Charter Mark for electronic chaos;Letter;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
THE UNIVERSITIES and Colleges Admissions Service's blaming schools' old equipment for the chaos caused by the Electronic Admissions System (TES, November 12) belongs to the wrong-kind-of-snow category of excuses.

The software installed perfectly on our network. I tested the internet connection and received a reassuring message that all was fine for sending our results via our ISDN line.

The bulk of our students had their UCAS ready for despatch by October 7. The software reported that the forms had gone and I breathed a big sigh of relief.

Five days went by and since we had received no receipt file I contacted UCAS. I say "contacted". We held on to the end of a phone for three hours. E-mails eventually elicited a reply that I should re-submit the entries because a bug in the program meant that although it seemed that all the students' forms were sent, in fact, only one was received. I kept getting the unhelpful message "receipt file not found" and the system crashed.

October 13 was a bad day. The network manager, the head of IT and I spent the most of the day trying to submit the forms. We upgraded the software via the internet and tried again. We kept getting a red warning saying that we were disconnected. We later learned that this message really meant,"you are not yet connected but don't do anything for the next hour or so until you are".

At this stage I discovered that, having once sent a faulty file, it was impossible to re-submit the forms. More e-mails. Eventually I sent the file via e-mail and put a copy in the post just for good measure. I was then told that I should have updated the software with a disk that arrived three days after I had sent the forms off. I was referred to the UCAS website and I was left with the distinct impression that it was my fault for not suspecting that the program would not work properly and taking the appropriate action.

The saga does not end there. Two of our students have discovered that the data they thought they sent to UCAS was not what was actually received. I reckon that I have spent a total of two complete days trying to batter the software into submission. The problems outlined above are not due to our inadequate hardware or lack of technical expertise; they are due to poor liaison and sloppy testing of what UCAS describes as"state of the art application software".

The final galling thing was discovering that UCAS is the proud possessor of a Charter Mark. This should suffer the same fate as the one that used to belong to the Passport Office.

Jim Hutchinson, Deputy head, Queen's College, 43-49 Harley Street, London W1

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