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    Hi there.

    I have been involved in the Mature Students' Association at my Durham since it was started in 2013. Every year we have struggled to let students in our target demographic know we exist as they tend not to read emails that go out university-wide.

    The university tell us that they can't send a targeted email (we requested one per year aimed at each new cohort) as mature student status is data protected information and to single out mature students would be discriminatory. Has anyone else come across this?

    We only have 6% mature undergraduates, most of whom come through the uni's foundation degree. Those who come via that route often struggle once they move into their first year and find themselves in a tiny minority in their department. Those who come from access courses or similar can find it impossible to meet any other mature students at all. I regularly meet/hear about people who have struggled socially for months and years and others who have dropped out because they've felt so isolated.

    I'd be really interested to hear how other people found information about mature student opportunities at their uni.

    Cheers!
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    Can you put up a poster in the library, or other places where mature students are likely to see it: the campus shop, cafes, etc. Does the uni website have a page for mature students where you could put the association's details? Do you have a facebook group? If the SU sends regular emails to all students, you could ask them to highlight your group. Is there a student newspaper? You could write an article about being a mature student there. Even if mature students are less likely to read a student magazine, it helps to raise the general awareness, as it increases the probability that students will hear about it through someone else.
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    (Original post by Schadenfreude65)
    Can you put up a poster in the library, or other places where mature students are likely to see it: the campus shop, cafes, etc. Does the uni website have a page for mature students where you could put the association's details? Do you have a facebook group? If the SU sends regular emails to all students, you could ask them to highlight your group. Is there a student newspaper? You could write an article about being a mature student there. Even if mature students are less likely to read a student magazine, it helps to raise the general awareness, as it increases the probability that students will hear about it through someone else.

    Thanks for the ideas. We are the only service specifically for mature students and we are a union association with a page on their website. We also have our events on the union website and ask them to send info out from time to time.

    We have a Facebook group that students can join and a Facebook page that prospective students can access before they enrol.

    We've had a couple of articles in the uni paper but not for a year or more so maybe that's worth a go. Our acting president has a uni radio show and occasionally gives the association a mention and we have a video available online through the uni website.

    There isn't really a campus shop and there are no poster policies in most communal student areas but since we're an association with a representative role as well as a social one so we may be able to negotiate on that one - I'll give it a go!

    All this takes up lots of time and energy that as students it's hard to maintain alongside uni and life commitments. Ideally we could do with a dedicated mature student representative in the union but because we are such a small minority, we come under the banner of student welfare. Given that there is so much for student welfare to contend with re. younger students issues and the sabbatical officers in charge of welfare are generally in their early 20s and therefore not so aware of mature student issues, we tend to get forgotten. More support from the university would also help but because we are a union association there is a limit to how much they will do with their already stretched time. It seems we are the only organisation for whom mature students are a priority.

    Without more institutional help our only option is to gather more members and volunteers to share the workload if the association is to survive, hence the desire to communicate more widely. I asked about the data protection issue because I have spoken to lots of mature students at other universities who were targeted directly because of their age and informed about mature student opportunities. I am also aware of a handful of institutions with dedicated mature student officers and meeting places. I guess if your profile is that high reaching out is less important because people come to you!

    The problem at Durham is that we are invisible unless you make a point of looking for us and many mature students just assume that university life doesn't include them and disengage by the end of freshers week, if not before. That's fine if they're happy but not everyone is and we don't know how to contact those who are struggling.

    I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who was targeted by their uni re. mature student status as well as anyone who contacts prospective mature students with information.

    Appreciation!
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    (Original post by PepperDymond)
    I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who was targeted by their uni re. mature student status as well as anyone who contacts prospective mature students with information.

    Appreciation!
    I've just started at Leicester and they held a specific welcome event for mature students over two days before Fresher's week to give people chance to meet others in a similar position. They also have coffee mornings once a month for mature students. I also get regular emails about extra curricular things that are specifically available for mature students(such as outreach work in schools and colleges).

