A blatant disregard for students' confidential information held by their universities is commonplace at many Middle East institutions.
"I was blown away about that when I came to this region and Lebanon. In Canada and the US, the confidentiality aspect is of the utmost importance," said Abdo Ghie, assistant vice-president for Enrollment Management at Lebanese American University
He was speaking at the Sungard Higher Education Middle East User Group (SMEUG) conference in Dubai where higher education officials met to discuss the latest trends in the sector. Ghie discussed ensuring the retention and success of students in university.
Other issues he raised include university employees treating students as valued customers and responding to their needs instead of "implementing the rules and regulations as if they are the police of the institution". Communicating with them effectively, being sympathetic when it comes to issues around the non-payment of tuition fees and setting up ombudsman offices to address student complaints were also among the points he raised.
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Ghie said the confidentiality of students' data was not respected even though it was illegal to do so according to many universities' policies. "No information can be given on their [students'] behalf if you don't have a written consent form — I'm not sure this is the case in the Middle East."
"We often have cases where we get a call from a parent wanting to know if he is paying his tuition fees, if he's doing well in his studies or if he registered for certain courses and we just give this information over the phone without authorisation from the student."
Ghie said it was important to think about this issue as it was illegal in other countries and should be illegal in this region. "If we consider the student an adult at the age of 18 then why are we giving out information on his or her behalf?"
Officials attending the talk agreed that it was illegal not to release information to parents, employers or sponsors without prior consent from the student but that the policies were not strictly enforced.
Dr Rick Van Sant, director of the Centre for Faculty Development at Abu Dhabi University, commented at the event that there is a "historical disregard for confidential student data".
"I think people don't know the university's policy on the issue or they are so used to living in a culture where data privacy is not respected. In this region there is a historical lack of a sense of privacy in education but also in medicine," said Van Sant.
Students, on the other hand, do not question this violation of their privacy and accept the status quo he said. At the University of Dubai, for example, Arthur Keown, director of Finance and Administration, said a strict policy exists concerning student data.