In our last post we addressed several of the issues arising from Ucas’s expansion into international university admissions. We only briefly mentioned one of the more longstanding gripes we have with the way Ucas uses applicants’ data. The UK Information Commissioner has now ruled that Ucas broke electronic marketing rules when it passed details on up to 700,000 students to its commercial arm, Ucas Media.
According to The Guardian, the ICO ruled on Wednesday (8th April 2015) that the approach meant applicants “felt obliged to let Ucas use their information for commercial purposes, otherwise they’d potentially miss out on important information about their career or education”.
The tactic breached both the Data Protection Act, which requires personal information to be processed fairly, and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which govern electronic marketing and require consent to be given freely and for a specific purpose, the ICO said.
Ucas Media has agreed to change the sign-up on its site by 30th June 2015 that may have scared students into believing they would have missed out on information directly relating to their education choices if they hadn’t given permission to be marketed to. However, it is unlikely that all of the students currently in the system will go back to amend their settings. For international universities who are thinking about using Ucas Media to promote their offerings, they might find themselves in breach of data protection regulations in their own countries were they to do so. This could have repercussions within the European Union at the very least and it would perhaps be advisable to wait until the next applicant cycle before even considering using Ucas data for marketing purposes.
Ucas is in a highly privileged position given its central role in university applications in the United Kingdom. Misleading applicants about the uses to which their data might be put hardly tallies with their claim to have a unique insight into the desires of British students. It is good that this abuse of student data will now end.