Anger over commercial use of student data

A Norwegian company, Rekruttering AS, wants to register all graduates from the past 15 to 20 years in a commercial databank to be used for recruitment purposes.

Education authorities say the Norwegian Personal Data Act would allow the firm to have the data that it seeks from higher education institutions, but student unions and universities are refusing to hand over the information.

Initially the University of Bergen provided the firm with a list of 4,600 names of law graduates since 1980.

But the Norwegian Technological University (NTNU) refused to provide the names and Rekruttering AS made a formal complaint to the Ministry of Education, which confirmed in writing that the act gave the firm the right to register the names, addresses and telephone numbers of graduates.

Rekruttering AS, a one-man company owned and run by a pensioner named Kjell F Klynderud, told the website Din Side that when the NTNU refused to give him the lists, he contacted the Ministry of Justice, which confirmed that the names, addresses, fields of study and dates of degree did not cover sensitive personal data and could most certainly be considered less sensitive than the Norwegian personal tax data of all tax-payers, which is annually published in Norwegian media.

“The ministry confirmed that I had the right to have these lists collected,” Klyngerud said.

When Klynderud approached the University of Oslo, it also refused to give him the data, saying that the request would encompass approximately 55,000 students.

Oslo Rector Ole Petter Ottersen said that in its reply the university referred to exceptions in the law for information collected for internal use and gathered under confidentiality arrangements.

In addition to the four major universities, the firm has requested these data from 20 other Norwegian higher education institutions.

Rectors of the four major universities have agreed that they will not provide Rekruttering AS with further lists until the Ministry of Justice has considered the appeal from the firm and clarified the legal issues. The rectors have the full support of the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions.

Kim O Kantardjiev, president of the National Union of Students of Norway (NUS-Norway), told University World News: “We think this infringes on Norwegian students’ privacy and hence we ask all Norwegian higher education institutions to not give lists of student names to Rekruttering AS.

"It is not a part of the objectives of higher education institutions to be a tool for commercial interests in this way.

“NUS-Norway argues that no student has ever given his or her consent to this use of the data and there is no guarantee that the data is not sensitive: in this case it is a recruitment firm, but in principle anyone can ask for this data, and if Rekruttering AS is not rejected, then others cannot be rejected, either," said Kantardjiev.

Kyrre Lekve, a junior minister at the Ministry of Higher Education, said: “We are awaiting a new clarification by the Ministry of Justice. If they still insist that the information has to be provided [to] those who ask for it, we have recommended that universities and colleges refuse. We will also work for a change in the law to prevent future deliveries of student information.”