- At least 90 universities have hired investigators to snoop on alumni
- They have sent more than ten million records to wealth screening firms
- They aim to find out ex-students’ finances and target the richest for donations
- Elite universities hired firms, including one named Prospecting for Gold
- Even lower ranked universities like Kingston sent out nearly 800,000 requests
Sian Boyle for the Daily Mail
At least 90 universities have hired investigators to snoop on alumni, it can be revealed.
They have sent more than ten million records to wealth screening firms to find out about ex-students’ finances and target the richest for donations.
The scale of snooping emerged as Theresa May described yesterday’s findings by the Daily Mail as ‘very concerning’.
At least 90 universities have hired investigators to snoop on alumni, it can be revealed. They have sent more than ten million records to wealth screening firms to find out about ex-students’ finances and target the richest for donations (stock image)
The Mail revealed the 24 top Russell Group universities hired firms – including one named Prospecting for Gold – to trawl for information about alumni wealth.
Graduates have secretly been ranked according to how rich they are and whether they are likely to leave money to the universities.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched a probe, backed by the Department for Education and the Prime Minister. Universities are very likely to have broken the law if they sent alumni data to wealth screening firms without their consent, or without them reasonably expecting that this would happen.
Some admit they did not get permission, but say they explain how they share data in statements published on the internet.
Charities that used the same fundraising methods were fined earlier this year for breaking the law.
Three quarters of British universities have used wealth screening firms over the past two decades. Of 119 that responded to freedom of information requests, 90 admitted passing on alumni data to the companies. The snooping has been happening as early as 1997 and more than ten million records have been passed on in this time.
Kingston University has sent 796,500 records to wealth screening firms since 2006. Fundraising staff were then told about ex-students’ home values and charity donations, and the richest were rated according to their wealth.
The university said this data related to 172,000 alumni, many of whom were repeatedly screened.
Kingston University has sent 796,500 records to wealth screening firms since 2006
From 2010 to 2013, Southampton University passed on 497,916 records and received ratings for alumni based on wealth, house value and details of shareholdings and assets. It said it no longer uses such firms.
At the Open University, fundraisers have passed on 353,300 records in return for details, and the London School of Economics has used wealth screening firms since 2003 to assess 150,000 alumni records. Investigators provided details on properties and spouses. LSE stopped using the firms in 2016.
University College London admitted calling alumni for donations even if they were on TPS, the official ‘no call’ list. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘The reports are obviously very concerning … fundraising must be conducted in line with the law and in a way that protects … privacy and personal information.’
Graduates have secretly been ranked according to how rich they are and whether they are likely to leave money to the universities. Universities such as Cambridge (pictured), Southampton and Brunel have targetted former students for sizeable donations
Tory MP Philip Hollobone said: ‘Alumni will be very concerned that their personal details appear to be available to all and sundry.’
The universities said they follow ‘best practice’ requirements set by watchdogs. They are reviewing their fundraising methods.
A spokesman for umbrella group Universities UK said alumni were told about wealth screening in privacy notices, adding: ‘Universities take data protection responsibilities seriously and follow the law.’
Prospecting for Gold denied snooping and said the research it does is legal.