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Privacy Rights & Legal Issues


Privacy Rights

Students have a right to privacy regarding their personal information. As an administrator, it is part of your duty to see that students’ rights are protected. However, there are some areas where institutions may want to implement special policies and procedures specifically for study abroad that deal with access to information in a different way. Such areas where access to student information related to study abroad may vary from the norm, include:
  • Having students waive access to student conduct records for student screening
  • Having students waive access to information about the student while abroad, so that if something happens, the institution abroad is open to inform the U.S. home campus
  • Obtaining clearance to inform parents, guardians, and/or significant others in special cases (accident or illness of the student, conduct or legal violations by the student, need for medical care abroad, etc.)
  • Communication with parents, guardians, and/or significant others about a student’s study abroad program, including the risks and realities of a program
  • Providing campus health professionals to report on relevant student medical and counseling background information
A student’s right to privacy is a particularly sensitive area with legal ramifications. It is important to include legal counsel and student affairs professionals in developing policy in this area.

Notifying Parents​
Institutions should consider developing clear guidelines on what information should be available to parents of students taking part in study abroad programs. Guidelines may include:
  • Financial information
  • Contact information abroad
  • Ability to contact appropriate parent or guardian in the case of an emergency
  • Program dates and address abroad
  • Conduct issues with students
  • Unapproved absence of the student from the program
  • Disseminate information on health and safety risks to parents
  • U.S. Center Notification by Foreign Institution
Have students waive access to information about themselves while abroad so that if something happens, the institution abroad is open to inform the U.S. home campus.
Legal Issues
There are many legal issues relevant to study abroad program development and administration. The link to the .pdf of a sample legal audit checklist provides a set of issues that can be used in reviewing the study abroad policies and procedures at your institution (Legal Audit Checklist Link). A discussion of some of the issues follows.

Release Forms, for example, present a legal issue.

A release form should be considered as it may serve to assist in releasing an institution from liability. It is important that legal counsel be involved in the development of a study abroad release form, ensuring that it is comprehensive. It is equally important to realize that a release form will not free an institution from having to take responsibility for any negligent actions. In developing an effective release form, administrators must take into account the fact that a student or parent will read the form very carefully before signing. This attention to detail assists in making student participants and parents consider that students are responsible for their own actions.

Another use of the release form is to provide information to students about the risks, realities and responsibilities associated with participating in study abroad.

Student Agreements and Host Institution Agreements present yet another legal issue.

There may be other written agreements that study abroad program providers may want to create to clarify the relationships between the U.S. study abroad institution and the student and between the U.S. study abroad institution and the host of the study abroad program.

Policy Manuals also can be legal matters.

Institutions can develop policy manuals to clarify the various study abroad policies and procedures to students, staff and faculty in the U.S. and abroad.

Liability Insurance:

In the Foundations of International Education: Education Abroad Advising, the following questions are presented regarding the importance of institutional liability insurance:
  • Have you checked with your institutional attorney or office of risk management to clarify the liability situation for institutional sponsored programs?
  • Does your institution have a comprehensive policy?
  • Has your university/college attorney’s office reviewed all of your program documents (which are contractual in nature) for validity, duration, enforceability, exemptions, and/or conflicts?
  • What exposure to liability extends to program coordinators and faculty leaders?
  • Is your application process thorough in investigating the suitability of a student for your program?
  • Will you require a release form and waiver form from participants?
  • How will you determine any pre-existing conditions?
  • Have you considered a health form?
  • What are the confidentiality issues for your institution or program?
  • Where do you stand on the privacy act?
  • Will you require insurance?
  • Have you carefully examined your insurance policy?
  • If your program has an unusual or high-risk element (skiing, water activities, area of political instability, health and environmental concerns, etc.), how will you inform the participants of any potential risks?
  • How will you ensure participants understand these risks?
  • Have you considered adding a disclaimer to publicity and promotional materials to ensure the program is accurately represented, as well as to protect you, the sponsor, against unforeseen changes in program arrangements, such as currency fluctuations, cancellations, etc.?
  • Do you have a clear refund policy, both for cancellation of the program or withdrawal (voluntary or involuntary) of the student?
  • Have the students received information on the potential risks of your program, its location, and structure?
  • Do the students know what you know about the program?
  • Have you developed an emergency contact sheet, which includes on–campus contacts, the press, student relations, and any other necessary bodies like the government?
  • Do you require written status or progress reports from your overseas partners or staff?
According to Aalberts & Rhodes, "to protect the institution and its staff, it is vital that campus-based administrators and advisers, as well as those who travel overseas to lead programs to understand what defines appropriate and inappropriate personal and professional behavior’ on campus (often formally stated in handbooks) also applies overseas" (NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad for Advisers and Administrators, Second Edition, 363-364). It is extremely important that as an advisor or administrator you are aware of the campus process in the event of legal action. Obtaining personal liability is an issue to consider; you may want to discuss this with the university council.

Furthermore, to address study abroad students' country-specific need for information, the Center for Global Education is creating online country-specific handbooks for a number of study abroad destinations.

Center for Global Education Home:
SAFETI Clearinghouse:
Student Study Abroad Handbooks: Online Courses for Study Abroad:
The Center for Global Education (UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies) promotes international education to foster cross-cultural awareness, cooperation, and understanding. Living and working effectively in a global society requires learning from an international perspective.

We promote this type of learning by collaborating with colleges, universities, and other organizations around the world. Visit to view a vast array of international education resources for educators, students, and parents.