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15 May, 2008


Oh dear.  I suppose he was provoked, but I don't really see how this academic at a certain university could claim ignorance of one of the more extreme consequences of Data Protection rules.

It was repeatedly made extremely clear to me, both in my web publishing and College tutor roles, that staff cannot confirm whether an individual is a member of the University, even to that person's parents, without express permission.

I frequently receive requests for individuals' e-mail addresses, and can only volunteer to "forward the enquiry to someone who may be able to help" – I certainly can't reveal an address, but nor can I say I'll pass the message on to the named person, as that'd reveal whether there is such a person.

Still; it must be an extremely slow news day if the Guardian feels able to promote their rehash of the THES story via their home page's news 'ticker'. I suppose the sensationalist effect they intended was 'regulations gone mad', but I fully agree with the rules.

The student is an adult, and as such the institution's responsibility is to him, not to his mother.
This instance may have been relatively trivial, but the principle is a valid one: what if the student had been at university against his parents' wishes, or was deliberately estranged from his parents and did not wish them to know his whereabouts?

[Update 29/05/08: I suppose I should have been more sceptical: the THES is the Times Higher Education Supplement, so it's to be expected that the 'journalists' exaggerated the true situation. The professor received a standard letter reminding him of "the need for regard to student confidentiality", but no disciplinary action was even considered.]


4 contact hours? *4*!?

that's... an AWESOME taking of the piss by the university

Posted by Saltation at May 15, 2008 10:26 PM

Hmm. THES readers would presumably understand the reference, but the Guardian (and me too, probably) ought to have clarified it for non-HE people.

The student (if such a person exists; I couldn't possibly comment) is a first year, so is registered for three distinct subjects. If each provides four contact hours plus meetings, seminars, etc, that'd soon add up to the standard 16 hours/week a student can expect; in subsequent years that's ~16 hours/week on one subject; stereotypically more for a science subject, less for an arts subject.

That's comparible to a government definition of a part-time job (and hence meets some financially-significant threshold, I believe), but as students continually require reminding, contact hours won't get them degrees. They're at university to learn, not merely to be taught.

Posted by NRT at May 16, 2008 10:48 AM

that seems more reasonable and in line with international norms.
but the article clearly says wotsisfeatures claimed 4 hours per week, not 4 hours per module. hence my reaction.
very probably the journo mucked it up a bit.

Posted by Saltation at May 19, 2008 08:38 PM
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