Students have told BuzzFeed News about the distress caused by the University of Edinburgh's IT system after it wrongly messaged final-year students telling them they wouldn't be able to graduate this summer.
The Scottish university has apologised and blamed a system error after an email went out to what appears to have been hundreds of students just after midnight on Thursday saying they had failed to complete their studies in time, and would have to graduate later in the year.
The email's ominous heading – "Graduation Ceremony Cancelled - No Award" – caused panic among students who were expecting to graduate, including Calum Mackie, who tweeted a screenshot of the email on Wednesday morning.
"I read the email right after it was sent [shortly after midnight] last night," the English literature student told BuzzFeed News. "I saw the header and immediately panicked thinking I must have failed something in the recent exam diet and wouldn't graduate."
Mackie said the same information was displayed on the portal that all students use to access their exam results, and that the university didn't tell the students that the messages were incorrect until nine hours later on Thursday morning.
"I would like to know why such an error was made on such a large scale and [be given] reassurance that it won't happen again to future final-year students," he added. "This caused a huge level of distress and worry for students anxiously awaiting their final degree results."
Other Edinburgh students have been severely critical of the university for making them believe they had failed. One student, called Phoebe, tweeted a screenshot with the caption "Edinburgh shitebag Uni".
Claire Hutchison, 21, who studies environmental geoscience at the university, was out with friends on holiday in Barcelona when she received the email. She told BuzzFeed News the university had been "extremely irresponsible".
"I read the email at 2am while I was at a bar on holiday," she said. "I was very upset so immediately went back to my hostel believing the email to be true – [at that time] there was no way of confirming its authenticity.
"I found out it wasn't real initially through hearsay from my friends and on social media [but] an official email stating that the email was spam wasn't sent out until about 10am [on Thursday morning]."
She added: "I think it's extremely irresponsible of the university to let something like this happen. The same message was also displayed on our personal records on Euclid (the university system that displays our exam results)."
James Puchowski, a Scandinavian studies student at Edinburgh, told BuzzFeed News there was "no excuse" for the university's error and that the message he received this morning made him believe he'd lost a scholarship.
"I get instant notifications on my phone whenever I get an email as I'm currently waiting to hear back about a scholarship I desperately need to take a research degree in September," said Puchowski.
"This wasn't the email I was expecting at all. I didn't realise at first that it could have been an error and I was trying to make sense of what I could have done wrong during my four years here."
Puchowski added: "We only got emails this morning, and they didn't seem to be that apologetic. Luckily I've heard back from supervisors and personal tutors who seem far more sympathetic, but the university itself has dismissed this as a simple error."
At 9:30am on Thursday, the director of student systems emailed students saying they were looking "urgently" into the error, adding: "No graduations have been cancelled. Your final degree results will be release in line with the published schedule."
In a statement, a spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: "Our preliminary investigation suggests that these emails were regrettably issued as a result of a system error.
"There was no breach of our systems and no student data was compromised. The university has written to all students affected to reassure them that their graduations have not been cancelled and asking them to ignore the emails."