    The idea that they can't send targeted emails sounds like rubbish IMO, I think they're using "discrimination" as a euphemism for "can't be arsed".

    Data Protection has also got nothing to do with this. It relates to people's information being stored securely and not given to third parties without authorisation from the data subject, for example companies send bespoke targeted marketing emails based on purchase history to people all the time.
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    I'd echo what JamesN88 says - I cannot see why a targeted email couldn't be sent to mature students. Students are targeted all the time - if the information is confidential, then why can't the university or college who has permission to handle the data do it on the mature students' association's behalf? Sounds like the university's trying the old 'elf 'n safety' trick.
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    (Original post by JamesN88)
    I've just started at Leicester and they held a specific welcome event for mature students over two days before Fresher's week to give people chance to meet others in a similar position. They also have coffee mornings once a month for mature students. I also get regular emails about extra curricular things that are specifically available for mature students(such as outreach work in schools and colleges).

    The idea that they can't send targeted emails sounds like rubbish IMO, I think they're using "discrimination" as a euphemism for "can't be arsed".

    Data Protection has also got nothing to do with this. It relates to people's information being stored securely and not given to third parties without authorisation from the data subject, for example companies send bespoke targeted marketing emails based on purchase history to people all the time.

    Thanks James,
    Good to hear about your experience. Sounds like the university really look after you. I have suspected for some time that this is a convenient interpretation of the law that allows student experience to ignore an issue that they don't have the time, energy or inclination to deal with. I think I'll investigate further by consulting with some experts on this aspect of law.
    Best,
    Rachel
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    (Original post by PepperDymond)
    Hi there.

    I have been involved in the Mature Students' Association at my Durham since it was started in 2013. Every year we have struggled to let students in our target demographic know we exist as they tend not to read emails that go out university-wide.

    The university tell us that they can't send a targeted email (we requested one per year aimed at each new cohort) as mature student status is data protected information and to single out mature students would be discriminatory. Has anyone else come across this?

    We only have 6% mature undergraduates, most of whom come through the uni's foundation degree. Those who come via that route often struggle once they move into their first year and find themselves in a tiny minority in their department. Those who come from access courses or similar can find it impossible to meet any other mature students at all. I regularly meet/hear about people who have struggled socially for months and years and others who have dropped out because they've felt so isolated.

    I'd be really interested to hear how other people found information about mature student opportunities at their uni.

    Cheers!
    Age is a protected characteristsic, bit not sure what the uni is saying is correct. Sounds more like a fob off. Nothing to stop you compiling your own database/ mailing list though.

    Contact the ICO helpline and they cna give you a definitive answer.

    https://ico.org.uk/global/contact-us/
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    (Original post by 999tigger)
    Age is a protected characteristsic, bit not sure what the uni is saying is correct. Sounds more like a fob off. Nothing to stop you compiling your own database/ mailing list though.

    Contact the ICO helpline and they cna give you a definitive answer.

    https://ico.org.uk/global/contact-us/
    Thanks. It's the 'protected characteristic' they always quote. We have our own database, but we have to rely on people knowing we exist and then finding us and joining it. Loads of mature students just assume there is nothing for them and don't even look.

    I'll give the helpline a try.

    Ta!
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    (Original post by 999tigger)
    Age is a protected characteristsic, bit not sure what the uni is saying is correct. Sounds more like a fob off. Nothing to stop you compiling your own database/ mailing list though.

    Contact the ICO helpline and they cna give you a definitive answer.

    https://ico.org.uk/global/contact-us/
    Thanks. It's the 'protected characteristic' they always quote. We have our own database, but we have to rely on people knowing we exist and then finding us and joining it. Loads of mature students just assume there is nothing for them and don't even look.

    I'll give the helpline a try.

    Ta!
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    (Original post by PepperDymond)
    Thanks. It's the 'protected characteristic' they always quote. We have our own database, but we have to rely on people knowing we exist and then finding us and joining it. Loads of mature students just assume there is nothing for them and don't even look.

