The past week at the University of Manchester has been filled with chaos, strife, and multiple “internal server errors” as various system crashes prevented final year students from enroling on their level 3 modules.
At 12pm on July 18, students belonging to the School of Arts, Languages, and Culture (SALC) were poised to select their final year (level 3) modules for the 2022/23 academic year. However, within mere seconds of enrolment opening, the student system crashed, leaving hundreds of students confused, stressed, and anxious as many were unable to access the system, let alone select their modules.
Students trying to launch the system from MyManchester were greeted with either a blank loading screen or an error message when they attempted to access module selection. These issues continued for hours, with some students waiting 4+ hours to enrol whilst some have, as of the time of writing, been unable to register for any final year modules.
Other students were more lucky with enrolment as they were able to enrol on their modules but only after hours of waiting, refreshing the page, and facing infinite loading screens – fondly nicknamed “the spinning wheel of death”.
Even if students were fortunate enough to load the student system – and stay on it long enough without it crashing again – course modules were not available as administrative staff were also unable to access the system to open the modules for enrolment. This is a manual process, meaning staff have to open up each module for enrolment one-by-one whilst students concurrently select their choices before each module reaches its maximum capacity.
Students who attempted to enrol were met with further “error” messages like: “The search return[ed] no results that match the criteria specified”. As a SALC student myself, I experienced similar difficulties first hand. When I shared this error message with the History administrator last Monday, I was informed that this “usually indicates that the unit is now full, as the units are active.” However, upon attempting to enrol on the module again that afternoon, I was successful, demonstrating that, at the time (approximately between 1pm – 2pm), it was not actually full.
One final year student attempting to enrol this week was Tess, who studies History. Tess told The Mancunion she found enrolment “very stress inducing … especially since third year courses tend to be the most interesting.” She also told us that she’d been waiting to do a specific final year course, ‘Defining the Deviant’, since coming to Manchester, which added to the stress.
Tess commented that she experienced similar issues in previous years such as the system crashing and delays in modules opening. For Tess, better communication seems to be the key. She told The Mancunion the technical problems wouldn’t have bothered her if the University had communicated prior to enrolment that there may be issues with the student system.
In fact, it took the university 2 hours to communicate to students that they were experiencing issues with the student system. At exactly 2pm the SALC teaching and learning team sent the following email to students informing them of the issues with enrolment and encouraging them to carry on with module selection:
It wouldn’t be until 5.01pm that a second email was sent to students, informing them that the issues were persistent. No references were made to a possible timeline for resolution or any explanation as to what was causing these issues.
The next communication came in the form of a tweet from the IT services’ twitter account (@UoM_ITS) at 6.35pm, stating that IT services hoped to remedy the situation by “lunchtime tomorrow” (commonly assumed to mean 12pm but there was no further specification of an exact time).
We are aware of some issues with accessing the course selection module in My Manchester. IT are are working hard to fix the problem. It should be working correctly by lunchtime tomorrow, Tuesday 19 July. Apologies for any disruption this may have caused.
The University of Manchester’s official twitter account, @OfficialUoM, did not retweet this tweet despite being active sharing numerous graduation tweets and posting other important announcements. @OfficialUoM has approximately 90.5k followers and is verified on twitter, thus students often use it as an official source of news and updates, particularly when experiencing university-wide issues. For comparison, the IT services account is not verified and has only 6,024 followers.
A short update was also made on the Student News feed some time during the afternoon of July 18th, titled ‘Technical issues with the course selection module in the Student System,’ although no publishing time is given. An identical update was posted on the StaffNet, dated July 18 at 5.30pm, however it wasn’t until the following morning at 8.45am that SALC sent an email to students linking to the update and announcing the issues were still on-going.
This email also contained the announcement that enrolment for the School of Social Sciences (SoSS) would be delayed until the issue had been resolved although there was no time given as to when module selection would open. A follow-up email was sent at 11.35am, the day after enrolment opened, informing students the IT work was taking longer than initially expected and would now be after midday. This update was also added to the Student News feed and StaffNet at around 12:30pm.
