Twenty-four universities in the UK have been accused of using confidential data to target students based on wealth and tendency to make donations.
According to an investigation published by the Daily Mail today, the Russell Group has been using ex-student data to take on new students likely to donate once they graduate.
The report claims that the prestigious group of universities has been using so-called "wealth screening firms" to analyse the personal details of students.
In particular, the universities have been targeting students based on metrics such as wealth, previous charity donations, property and pension information.
Using this analysis technique, Russell Group has been able to tailor fundraising initiatives to attract students. The report claims that this has happened since 1997.
The Information Commissioner's Office, using information from the Department for Education, has since opened an investigation to explore the Mail's claim.
Speaking to Daily Mail, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said that her office will investigate if the Russell Group has misused personal data:
"Personal data belongs to the individual. That means telling people what it's going to be used for and who it's going to be shared with. This is what the law requires," she said.
"We will look carefully at the evidence provided by the Daily Mail to see if and where any rules have been broken."
The commissioner's' office has investigated similar incidents in the past. In fact, in April 2016, the organisation fined eleven charities for failing to abide by data protection laws.
In a statement, the Russell Group responded: "All Russell Group universities in England and Wales are registered with the Fundraising Regulator and when there are changes in guidance on best practice they will follow these closely.
"Our members are hugely grateful for the ongoing commitment to higher education shown by so many Russell Group alumni and take their privacy very seriously."
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