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Data protection and higher education

Higher education building

As data controllers, universities are responsible for the personal data they hold on staff, students and third parties and the way that data is processed.

The effective use of data is being seen and used as a business-critical asset by higher education institutions (HEIs). However, the regulatory landscape is also highly complex. A data breach can have a devastating effect on a university with the prospect of significant fines being imposed by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), reputational damage and criminal prosecutions.

Our team of highly experienced data protection and information law experts has the in-depth knowledge and experience to help universities utilise data to support their business objectives as well as assist them in both remaining fully compliant at all times and supporting them in the event of data breach.

What we offer

We advise on the full spectrum of information law issues including:

  • Drafting and reviewing GDPR compliant contracts, service agreements, licensing agreements, privacy policies and notices, data processing agreements, and cookie notices
  • Ensuring responses to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests comply with current information law 
  • Advising on data subject rights requests including subject access requests
  • Data transfers across borders
  • Advising on data breaches and unlawful uses of personal information including breach of confidence
  • Advising on cyber security including dealing with ransomware and other attacks
  • Dealing with complaints to, and investigations by the ICO and Office for Students
  • Advising on reputational management
  • Carrying out data protection audits
  • Carry our internal investigations
  • Bespoke training on information law 

Why choose Browne Jacobson?

With bases in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Exeter and our founding city of Nottingham, and links across the globe, we’re a national law firm with international reach. You will be able to access subject-specialist, leading lawyers who will draw upon their expertise of (often) high-profile cases to advise you. Our experts in the higher education sector work closely with colleagues in the information law team to provide seamless assistance to institutions as needed.

For more information on how we can help your institution please contact Ros Foster.

Recent experience

  • Assisted a HEI in defending an appeal in the First Tier Tribunal against the refusal of a FOI request relating to its testing processes and bringing a cross-appeal in relation to the disclosure ordered by the Information Commissioner.

  • Assisted a HEI in relation to breach of confidence proceedings against a student who wrongfully accessed personal data of other students and refused to return or delete it.

  • Successfully defended a HEI against a data breach claim arising from its disclosure of information about a student to the Office for Students.

What the directories say...



While the team have detailed knowledge of the education sector, they consistently take a pragmatic approach that supports the clients understanding and ensures decisions are meaningful. They understand the requirements to such an extent that options, and recommendations, are clear and timely.

Legal 500


They are very reliable and provide us with reassuring advice.

Chambers & Partners, 2020


[Ros] is incredibly thorough, detailed, pragmatic and a pleasure to deal with.

Chambers & Partners, 2020


They care about this area of work and seem to really enjoy doing it.

Chambers & Partners, 2020

Focus on...

Published articles

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Legal updates

be connected newsletter for higher education - May 2022

In this edition we provide you with the latest in legal updates, news and insight from the higher education sector.

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Legal updates

Harassment and sexual misconduct in Higher Education

Cases involving the handling allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct by Universities continues to hit the news. They are clearly difficult issues for Universities given the competing duties owed to both the reporting individual and the alleged perpetrator and the inevitable sensitivities around the nature of these matters.

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Legal updates

ICO consultation on research provisions guidance

The data protection legislation (namely, the UK GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018) contain various provisions that deal with the processing of personal data for research purposes.

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