A majority of UCAS applicants agree that sharing personal data can benefit them and support research into university admissions, but they want to stay firmly in control.
Posted Wed 7 October 2015 - 15:17

University and college applicants see benefits in personal data sharing but say they want to be asked first. 

A majority of UCAS applicants agree that sharing personal data can benefit them and support research into university admissions, but they want to stay firmly in control, with nine out of ten saying they should be asked first.

In total 37,000 students responded to UCAS’ Applicant Data Survey published on 8 October. This supports UCAS’ policy of sharing personal details outside of the admissions process only with active and informed consent.

Respondents said they trusted UCAS with their personal data. Some 78% have ‘high trust’ in UCAS – higher than for other organisations included in the survey for comparison. However, 90% of respondents said they wanted to be asked for their consent before their personal data is provided outside of the admissions service. This mirrors the findings of other recent studies examining public attitudes to data sharing.

Sixty-two per cent of applicants think sharing their personal data for research is a good thing, and 64% see personal benefits in data sharing.  But most applicants say they should be asked first, regardless of whether their data is to be used for research, or to speed up their applications for student finance or accommodation.     

Over half of those responding also said that their trust in UCAS would be reduced, and 8% would consider not applying to higher education at all, if UCAS were to share their data with researchers without asking them first. 

To maintain the trust of applicants whilst helping those who want the benefits of data sharing, UCAS will be putting 2016 cycle applicants in control of their personal data. Starting in February 2016 we will ask undergraduate applicants who they want to share their data with, and invite them to allow access to their data by researchers through the secure Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) as soon as the admissions cycle closes.

UCAS Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook said: 'The proper functioning of the UK’s unique centralised admissions service relies on students continuing to trust UCAS with their personal data. Our new policy puts students in control of their data whilst opening up new opportunities for research.

'It’s encouraging that many students recognise the social benefits of sharing data to support widening participation. Students who choose to provide their personal data for research can be confident that it will be managed in a secure setting.'

Notes to editors

UCAS surveyed UK Undergraduate students about their attitudes to data trust and personal data sharing in April 2015. Some of the questions asked were based on those used by the Royal Statistical Society for similar purposes to allow a comparison. This, and other studies mirror some of the results in the UCAS survey.

Please see the following documents for more details:

Around 4,000 students (12% of respondents) left comments on the survey.  Typically students said:

  • I think sharing personal data for research is a good idea as long as consent is given each time.
  • As long as I am told who my personal data is shared with and asked before it is shared then I will continue to feel that UCAS is a safe/secure website to give personal data to
  • Too many organisations [….] have abused people’s trust and privacy. Even with names removed, with enough other data there are still ways of tracing the individual.

UCAS is a charity that provides information and advice and admissions services to support progression in education.  We collect personal data - that is data which allows for the identification of individuals - from over 700,000 applicants in the undergraduate scheme each year. 

We provide a wide range of anonymous (where individuals cannot be identified) data resources and services that cover all applicants and can support most research questions about admissions into higher education. These include:

  • analysis reports and notes where the anonymous data for results is published in a re-usable form
  • providing extensive anonymised data resources in an open data format for re-use by anyone
  • offering analytical services using anonymous data. These include the creation of new anonymous data sets to particular specifications, and anonymised tracking of the outcomes for groups of individuals

If you have any questions please contact communications@ucas.ac.uk or call 01242 545469

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