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UCAS Condemned for Selling Students' Data

18 March 2014

Data campaigners have condemned the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) for its ‘underhand’ use of students’ data for commercial advertisers.   


UCAS received more than £12m last year in return for sending targeted advertising to subscribers. The service sells the access via its commercial arm, Ucas Media. Vodafone, O2, Microsoft and the private university accommodation provider Pure Student Living are among those who have marketed through UCAS, which offers access to over a million student email addresses and a market worth a claimed £15bn a year.   

Meanwhile, the UCAS offshoot Ucas Progress, set up two years ago to serve pupils from aged 13 looking for post-16 courses, is also collecting data. Children who sign up for Ucas Progress via their schools are encouraged by the company to agree to receive marketing by email from ‘carefully selected third parties’. 

 Emma Carr, deputy director of the privacy lobby group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘UCAS is perfectly within the law to sell on this information, but the way they are doing so, as is the situation with most data gathering organisations, is underhand. It goes far beyond what students would expect them to do with their data. Students should be explicitly asked for their permission before UCAS can sell their information on and UCAS should be open and transparent about who it is selling the data on to.’ 

University applicants are given the option of refusing mailings when they register with UCAS. However, the application form does not distinguish between commercial mailings and information from universities and potential employers. 

A UCAS spokesperson said: ‘UCAS and Ucas Media comply strictly with all applicable laws and regulations, in the way in which we handle personal data. Ucas Media has strict guidelines for the different groups that we may cover, based on the age sensitivities of our audiences. For example, Ucas Media does not accept political, alcohol or tobacco related products for marketing.’ 

UCAS's accounts say ‘the majority’ of Ucas Media's profits are gift aided to the parent company, which is a charity as well as a company. It argues that the contribution keeps down applicant fees, currently £23 per candidate.

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