The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has sold access to the personal details of over a million students to advertisers.
Last year, the company received more than £12m for providing the addresses and emails of its users through UCAS Media.
Just since September 2013, students have received multiple emails from UCAS Media advertising insurance, EE, Sky Broadband, Oxford Scholarly Editions and The New York Times.
Currently, students must opt-out of receiving emails for these to stop. However, this would include no longer receiving emails regarding course information or possible career opportunities as well.
UCAS receives approximately 700,000 new applicants each year, and boasts that their student market is worth over £15 billion.
On their website, UCAS Media tells future investors: “If you want to market your brand to students, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got the data and the know-how to help you, which combined with our student insights mean you can target your message in the best possible way.
“More than that we understand who students are, what they’re interested in, where they’ll be and what they’ll need – and most importantly how to put you in touch with them.”
The company also offers access to the details of 15,000 parents who signed up for further information about higher education.
UCAS Media is not breaking the law, as it doesn’t sell the data of individuals directly but uses its own channels to deliver marketing.
However, Imogen Durant, a third year English Literature student, told The Mancunion that it was an infringement of students’ privacy and trust in such a well established organisation.
She said: “It makes me feel uncomfortable and betrayed. I just delete the emails normally, but they are annoying.
“I think UCAS should stop sending the emails from advertisers and apologise.”
The UCAS Progress scheme, aimed at teenagers from the age of 13 looking for information on post-16 courses, also collects data from applicants. Although the teenagers have to opt-in to receive emails, they are encouraged to do so when they register.
On the marketing emails it sends to students, UCAS Media writes: “UCAS Media undertakes emailings for companies who have information that we feel may be relevant to prospective students. The income received from distributing this information is gift-aided back to UCAS (which is a registered charity) and used to minimise the costs of the UCAS application system both to applicants and higher education institutions.”
Gerard McCrory, a fourth year French and Italian student, said he didn’t think it was an issue for UCAS Media to sell access to details, so long as the advertisements sent to students were relevant and benefited them.
However, he added: “I was oblivious that this was going on, they should have told us that they were doing it. It does seem like a way to monopolise out of students’ motivation to study, because everyone has to use UCAS.”
According to the UCAS Media website: “If you’re looking for direct marketing services aimed at the student market, we’re here to help you target your ideal audience whenever you want.
“We’re in regular contact with students, so we know what they think about uni and college, what careers they’re interested in and what they want to study – plus much more to help you with your student marketing and recruitment.
“Our unique position in the education sector means we can combine excellent data with our multiple UCAS channels to draw together highly reputable and timely campaigns – delivered for you to as many of our students as you’d like.”