Skip to main content

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?


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou