THE UNIVERSITY of Ulster is to accept about an additional 100 students to take engineering courses even though they have not achieved the required exam grades for admission.
The university last week ended up in the embarrassing position of offering places to all 370 students who had applied to do engineering even though only 194 places were available.
The embarrassing and costly mistake was made after an email with the unconditional offer was sent to all the students rather than to the specified number.
Several of the 370 who sought to do engineering at the university would also have applied to study at other third-level colleges and the university estimates that about 100 students who did not make the required grade will benefit.
Prof Richard Millar, dean of the faculty of computing and engineering, said the error was likely to cost the university “tens of thousands of pounds” but that it felt it had a “moral” duty to honour the original commitment.
He acknowledged that the North’s Department of Employing and Learning (DEL) was likely to impose a financial penalty on the University of Ulster because with the extra places the university will exceed this year’s student admission cap.
Prof Millar argued that taking the additional students who had not met the required level of exam results would not mean a reduction in standards at the university. He said the results they achieved were similar to the standard required to accept engineering students up to about three years ago.
“For all students for whom we have a complete set of examination results, we are able to honour the offer made. These decisions are being communicated to the individual students,” he said.
“This means that all applicants that received the congratulatory email in error from the faculty, and for whom the university has a full set of examination results, are now having their place in the university confirmed,” he said.
“In the light of the extra student numbers we are now admitting, the university will put in place additional teaching and pastoral support,” he added.
The university vice-chancellor, Prof Richard Barnett, apologised for any anxiety and distress caused to applicants and their families. “The university is grateful for the understanding shown by the DEL Minister, Dr Stephen Farry, and will be in discussions with him and his officials,” he said.
The university is trying to discover how the mistake was made.
Journalist: Gerry Moriarty