All sorts of horror stories abound about the crises facing institutions as first the Data Protection Act and then the Human Rights Act come into force ("Preventive action -or legal conflict", THES, January 14).
The stories are all very interesting, and the basic material largely accurate, but the reader would be forgiven for thinking that nothing was being done, or that it was only being done in an expensive way. Far from it. Organisations such as The Association of University Administrators (firstname.lastname@example.org) and UCELNET (email@example.com) are working hard to ensure that administrators are fully briefed in as cost-effective a way as possible.
The AUA held a national conference on the Human Rights Act in November 1999. It will hold further sessions dealing explicitly with human rights, data protection and freedom of information at its forthcoming conference in Nottingham. UCELNET is also holding a seminar in March on the visitor system, given that the Department for Education and Employment is firmly against abolition. Although we can do little to assist the Royal Households, Privy Council, Lord Chancellor or the Church of England in obtaining extra resources, we may be able to devise ways to take the pressure off them.
Through national and regional conferences UCELNET also provides opportunities to discuss these issues with the benefit of expert speakers. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is to discuss the impact of the Data Protection Act at its conference in April.
As a university administrator and a consultant to a leading firm of solicitors I have the privilege of participating in all these events and leading some of them. I can assure your readers that, provided the appropriate staff also participate and learn, they have nothing to fear. If any institution needs further assurance or would like to arrange appropriate in-house training, then it is fairly obvious where they should turn. That is perhaps a more positive message than doom and gloom.
Dennis J. Farrington Dunblane Perthshire