Students have claimed that implementation of new GDPR regulations at this year’s Clubs and Societies Fair caused problems with sign-ups and trials.
Following the introduction of GDPR rules, students hosting stalls at the Clubs and Societies Fair (Sunday 23 to Tuesday 25 September) were told that they were not allowed to directly collect personal information from prospective members visiting their stalls. Students have claimed that this caused difficulties with the registration of new members and organisation of sign-ups and trials during Freshers’ Week.
Rather than taking student information at the fair, societies were told to create a mailing list through the NUSU website. Prospective members would then be required to log in using their details, visit the society or club page they were interested in, and click the sign-up link to be added to the mailing list.
An email sent out by NUSU’s Activities Officer Sophie McDermott on 19 September told societies: “no laptops with excel sheets, no paper copies, no disclaimers, these will be confiscated if they are seen.”
Changes were motivated by the new General Data Protection Regulation, introduced on May 25 2018 to protect the personal information of EU citizens and give them more control over how their data is used by organisations. According to the International Commissioner’s Office, “Individuals have the right to be informed about the collection and use of their personal data.” The online guide for organisations needing to collect personal data states: “You must provide individuals with information including: your purposes for processing their personal data, your retention periods for that personal data, and who it will be shared with.” “You must provide privacy information to individuals at the time you collect their personal data from them.”
Some clubs have claimed that problems with the new system led to depleted membership numbers
In previous years, stalls had sign-up sheets where individuals could write down their university email address to register interest in a club or society. Sophie McDermott told the Courier the reasoning behind abandoning this system: “While we could have had clubs and societies with email sign ups on the table, we were very conscious that it was a very open and busy space and if left, or picked up by the wrong person, it could leave our students vulnerable.”
“We decided as a stance that we would say no sign ups on the table, it had to be done through the MSL system on the website. This would primarily address concerns over keeping our students’ details safe, but more importantly it would mean students who couldn’t come to the fair could have as much opportunity to sign up as anyone who did make it down.”
Some students felt that the new rules were not properly communicated. The President of Newcastle University Gymnastics Club said: “I didn’t know we had to create a sign-up list online, so we ended up making one a couple of days into Freshers’ Week.”
Others expressed dissatisfaction with the online sign-up system itself, claiming that it complicated the process of registering new members. Izzy Reid, President of the Tennis Club, told the Courier: “The system was inaccessible to freshers who didn’t know their log in details, and it made our job trickier as we couldn’t take information like ratings which allow us to gauge the standard of the players.” Brad Werritt, Men’s Captain for Gymnastics, stated: “It was harder for us to get directly in touch with anyone who may have been interested in signing up, especially if they didn’t understand how to sign up for the mailing list via the NUSU website.”
Difficulties with the new system were not confined to sports clubs. Sam Murray, Secretary for Newcastle University Wind Band, said: “We were unable to record the email addresses or what type of musical instrument potential members played. This affected the ability we had to prepare for rehearsals.”
In response to these claims, Sophie stated: “To address the issues of the ‘tech’ side not living up to it….well, it didn’t. And I think it is a fair assessment from clubs and societies that MSL was not the easiest to use, nor did it provide the best method of sign ups.”
The Activities Officer also said that clubs and societies could have taken details such as names and player positions if they had asked to do so. “I tried to make this clear”, she said.
Some clubs have claimed that problems with the new system led to depleted membership numbers. Izzy Reid stated that this was the case for Tennis: “The GDPR rules resulted in our sign-up numbers declining significantly. Between the men and women there were about 30 sign ups this year, which is dramatically lower than in previous years.”
While Sophie defends her decision to make the change to the online system, she concedes that “there were significant teething issues”
Sophie responded to such claims by stating: “All in all, I don’t think clubs and societies will see a massive decrease in numbers signing up.” “While there may be evidence of this, the Union will do everything it can to ensure that the society or club does not take the impact. I have to extend my thanks to all the clubs and societies for being patient and for getting on with things in an exemplary way.”
While Sophie defends her decision to make the change to the online system, she concedes that “there were significant teething issues” and is gathering feedback from clubs and societies to make improvements for next year. “I will hopefully better equip our clubs and societies next year so that they do not feel any impact and have sign ups the way they want”, she stated.