As thousands of new Freshers embark on their university experience this September, new information and data will be given to institutions. Under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, the Office for Students (OfS) is permitted to share student data with bodies such as the Student Loan Company and HMRC.
The OfS holds information such as mental and physical health, graduate employment and academic growth of all students. This is under Section 63 of the Act, which declares OfS may cooperate and share information where it considers appropriate to do so.
A Department of Education spokesperson said that it is important that OfS has the right to distribute information in order to avoid issues such as poor quality of management and governance, protecting the student experience and any potential wrongdoing.
However, in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR legislation that claims to ‘give people more control over use of their data’, it appears that the government are dropping the ball with student data. Somehow, OfS has been able to escape GDPR and it is questionable as to whether this is due to the fact that we are seen as profitable, thus making fraudulent crime and theft a bigger issue for students as our information becomes more accessible. Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Gordon Marsden, stated that “there is nothing we know of to stop that data being passed on or sold on to another company”.
There is not much point talking about people being in control of their own data if you have the government blindly handing over masses of personal data to large companies without any of us knowing the terms under which it is handed to them, how much money they will earn from it and what they will do with it’.
According to UCAS Admissions Team of 2015, 93 per cent of students voted against the idea of having their data shared with commercial companies without their consent. Is the current government out of touch with the education sector because they are viewing HE as a business?
It opens up questions about how students are potentially being exploited as a population, and if we don’t know the terms of the sharing of our data, then how can we be aware of the benefits that we receive from this new act of protection?
With the risk of safety for student data being prevalent, there is a real lack of questioning and talk on the subject by the government and media. Therefore, as a student body, we should continue to raise awareness of this issue ourselves. •