    I'll give the helpline a try.

    Ta!
    Here's a copy of my conversation with the ICO:


    Information Commissioner’s Office

    Live chat

    7 November 2016


    Is mature student status a data protected characteristic?


    ico_fadzaid: Hello Rachel, the Data Protection Act applies to personal data, i.e. information that identifies or relates to a living individual. If "mature student" applies to a particular individual then this would be personal data and the Act applies.

    Rachel Kurtz: Hi. I am involved in the mature students' association at Durham University. We have trouble raising our profile and attracting members as there are only around 6% mature students in the uni. We want the university to target all new mature students with information about the existence of the association when they enrol, but they tell us that this is contrary to data protection legislation as age is a protected characteristic. Many of our members are extremely isolated and experience prejudice and even abuse from the traditional, younger demographic, so I am keen to reach more people. I am aware that other universities do send targeted information. Can you advise if there is a way to do the same? It seems that by preventing one form of discrimination many more are making life difficult for mature students.

    ico_fadzaid: Sensitive personal data is outline in section 2 of the Act (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/29/section/2). Age may be a protected characteristic under a separate piece of legislation. How would the university be informing the students?

    Rachel Kurtz: We would like them to send them an e-mail at the point of enrolment informing them that they fit the mature student demographic and advising them about the existence of the mature students' association.

    ico_fadzaid: In order to send a marketing email (it is marketing because it is promoting a service), the university would need the specific consent of the individuals. This falls under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. Under the Data Protection Act, the university would need to ensure that they process the information fairly. Individuals should be aware from the outset that their personal data will be used in this way. The university should take into account the reasonable expectations of the students. They need to consider whether the students would reasonably expect the university to make a note of their age and use that to send marketing material to them.

    Rachel Kurtz: That sounds a bit vague!

    ico_fadzaid: It all depends on what the students were told and what they agreed to when they gave the university their details.

    ico_fadzaid: The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations are straightforward - in order to send a marketing email they need the consent of the individual.

    Rachel Kurtz: I see. So if the uni asks them to tick a box permitting them to send targeted information then they could do it?

    Rachel Kurtz: And does information about

    an association specifically set up to provide a service for mature students at no profit count as marketing?

    ico_fadzaid: Yes as I said, it is marketing as you are promoting a service.

    Rachel Kurtz: Does information about the library and counselling services

    also count as marketing?

    ico_fadzaid: If you are promoting a service, you are marketing.

    Rachel Kurtz: In which case the university should already have permission to send information about services, since they send this kind of information.

    ico_fadzaid: Again it depends on what the student agreed to. Did they specifically agree to receiving these marketing emails that have been sent because of their age. The university will know whether they have the consent of the individual.

    Rachel Kurtz: Ok. So if they don't have permission it could be a case of simply changing the wording on a tick box somewhere?

    ico_fadzaid: For future students. As long as there is no other legislation that would prevent them from doing this.

    Rachel Kurtz: Ok. Thanks Fazaid.
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    (Original post by Reality Check)
    I'd echo what JamesN88 says - I cannot see why a targeted email couldn't be sent to mature students. Students are targeted all the time - if the information is confidential, then why can't the university or college who has permission to handle the data do it on the mature students' association's behalf? Sounds like the university's trying the old 'elf 'n safety' trick.
    Thanks Reality Check. Yes I'm sure there are ways of getting around it if they want to. I contacted the ICO about it and have posted the conversation below. My next step will be to approach the university about it.

    Cheers,
    Rachel
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    (Original post by PepperDymond)
    Thanks Reality Check. Yes I'm sure there are ways of getting around it if they want to. I contacted the ICO about it and have posted the conversation below. My next step will be to approach the university about it.

