Office of the University Secretary

Confidentiality relating to students

Introduction

A set of institutional principles relating to student confidentiality has been approved by Executive Committee. These principles have been drawn up with a view to providing:

  • a brief guide to the key issues to be considered when a department makes a commitment to confidentiality
  • a framework within which more detailed policies for individual services and departments can be formulated in order to ensure a consistent approach across the institution.

It is recognised that a number of, sometimes conflicting, considerations need to be balanced when considering dealing with student confidentiality, including:

  • the need to respect the individual's right to privacy
  • a need to define what we mean when we use the term confidential and also, the limits that might apply
  • the concept of the University as a single entity within which there might be legitimate need to share information in the best interests of the student as well as of the institution.

It is intended that a series of case studies illustrating these principles will be published shortly.

Purpose and scope

Confidentiality can be defined as the treating of information as private and not for distribution beyond specifically identified individuals or organisations, nor used other then for specifically identified purposes.

  • Respect for Confidentiality: The individual's right to privacy and personal confidentiality will be respected wherever possible
  • Legal and Professional Context: All confidential information will be handled in compliance with the law, with due diligence as to the security of the data and with levels of discretion appropriate to the sensitivity of the subject matter
  • The University has set out guidance for staff and students on handling of confidential data in compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998
  • It is recognised that certain medical and welfare practitioners, such as doctors, counsellors and chaplains, maybe also be subject to particular professional codes of practice and ethics relating to confidentiality
  • Consent: The University will seek to make clear at the outset what information is to be confidential, the extent of the confidentiality to be afforded to any disclosures and the circumstances, if any, in which relevant information may be disclosed onward to those with a clear need to know, taking into account the duty of care which may be owed to the individual and/or others
  • The University will, where practicable, seek the consent of the individual for the onward disclosure of relevant information to those with a clear need to know. Where such consent is not forthcoming, the person entrusted with he information should make it clear then in exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to disclose the information to others, whilst also making it clear that such disclosure would be on a need-to-know basis only, preserving strict confidentiality in relation to any other third party
  • Need to Know: Confidential information will remain confidential to those staff and departments with a clear need to know
  • In fulfilling its legal and contractual obligations and avoiding a fragmented approach, the University adopts management practices that may require collection of relevant confidential information for specified purposes and its internal distribution to the minimum number of staff necessary to transact the University's business
  • Except where there is a legal, public interest or contractual expectation to do so, confidential information will not be given out externally without an individual's permission.

Sources of advice

Initial advice on where to refer a student or how best to support them can always be sought from Student Services (Learning Support, Counselling Service etc, as appropriate) or from the Head of Student Services.

Members of staff should always feel that they can express concern about a student to one of the student support services if they wish to do so.

The support service might provide general advice about managing the issue without discussing a specific student. Colleagues should never feel that they cannot seek advice about how to address matters relating to individual students due to concerns about breaking confidentiality.