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I have children who attend UK universities. Because GDPR, the university forbids email forwarding or accessing @ac.uk on Outlook. However, the university's @ac.uk system is more user unfriendly than Outlook, and they prefer to use Outlook!

Some instructors and department admin agree, and are willing to email both her Outlook and and her @ac.uk account. However, others order her to email them from just her @ac.uk, and refuse email to her Outlook account.

  1. Should she be required to send email from just @ac.uk account?

  2. Because of freedom of speech, we can't force people to email her Outlook. With that said, how can we sway instructors to include her Outlook account as well?

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  • 2
    Can you not just get your ac.uk account to forward the emails to your outlook address?
    – Rob
    Apr 5 '20 at 20:24
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    Is this a joke question?
    – user111388
    Apr 5 '20 at 20:39
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I disagree. Most businesses have a different relationship with their customers or clients than universities do with their students.
    – nick012000
    Apr 6 '20 at 5:15
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    @user111388 Speaking as someone who works in the UK; I don't think this is a joke question, but as Dmitry explains below it seems to be based on some misunderstandings
    – Yemon Choi
    Apr 6 '20 at 18:33
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    @user111388 no. why you think this is joke?
    – user13306
    Apr 12 '20 at 4:13
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I am afraid that your question is based on a wrong premise, which I will try to correct.

  1. Most (if not all) universities in the UK give their students and staff an email address in zone .ac.uk.
  2. Most universities in the UK provide their email via outlook services. Outlook is a product/service offered by an international company which has physical servers in many countries, including UK, which make them GDPR-compliant. They can even install a server on University premises if required.
  3. University staff are discouraged to reply to student emails coming from external addresses. The reason is GDPR or pre-GDPR data protection measures: there is no simple way to check whether an email from john.doe@obscure.server.com really comes from John Doe. That's why staff will usually only respond to university email addresses, which can be verified by University IT.
  4. You can configure an email client (e.g. Outlook) on your computer to work with a university email address and it will be as friendly as your personal email.
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    In fact where I work it is policy to have any official correspondence with students or applicants through university-based email addresses. The university does keep track of (or at least has access to) login details and various metadata, could search emails in case of dispute. The attachments are also scanned for virus. The major drawback is that format commonality makes this a juicy target for mass phishing emails, but this is no different than other institutions. And of course the fundraisers can push their stuff even when you’re not yet out the door. Apr 5 '20 at 21:55
  • Additionally, university professors are busy people with lots of emails in their inboxes; requiring emails from students come from official university emails helps the professors find said emails and distinguish them from assorted spam emails.
    – nick012000
    Apr 6 '20 at 5:18
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    Note: "Outlook" is not a company, it is a product (offered by Microsoft). Somewhat confusingly, MS offers several different products under this banner. And is not clear which ones the question (or the answer) are referring to.
    – mmeent
    Apr 6 '20 at 12:56
  • @mmeent Thank you, I corrected my answer. Apr 6 '20 at 14:21
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I think the deeper question (aside from some confusion what exactly Outlook / Microsoft Exchange is) is whether it is ok for an instruction to insist on receiving emails from the university-assigned email address rather than some private address (independently of whether that is Hotmail, GMail, or anything else).

The answer to this question will, as always, depend on published policy by the university. However, in the dark I would assume that instructors are in the right here. Normally, universities assign students email addresses under the assumption that this is the way how instructors and other staff communicate with students. If individual students prefer some other medium, or a different address, this is something that you can take into account as an instructor, but I would be surprised if the university explicitly mandates doing so.

As somebody teaching in a university where a lot of students are in the habit of using private email for course-related communication, I can attest that for the instructor this is often indeed rather inconvenient:

  • Private email addresses often use aliases that are not trivial to match to students on record, especially if the student is not from the same cultural region. This can be as harmless (but confusing) as students using a nickname that would require some detective work to match back to my records, but I have also received course inquiries from "Assbuster92" which, as you can imagine, is something I'd rather avoid.
  • An instructor may specifically insist on communicating via the official email address when discussing sensitive matters, such as grades. Frankly, for a private GMail account, I have no way of assessing whether I am currently sending private exam data to the person I think I am sending it to. GDPR may also play into this - I am not even allowed to send exams and other sensitive information to a server not authorized by the university, even if I had somehow verified that the owner of this GMail account is indeed the student in question.
  • For communication from me to the students (e.g., announcements), using anything but the official email address is very cumbersome or simply impossible. I don't have a list of privat student email addresses, and manually keeping track of which emails students use is frankly not a good use of my time in a class of any non-trivial size.
  • If I send students emails to their university address, but they send me questions from their private address, communication tends to get scattered, making it difficult for me to keep track of what we discussed / agreed.
  • Lastly, separating private and "work" life is a good habit that students should, in my opinion, adopt sooner rather than later. In any job they will work in the future, employers will also require them to use whatever email address they get assigned, even if said email address is not convenient to use for some reason. Forwarding work email to a private cloud service is strictly forbidden in any company with mature IT practices, so this is again not a habit that students should pick up.
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  • This. This^2. First and last bullet points each deserve at leats one upvote. All others are also true.
    – Hennes
    Apr 6 '20 at 13:02
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I am aware of UK universities that have the exact policies you describe. Some UK universities only allow their students to access their email through the web mail client (or their own app) and also do not permit (have disabled) facilities to forward or redirect incoming email to other addresses in other domains. Further they also actively prevent other mail clients accessing the mailbox for reading or sending of mail. They also do this for academic staff.

They do it for several reasons. As indicated in other answers it is a combination of several reasons:

  1. It protects against address forgery and personation of staff and students. Students and staff should use their appropriate corporate mail address when communicating on university business.

  2. It enforces GDPR so that messages and their contents are all retained within the organisation.

  3. It allows users to be better protected against various forms of systemics attack, such as phishing and malware injection through centralised and orchestrated filtering of incoming mail.

  4. It allows greater protection of the accounts, as university domain accounts are often ripe for take-over for further outgoing attacks.

However, even though I fully understand the reasons for the system, I am personally affected by it and find the user interface of the crippled mail clients quite an irritation. I also know that academic staff are also often unaware of how crippled the student email interface is compared to the staff provision!

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  • Using their internal system also means they can reliably see whether (and when) a student received/read the email. In many institutions it is a requirement that students check their official email accounts at least daily.
    – Owain
    Apr 6 '20 at 12:06
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GMail (and perhaps Outlook) can be configured to read and send email using POP3 and SMTP, if that's supported by the university. (Try searching the university's website, e.g., https://www.google.com/search?q=SMTP+site%3Acam.ac.uk, switching cam.ac.uk for the right URL.) Given that POP3 and SMTP are standard, the university would have had to adopt an non-standard solution to prevent such usage, which would cause many grumbles from the IT department (not to mention the many users that have been using email long before web interfaces existed).

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  • Many UK universities DO adopt these non-standard solutions and there ARE many grumbles as the question indicates... Apr 6 '20 at 13:31
  • @BrianTompsett-汤莱恩 Equally, many seemingly don't: google.com/search?q=POP3+SMTP+site%3Aac.uk Only the OP can check, unless they provide the name of the university in question
    – user2768
    Apr 6 '20 at 15:50