    Cheers,
    Rachel
    I'd agree with what the the helpline said. His point is that your e-mail would be marketing and thus requiring specific consent. That said they may already have that consent depending on how they collected the information. That consent may apply to the Uni only or it could extend to associated organisations. You need to see the wording. If it doesnt include you then the answer is no.
    If it does include you, then the answer is still probabl;y no because I dont see the Uni giving you access to its mailing list. It will always err on the side of caution, unless you negotiate something

    My suggestion is check if there is a mature students organisation run by the Uni. I assumed you were more of a club and I'm talking more about people employed by the university to deal with the needs of students. They would have the data or permission to send a marketing communication imo (depending on the wording of when the student signs up).

    You could attach information about your society with anything the send out? I'd be surprised if there werent Uni employees who were tasked with catering for mature students.

    The other option is to go all out on the advertising front (any noticeboard, canteemd, web pages, newspaper etc) , but obviously its more difficult to get people to do anything.

    Ps your idea of a checkbox would work although you have to persuade the Uni. they may already have one. have a look at the exitsing enrolment stuff etc. Maybe try and go through the Vice Chancellor?
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    (Original post by 999tigger)
    I'd agree with what the the helpline said. His point is that your e-mail would be marketing and thus requiring specific consent. That said they may already have that consent depending on how they collected the information. That consent may apply to the Uni only or it could extend to associated organisations. You need to see the wording. If it doesnt include you then the answer is no.
    If it does include you, then the answer is still probabl;y no because I dont see the Uni giving you access to its mailing list. It will always err on the side of caution, unless you negotiate something

    My suggestion is check if there is a mature students organisation run by the Uni. I assumed you were more of a club and I'm talking more about people employed by the university to deal with the needs of students. They would have the data or permission to send a marketing communication imo (depending on the wording of when the student signs up).

    You could attach information about your society with anything the send out? I'd be surprised if there werent Uni employees who were tasked with catering for mature students.

    The other option is to go all out on the advertising front (any noticeboard, canteemd, web pages, newspaper etc) , but obviously its more difficult to get people to do anything.

    Ps your idea of a checkbox would work although you have to persuade the Uni. they may already have one. have a look at the exitsing enrolment stuff etc. Maybe try and go through the Vice Chancellor?
    Hi again.

    I'm not asking for the mailing list. I want the uni to send something out about the mature students' association because there is nothing provided by the university for mature students - no university or union run representative organisation, no mature students' officer. There are no paid employees of either the university or the union who are there specifically to deal with mature student issues. All we have the association, which is run by students. Mature student issues come under the banners of welfare and student experience, where they are such a minority that they are never prioritised.

    I like your idea of going to the VC. I've certainly not got anywhere through the usual channels and I've been trying for nearly 4 years!
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    Is it worth petitioning the SU (or the uni) to either set up a part-time officer post responsible for mature students, or add it to the job description of an existing post? If someone has the responsibility for developing, or promoting services for mature students they can be asked to report on developments, can have some allocated time to devote to the issue and possibly even a budget.


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    Good idea fthmsk. that prson could then get the uni to pay for someone as well. 6% of students is still a lot.

    You need to get a campaign and put forward a credible case as to why mature students matter..

    Then when you talk to the VC you cna have a petition, alumni, do some cost clacylations or a survey showing that problems are different etc.

    get yourself on college radio/ website/ student newspaper.
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    (Original post by 999tigger)
    Good idea fthmsk. that prson could then get the uni to pay for someone as well. 6% of students is still a lot.

    You need to get a campaign and put forward a credible case as to why mature students matter..

    Then when you talk to the VC you cna have a petition, alumni, do some cost clacylations or a survey showing that problems are different etc.

    get yourself on college radio/ website/ student newspaper.
    Great ideas. This is the kind of thing that's needed I think and yes, good to get clear about what we want/how to proceed before talking to the VC. We definitely need to raise our profile. We've had articles in the uni paper before, have a video on the website and one of our members regularly mentions us on his radio show but I think we need to plan a focussed campaign that's linked to lots of other things.

