Releasing information to parents, other relatives and third parties
Parents, other relatives and third parties often contact the University to request personal data about students1 at the University. For instance, it is very common for parents, particularly those who are contributing to tuition fees, to ask for information about the academic progress of their son or daughter, to inquire how they are settling at the University or to try and find out where they are since they have not been in touch.
Students have a right to privacy, an expectation that the protection of their personal data is maintained, and that any disclosures we make to parents, relatives or other third parties are compliant with data protection law.
What should I do?
The best course of action is to take down the details of the request, who is making it, and the details of the individual concerned. Confirming or denying that a student is currently studying with us can amount to a disclosure of information in itself, and we should be mindful that not all students will have relationships with family members that mean that their status as a student with us is known to the parent already. We would recommend that after taking down these details that you advise that you will make some enquiries. These situations can be difficult and stressful for all concerned. If you are feeling pressured into sharing information over the phone, and need space to consider the request, ask that they follow up with the details in an email.
You could then contact the student in question and make them aware of the request for information. Dependant on the student's individual circumstances, from here you could encourage the student to make contact with the parent direct, or, if they would prefer us to discuss this with the requestor, if they are clear on what they would like us to relay, this can also be done. We would strongly recommend that a record is kept of that agreement, and you may need to check in with the student from time to time to check this is still their wish, particularly if the circumstances of the student and nature of what we are sharing with the parent or relative change over the course of time.
How can the University help if there are serious welfare or safety concerns?
Data Protection law is not a barrier to sharing personal information where a serious and significant risk to that student is identified and where the sharing of that information may address that risk. Where there is a concern for the 'vital interests' of a student, which can be taken to be a high risk of significant harm, data protection law does permit the University to disclose information in certain exceptional circumstances, and this can be done without the consent of the student concerned. Where appropriate, for example where it would not increase the risks to the student, the student should be made aware that the disclosure has been made, and this can be after the event in this context (this may occur implicitly dependant on the circumstances).
IMPS can be contacted for advice if you are unsure, please mark these as urgent, or call us, and we will prioritise this advice to you.
Where this is outside of office hours, and you are unable to obtain advice from any other sources, and the matter is of an immediate safeguarding urgency, share the information, and let IMPS know of the disclosure as soon as possible.
1 The term 'students' here includes applicants, enrolled students and alumni