To add further chaos to enrolment, students also experienced issues with the course structures and the availability of modules for final year. Multiple politics modules included in programme structures for courses within SoSS were not listed in MyManchester’s Course Unit Information Portal (CUIP). Politics staff only informed students of this the day after many began their attempts at module enrolment. Furthermore, students were only sent timetables for SoSS modules 8 minutes before SALC enrolment opened on July 18, meaning joint honours students had only minutes to make their final module choices before completing enrolment.
Scheduling issues were also experienced by some Modern Foreign Languages students. The Mancunion received reports of mandatory language modules being scheduled as timetable clashes. Evie, a final year languages student, told The Mancunion that she had “three classes that were scheduled at the same time and two of them were mandatory”. She said this was also a course-wide issue and not just her experience.
When asked about her thoughts on the entire process, Evie described her opinions as “neutral”, saying, “It didn’t really stress me out because she knew everyone was going through the same thing. ” She did acknowledge that it caused anxiety for many others that she knew.
The next announcement came at 3.23pm on July 19, when SALC informed students that the issue had been resolved and the system was “ready for use for … course unit selection”. However, within minutes of the system reopening, the same issues experienced on day 1 persisted. These included slow loading times, system crashes, inabilities to login to the system, and similar search problems.
At 3.32pm the Undergraduate Politics Administrator sent an email informing students they were aware of the persisting issues. They instructed students to enrol in a very specific way using the “search for classes” function instead of going through the “enrol” page on the student system.
This guidance had already been in place due to an issue during enrolment last year after the student system encountered a bug when “enrol” was used to search for classes. Students had been already using this method since the previous day as it was believed to be the only way to complete module selection successfully. Unfortunately this still often proved ineffectual when dealing with the various system crashes and error messages experienced during the attempted enrolment this July.
9 minutes later, at 3.41pm, the UG Politics Administrator sent a second email acknowledging the guidance did not solve the issues, apologising for the frustration caused. The next update came at 4.30pm when the Student News item was updated, alongside its StaffNet counterpart, saying, “We are aware that some people are still encountering errors” and that work would continue on fixing the issue.
Many students feel this exemplifies how outdated and unreliable both the student system and entire enrolment process is. Tess is one of these students. She told The Mancunion “after doing this three times I’m shocked the system hasn’t been updated to be more user friendly”. Commenting on the timetabling issues, Tess said, “It does not help that we as students have to meticulously make sure we don’t have clashes”.
Finally, at 5.49pm on July 19, an email was sent to students announcing the ongoing issues had been unable to be fixed and that module selection was being suspended until further notice. This announcement came after students had spent over 10 hours combined attempting to enrol on their final year modules.
Andy, a third year American Studies student, expressed frustration over the enrolment process. He told The Mancunion he “wasted 45 minutes refreshing constantly to no avail”. The rescheduling of enrolment was also a source of his discontent, saying, “It’s a pain how they’ve just changed the day because now I’m going to have to access it again when I barely have any free time.”
Another final year languages student, Tom, was even more critical of the way the University handled the process, saying: “I think it’s an absolute joke and an embarrassment that a university of the rigour and size of Manchester can’t even allow students to enrol in their next year courses”.
“This is my last year now and I haven’t encountered a year at Manchester where my enrolment has gone smoothly. I am the only student in my year that does my degree combination which has meant year on year the University has messed up my timetable.”
He finished by saying “I’m just glad it’s [the] last year I’ll have to face this”.
Alongside SALC enrolment re-opening on July 26, with SoSS following on July 27, the History department has said it will raise course caps, introduce new modules in Semester 2, and expand the number of dissertation supervisors available for allocation. At the time of writing, it is unclear what actions, if any, other departments within SALC or SoSS will take to mitigate the impact of the enrolment issues.
Not all students have welcomed this move, though, as some believe the system is still inherently unfair. Rose, a final year History and Politics student, was one of those affected by the enrolment issues. She feels that “it’s extremely unfair to penalise [students] for the incompetence of the system.”
