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19 January, 2009

Study the small print

How much is your privacy worth?
If you're an undergraduate student, would £1,000 p.a. be enough?

I've discovered that students don't need to directly apply for bursaries at a certain higher education institution: so long as each student has already applied for government funding too, and hasn't opted out of information from that application being shared, the university will automatically receive household income data and process the bursary.
However, the other side of "don't need to directly apply" is that students can't apply directly, so those who have opted out of data sharing are disqualified from receiving £1,000 p.a..

I'm very glad I'm over a decade past being an undergrad, as I don't consider this acceptable. Well, if I understand it correctly, anyway. If the question on the government form is "do you authorise us to pass on these details to the university?" i.e. specific information to a specific organisation for a specific purpose, that's entirely fine, but I strongly suspect it's an open-ended "do you agree to your data being shared with other organisations?" – such as other government departments, the police, debt collectors, future employers, etc.

Private data is personal property, and I demand control of it. That doesn't mean I'd be willfully obstructive, of course: anyone requesting access to my data, who explains why it's required (that's 'required', not merely 'wanted'), will almost always receive it, for that specific instance (no data retention without explicit consent).
But I need to be asked.

Actually, the system is getting worse. In previous years and for Entry 2009, prospective students have to opt into data sharing, but for Entry 2010 consent is presumed unless an applicant specifically opts out. That's back-to-front, and is extremely poor practice.


The form is here.

Posted by Neil T. at January 23, 2009 10:51 PM


That's the form for Entry 2008, and should NOT be used for current applications.

Government funding isn't the issue: students cannot apply directly for the University's bursaries.

The wording is better than I expected; data sharing is explicitly with the University, explicitly for funding purposes. My objection is satisfied. ;)

Posted by NRT at January 24, 2009 08:53 AM
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