International exchange schemes

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					Lancaster University Data Protection Project

International exchange schemes

Most Universities run exchange schemes with foreign institutions. Some of these are based in the
EEA, but there are many examples of long-standing exchange schemes with the USA and
Canada, and exchange schemes with Australia and the Far East are becoming increasingly

Such schemes involve the temporary transfer of students between institutions. For example, an
American student might visit a UK institution for one year or less. During that time they will take
courses and be awarded marks. These will be passed back to their home institution, along with (in
many cases) a general reference as to how they performed. Should the student run into academic
or personal problems during the year, their home institution is usually alerted to the situation. The
arrangements for outgoing students are similar. UK institutions will manage students’
applications to overseas institutions, most offering an advisory and “clearing” service to ensure
that their students complete their applications correctly and find an appropriate placement. During
the time that UK students are away on exchange, their home institutions will receive reports on
any problems that they may have encountered. At the end of the year a student will bring back a
transcript of marks that will influence their final degree class. These marks usually have to be
“translated” from the grading system of the overseas institution to the grading system of the UK
institution, sometimes in a subjective, non-transparent way.

Data flow is therefore, usually, between institutions at home and abroad (though there are
elements of the application forms which UK students complete that are then passed to overseas
governments by overseas institutions). There are occasions when overseas exchange students are
received via Agencies based abroad, rather than by overseas institutions, and in this case there
will be limited data flow to those agencies. The data that is transferred and received relates
primarily to academic performance, though can sometimes include more personal material about
the personal problems encountered by students. Inevitably, situations arise where students’
parents make contact with UK institutions, trying to get information about their offspring’s
performance and personal situation.

Items of particular relevance from the 1998 Data Protection Act
Section 7 (1). Right to subject access
Schedule 1 Part 1 (1). Need to inform data subjects of likely recipients of data
Schedule 1 Part 1 (8). Regulation of transfer of data overseas
Schedule 4. Exemptions from Principle 8 (restriction of transfer of data overseas)

Suggested Code of Practice entry
Many HE institutions offer opportunities for their students to study abroad, and such schemes
usually involve an exchange system whereby students from abroad study in the UK on a
temporary basis. Inevitably, this requires the transfer of data (including, in some cases, sensitive
financial and health data) outside the UK, frequently to countries outside the EEA. Principle
Eight of the 1998 Act places particular constraints on the transfer of data beyond the EEA, and it
is safest to do so only with the explicit consent of the students involved.

(i) Institutions that administer exchange schemes should:
Lancaster University Data Protection Project

 Provide exchange students (whether incoming or outgoing) with written details of all potential
overseas data transfers, detailing the type of information and likely recipients. Students should be
asked to sign a copy of these details to show that they have understood, and approve, the
implications (Schedule 1 Part 1 Principle 8). For incoming students, this approval process
should take place at the application stage. For outgoing students, it is best for this process to take
place during formal application for a place abroad, rather than at the point of first entry into the

 Ensure that, where possible, contractual agreements with overseas institutions include a
specific requirement that such institutions observe the same confidentiality rules regarding
student records as are applied internally

 Ensure that their staff deal only with overseas institutions via their nominated institutional
contacts. All correspondence, whether fax, email or mail, should go to nominated contacts only.

 Ensure that all formal correspondence is sent by registered mail, with receipt signed for by the
nominated contact (Schedule 1 Part 1 Principle 7).

 Ensure that, where home students’ applications to overseas institutions are processed through
the institution, staff dealing with these applications treat all information therein (which often will
include financial and health details) as highly confidential. As noted above, the disclosure of such
information abroad must only take place with the signed consent of the subjects involved.

 Ensure that home students can be clearly informed as to the rules and mechanisms by which
any marks received abroad are translated into their UK equivalents (S7 (1) c). The way marks are
translated must be transparent and clearly explained.

 Ensure that, where confidential material (such as references or health statements) are provided
by overseas institutions, the providers are aware that UK data protection law means that subjects
typically will have the right to see these documents

(ii) Institutions that administer exchange schemes should not:

 Enter into ad hoc correspondence or discussion with anyone other than institutional contacts
and placement agencies. Disclosure of information to the parents of overseas students, the Home
Office, and overseas consulates must only take place with the additional explicit consent of the
data subject. Most incoming US students will need their UK institution to liaise with financial
support companies based in the USA: in such cases, consent must be sought (often this will be
available in the form of general consent signed by the student when agreeing to receive financial

(iii) Whilst HE and FE institutions are legally obliged to provide students with details of their
own data holdings on receipt of a subject access request, a subject access request cannot also
apply to data held by an institution overseas. This is true even where a formal exchange contract
exists between the overseas and home institutions. Students wishing to find out what information
is held about them at their exchange institution must, therefore, contact that institution directly.
Dealing with such a request is not the responsibility of the home institution.

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