their parents...

  10. NiteDragon

    Tribal SITS

    I was suspecting they used $hits. Had some real fun times with that archaic glorified access database in the past.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tribal SITS

      A lot of Universities do - and I've not heard of any that don't think it's a pile of ....

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The WHERE clause on the SQL statement that chose the target cohort was clearly not calculating the credits correctly resulting in the wrong cohort being sent the automated email. Nowt to do with security, just duff (and obviously poorly tested) code. We have innumerable schedules that send out 10's of thousands of student emails annually and we have had some close calls, but fortunately our test environments auto-send them to a common 'test recipient inbox' so that they can be thoroughly inspected during development.

    There but for the grace of God an' all that...

    1. NiteDragon

      "The WHERE clause on the SQL statement that chose the target cohort was clearly not calculating the credits correctly resulting in the wrong cohort being sent the automated email"

      Alas in the system they use the vendor requests that you code in a vendor-specific language (called SRL; a semi-spawn of a language called uniface) which is far slower and prone to handling nulls etc in strange ways - also when I tested it, its performance was horrendous.

      It makes coding for the system more painful than it needs to be, and increases the grey hair count way more than even the worst SQL I've dealt with. On the plus side as the system in question is apparently market leader - if you can deal with ignoring how badly it is coded and how clunky it is... You're pretty much assured a job in a lot of Universities...

      1. Doctor_Wibble

        Hurrah for computational efficiency

        Bloody technology complicating everything, back in in the good old days we used proper traditional methods like getting the date the wrong way round.

      2. Still Water

        Selling point of SITS: it's immensely configurable. Which is also one of its biggest issues...!

        You can write in SQL rather than in SRL, but it's just not the recommended way, but sometimes there's no alternative to getting a (single) query to work in a vaguely sensible timeframe.

        But yes - market leader, but probably one of the worst pieces of software I've had the misfortune to work with in my career.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Intelligent human being panics at single random email?

    Regarding the "One student [who] commented on Twitter that the email, sent in the early hours of this morning, had caused her 'massive anxiety and distress'." —

    I hope she kept her identity secret. She obviously panicked and went all floppy *before* double checking the facts (despite supposedly being an intelligent and capable human being on a course at a top university).

    If that's her approach to adversity there won't be much point in her turning up for job interviews at several thousand normal and sane organisations from this point onwards. Who'd want her?

    Harsh? Maybe. Meh. There's always another graduate...

    A/C because... obviously.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Intelligent human being panics at single random email?

      It's an anxious time, however good you are. I nearly had a heart attack when my class results were posted ... a 2.2, about a dozen 2.1s, and my name at the bottom of the list with an oblique stroke where the grade should be. I was frozen in hell for a good 20 seconds before getting mobbed by everyone who "all knew you'd get a first you jammy bastard" and realising it was a 1.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: Intelligent human being panics at single random email?

      The Student People are easily startled, but they will soon be back, and in greater numbers.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not new

    This happened to me 30 years ago. Got a letter after the first year at Uni (Comp Sci) saying, sorry, you failed all the first year exams and are therefore not entitled to continue. I could contact the Uni to talk about future career options. There wasn't even a list of those who passed.

    That panicked myself and parents who were assuming I'd be straight onto the second year no problem. Luckily a friend on the course called to congratulate me - he'd passed and did get the list and my name was on it. Of course the letter might have been right and the list wrong..

    Dunno what happened, but I did get an apology - but not until I found my grant and my student accomodation were both cancelled - took a while sorting that lot out.

    Passed with a first in the end, and been in work ever since.

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