UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, has sent heads of university and college admissions offices enormous computer files filled with nothing but gobbledegook, according to a report in The Times.

UCAS and the universities and colleges are moving to a web-based electronic matching service based on a Topaz database implemented by Logica where there is no need for file transfer. As a result, the older FTP (File Transfer Program) communications methods are being phased out.

With FTP, applicant information is passed between institutions and UCAS through computer-produced files to and from UCAS via the JIPS (Janet Internet Protocol Service). Two systems, Marvin and Hercules, are available. But something has gone wrong with the system, and many of the records have seemingly been wiped and replaced with random digits.

A UCAS spokesman denied the system had failed, however. "The system has not failed, as the figures clearly show. Processing of exam results worked ahead of schedule and institutions have been able to process their decisions faster then ever before," he said in a statement.

UCAS is also refuting claims that applicants have been disrupted by the problem. "The UCAS helpline has not received a single call from an applicant or parent experiencing problems outlined in The Times," the organisation stated. "Apart from the first three days of clearing, UCAS has received fewer calls to its helpline. Even the universities say their helplines are quiet."

The organisation did admit, however, that there was a delay in sending amendment records by the older Marvin system, which is due to be phased out at the end of next year. "This 'glitch' only affected institutions using Marvin, and all institutions had alternative methods of checking and receiving the data," it said.