    Thanks both!
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    Well you might get somewhere with departments or (for all I know given it's durham) colleges.
    IIRC I heard about the mature students society because the course leader read out a paper notice in a lecture.

    Maybe they're worried it'll be a slippery slope and they'll be getting asked to spam students for half the societies going.
    you could see if the counselling service or library will let you leave a leaflet drop on one of their spinners

    TBH it's possible many mature students just aren't interested - doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong.
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    (Original post by Joinedup)
    Well you might get somewhere with departments or (for all I know given it's durham) colleges.
    IIRC I heard about the mature students society because the course leader read out a paper notice in a lecture.

    Maybe they're worried it'll be a slippery slope and they'll be getting asked to spam students for half the societies going.
    you could see if the counselling service or library will let you leave a leaflet drop on one of their spinners

    TBH it's possible many mature students just aren't interested - doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong.
    Cheers. Counselling would be a good place to leave leaflets. Not sure the library let people put up posters. We've tried through the colleges route and had mixed success depending on the college - some are really helpful and others believe that mature students already have their social life sorted and like you say, aren't interested. I think this is often the case, and that's fine, but we do still come across people who say they struggled for ages and had no idea we existed.

    It would make it so much simpler if the uni would just ask people when they enrol if they're interested in joining the mature students' association, or target mature students specifically to let them know we are here. Then we'd know they had at least made the choice. I'd much rather use my time and energy organising events than trying to raise our profile.
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    (Original post by PepperDymond)
    Cheers. Counselling would be a good place to leave leaflets. Not sure the library let people put up posters. We've tried through the colleges route and had mixed success depending on the college - some are really helpful and others believe that mature students already have their social life sorted and like you say, aren't interested. I think this is often the case, and that's fine, but we do still come across people who say they struggled for ages and had no idea we existed.

    It would make it so much simpler if the uni would just ask people when they enrol if they're interested in joining the mature students' association, or target mature students specifically to let them know we are here. Then we'd know they had at least made the choice. I'd much rather use my time and energy organising events than trying to raise our profile.
    TBH you seem to come up a treat on google for search terms like Durham University mature students society. so I don't know what these people who are struggling to find you have been doing.

    I do notice that the uni website says

    We provide comprehensive support for mature students to get back into learning or to progress from their current studies.

    This includes:
    :
    :
    Social events and representation specifically for mature students
    https://www.dur.ac.uk/undergraduate/...ture_students/

    from which it's not clear whether they're attempting to take the credit for your society without steering people to you of if they've got some provision of their own organised in competition to your society.

    Probably the introductory sessions (also mentioned on that link) would also be a way of introducing your society.
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    (Original post by Joinedup)
    TBH you seem to come up a treat on google for search terms like Durham University mature students society. so I don't know what these people who are struggling to find you have been doing.

    I do notice that the uni website says

    https://www.dur.ac.uk/undergraduate/...ture_students/

    from which it's not clear whether they're attempting to take the credit for your society without steering people to you of if they've got some provision of their own organised in competition to your society.

    Probably the introductory sessions (also mentioned on that link) would also be a way of introducing your society.
    Interesting to get n outside perspective! Thanks for sharing! I think the quote will be referring to the Foundation Centre, which I can't really fault (except for perhaps the price of it!) It is the university's access route and provides loads of support for the people who enter Durham via that route, at least for their foundation year. Once they enter 1st year their progress is tracked and they are still invited to join occasional foundation centre events but they are mainly left to get on with things and many mature students feel quite lost once they are amongst traditional age students. In lots of instances they can be the only mature student on their course.

    I'm not sure what the introductory sessions are - I was certainly never informed of any when I was joining - but I'll have a look. Like you say, it could be an excellent way of letting people know we're here.

    It's totally possible that there are loads of mature students who are very happy here and I only hear about those who are struggling/have struggled because of my involvement with the association.

    Hmmm... more to ponder!
 
 
 
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