Rose told us that the re-enrolment for modules is still very inconvenient as she has very little access to the internet and did not anticipate she’d have to spend four whole days trying to pick modules. She told The Mancunion, “This is further illustrative that the University consciously does not value its students’ time […] As a student who’s learning has been so incredibly impacted by Covid I cannot understand how the University is not more sympathetic.”
Since the issues began last week, course administrators and teaching staff have repeatedly apologised for the disruption caused to students during enrolment. Despite module selection reopening later this week, many students still feel angry and bitter over a process that rarely goes without issue at the University of Manchester. Despite the University saying the system has now been fixed, many students are hesitant to believe the second round of enrolment will go smoothly.
Even if the enrolment issues are resolved, there is no denying the impact it has had on the student body and how this incident will only serve to deepen bitter feelings surrounding the University of Manchester’s administration. Ruby, a final year Social Science’s student, expressed dissatisfaction with the way the system works. She told The Mancunion, “The way the uni handled this has made me less engaged with my course and choices for next year, devaluing the degree as a whole”.
Ruby elaborated further, saying, “Their [the university’s] lack of clarity and organisation to do with course choice over multiple years is frustrating for people who want to prepare for their next year and organise their lives around uni”.
Whilst this year appears to be the worst enrolment has been, previous years have not been without issue. Serafina, a recent English and History graduate, said, “Last year it [the website] physically wouldn’t let people enrol”. She told us she managed to find a workaround which eventually got spread round SALC as it was the only way students could enrol.
Interestingly, enrolment issues seem to disproportionately affect Humanities students – possibly due to the wide range of optional modules and combined degrees when compared to the limited offerings of STEM subjects. A recent Zoology graduate, who preferred to remain anonymous, noted the system is usually slow during enrolment but is “nowhere like it for humanities” students.
Ultimately, whether re-enrolment will be a resounding success or another agonising experience for staff and students alike remains to be seen, but the sentiments expressed by final year students demonstrates how little faith they have left in a university experience which, to them, has been characterised by scandals, chaos, and disruption.
When contacted for comment, Emily Turvey, the incoming Humanities Officer for 2022/23, had this to say:
Module enrolment has been a key issue for students at the University of Manchester for some years. As incoming Humanities Officer, I am aware that this is particularly true for students within the Faculty of Humanities and was therefore one of my key manifesto points. The inefficiency of the current system, which is not built to cope with the capacity accessing it, consistently impacts students in a negative way. This affects students not only academically, but has a subsequent impact on student morale, wellbeing and mental health. Students should be able to access the course content and areas of individual academic interest that they enrolled at the university to pursue. Consistent technical difficulties and failing systems provided by the university should not be the barrier to accessing this.
In light of the issues students have once again experienced during the last month, the university need to accept responsibility and recognise the full impact that the module enrolment system has on students. Faculties, schools and course conveners in the first instance should be prioritising third years, particularly those that may have had issues enrolling on dissertation modules or securing dissertation supervisors. Where possible, current caps of students on modules should be expanded, to mitigate against those who were unable to initially access the modules. Moving forward I would like to see a review and reassessment of the whole process, and to also consider whether first come first serve is the most appropriate option that prioritises student needs.
As Humanities Officer, I am yet to formally step into my role until the 1st of August. Module enrolment is an issue however that I am keenly aware and was one of my key manifesto priorities. In advocating for and representing the student experience, it will be one of the first points raised by myself to the university.
When contacted for comment, a University of Manchester spokesperson said:
“We recognise and understand the significant distress our students experienced, which were caused by the issues with the course unit selection module in the Campus Solutions Student System, and for this, we are very sorry.
IT Services worked with the Student Data, Analysis and Records team to fix the issue as quickly as possible. Please be assured that we are undertaking a detailed analysis of what happened to reduce the risk of this happening again. Feedback from students has been reviewed, and we are fully aware of the impact this caused.
Once again we would like to sincerely apologise for the effect this issue has had on our students and staff, especially those in the Schools of Social Sciences, and Arts, Languages and Cultures.”