A Buzzfeed investigation has found that personal information such as sexual orientation is being recorded and shared under named data by the Department of Education, without students’ consent. Details on students’ sexual orientation and religious beliefs are submitted by students to their universities during enrolment. Unknown to them, it is then collected by the HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) and distributed to public bodies including the National Student Database – the richest data resource on education to date.
From starting nursery to finishing higher education, students are monitored on their home addresses, ethnicity and educational needs. Interactions with the state are also recorded, following the progress of students in care and or service families.
According to government bodies, this information is collected and shared by HESA to ensure equal opportunities and to meet ‘public sector obligations’ in educational settings. However, the sharing of personal data is met with uneasiness amongst students and the general public.
‘The Stuff of Nightmares’
HESA requires universities to inform students who their data will be shared with and why. However, privacy campaigners have criticised universities for their lack of clarity.
Jen Persson, director of defenddigitialme, believes students are being “heavily misled,” criticising the fact that a student has to battle through “several links” to opt-out of sharing their sexual orientations – a long-winded process which students are unlikely to embark on. For Persson, this invasion of privacy is “the stuff of nightmares” and advocates that data should be collected with the students’ consent, or as anonymous statistics.
A recent survey found that 90% of students wanted to be asked for their consent before the personal data is handed to bodies outside of the university.