UEA students have been frustrated by problems accessing their university email accounts over the weekend, affecting students on and off campus. In some cases this has resulted in problems with students’ individual subscriptions to Microsoft Office, provided by the university, suggesting a problem with the software as a whole. Recent updates from the UEA Library Twitter page suggest that the situation is “unlikely to be resolved before Monday 22nd June”.

The university states on Blackboard that it “apologises for current issues staff and students may be having with Office365”. The technical problem is currently only affecting students whose accounts have already been migrated to Office365. However, the university confirms that “some users will continue to experience difficulties until Monday”, despite work taking place to “address this situation as quickly as possible”.

The students’ union tweeted that it will be “pushing for answers and a no repeat plan from the uni” over the course of the next week. It has described the incident as UEA’s “email outrage” and have informed students that “some accounts [are] being restored throughout today” (Sunday 21st June). Despite acknowledgement of the issues students and staff are facing, there has been no information released from ITCS, with their most recent status update claiming that there were “no reported issues” with emails. The library has also commented on Twitter that due to IT operating “reduced weekend service” they are unable to get any further updates from them at present.

Liam McCafferty, the Union of UEA Students’ Postgraduate Education Officer, commented on the impact this unexpected issue has had on students, especially in terms of feedback on academic work, stating that: “When the university made changes to email we were promised improved reliability and stability, but for most students and staff this weekend it’s gone from Office 365 to Office 362. The outage was bad enough but the affair has also revealed real gaps in ‘out of hours’ communications, with even the UEA IT Twitter account unable to update students and staff on the mess”. He also raised the issues faced by postgraduate students and others who are “still studying, such as PGCE students, who have been particularly affected”. Over the next week the union will be “searching for answers as to what went wrong and why, and demanding that there’s a plan B in place if things go wrong again”. Finally, he added that “any students that have been affected, especially in the run up to assessments, should get in touch with us at the SU for advice and help”.

However UEA students have been affected in other ways in addition to academic issues, with situations including internships that heavily rely on email communication, being interrupted. Second-year politics student Amy Rust suggested that this latest problem “joins a long list of errors that have happened at UEA this year… [while there are] great things about the uni and students’ union, the exam disaster, hub issues and continuous technology failures has made me feel that this is not somewhere I would continue academically”.

It is clear that for those students – at UEA and elsewhere – who are beginning to consider their graduate options, these technical and reliability issues will play a part in where they decide to study in the future and the university they choose. In a system that ever-increasingly relies upon email and portal access for everything from seminar work to exam results, it is essential for the university to communicate effectively with students, and to work to prevent such crises occurring.

[su_box title=”Update:” box_color=”#2D2D73″ radius=”0″]A statement emailed to students by the university stated: “Over the weekend we experienced a significant email problem affecting the majority of users who have been migrated to Microsoft Office 365. No data has been lost however the users impacted will have had limited or no email access and for some people personal preferences may need to be re-applied when they first login again … On Friday at 8pm, a regular script which synchronises data between UEA and the Microsoft infrastructure unexpectedly removed the licenses for the majority of users and removed Microsoft Office subscriptions for a number of users”.

They added: “Any users continuing to have problems on Monday should contact the IT Helpdesk. User migrations will be suspended until further investigation has taken place”.[/su_box]

Additional reporting by Tom Etheridge