Universities and data protection

Safe space?
I don't usually listen to PM's Saturday version, which tends to the populist, but I was in the car yesterday for most of a really interesting exploration of the way that students having problems at university, particularly with mental health issues, can get into a terrible state without their parents knowing, as the universities can't or won't pass on information to parents about, say, a student who doesn't attend lectures, or fails to hand in essays, because of data protection issues.

I understand the argument, but it strikes me that universities are not being exactly even handed in their approach. On the one hand we had a university representative effectively saying 'Once they are 18 they are adults, this means that someone else [i.e. parents] can't see information about them.' And a little later we were told that some universities have sophisticated monitoring systems that register every time a student goes to the library, attends a lecture or fails to hand in work. But surely, once they are 18, the university shouldn't be able to collect/see such information about them?

This point was not raised, but I suspect that the universities would say 'Yes, but they signed something saying it was okay for us to do this.' Yet at the same time we had an academic saying that it would be difficult to let students sign something saying that it would be okay for the university to alert their parents if something is going wrong. What if they changed their minds, she asked? So? What if they changed their minds about the university knowing each time they went to the library?

This sounds very much like double standards, and universities being happy to work around data protection when it's for their benefit, but not when it's for student welfare. According to the programme around 90% of first year students would like their parents to be alerted if something seems to be going wrong. Perhaps it's time a little of those fees the students are amassing as debt should go to supporting them better?