'Universities are to trawl through students’ social media to look for signs that they may be suicidal, as part of a new project funded by the higher education watchdog.
The new scheme, backed by the Office for Students (OfS), is aimed at reducing suicide rates and identifying students in crisis by harvesting data on individuals.
Northumbria University, which is leading the three year project, will design and pilot an “Early Alert Tool” which, if successful, could be rolled out at all British institutions.
The university has been running a project for the past two years where a team monitor students’ library use, lecture attendance and academic performance. They use this information to “nudge” students when their engagement drops off.
Under the new OfS-backed scheme, the data collected on each student would extend to monitoring social media posts, conversations they have with individual members of staff and information held by their accommodation provider.
Professor Peter Francis, deputy vice-Chancellor of Northumbria who is leading the project, said: “We know students use social media, they engage with one another, they use it in a variety of different forms.
“We are asking the questions – to what extent might that data provide some information to identify student profiles? This builds on what we have been doing. What other traces or types of data might we start to identify as being relevant?”
He said the project will explore new types of student data that can be analysed including “through conversations with individuals that might be collected but not shared, not bought together and reviewed centrally in a coordinated way”.
Prof Francis added that the scheme would be data protection compliant, and that students would have to opt in.
But privacy campaigners have warned that students should not be used as “guinea pigs” for “big data experiments” on mental health.'
Read more: Universities to trawl through students’ social media to look for suicide risk, under new project
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