MPs urge ethical use of data to benefit society.

The Trust, Transparency and Tech report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Data Analytics said that the full benefits of data analytics could only be realised if data is used to improve education outcomes.

The report, which followed a six-month inquiry supported by Jisc and Deloitte, also called for an informed balance to be achieved between privacy and innovation.

The inquiry was co-chaired by Lee Rowley MP and Darren Jones MP, who said on launching the report that together, parliament, government, industry and the public can define the acceptable boundaries of data use.

“The UK has the opportunity to seize the agenda and become a world leader in the ethical use of data as a means of innovation in technology and services,” the two MPs added.

With fast-evolving ‘Industry 4.0’ technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) or quantum computing relying on data to reach their potential, a debate has started around how data should be used ethically to benefit society.

This is true in education as much as other policy areas, with the sector needing to grasp some of the complexities of data ethics as it works towards the vision for Education 4.0.

Jisc’s involvement in data-intensive technologies such as learning analytics has led to the development of its own code of practice to make sure that students’ privacy is protected adequately and that they benefit from the service.

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Data ethics should be overseen by independent board

The report notes that practices across the higher education (HE) sector are inconsistent and there should be better learning and consistency of approach.

It suggests an independent educational data ethics advisory board to ensure the use of data and technology delivers common good, while addressing issues of ethics and privacy.

The report also recommends a transparent code of ethics that is consistent across education establishments, with students involved throughout its development.

Transparency proposed for machine learning

In addition to education, the inquiry covered three other areas: heathcare, policing and connected and automated vehicles. Recommendations that cut across the sectors included a call for providers of public services to address ethics as part of their ‘licence to operate’ and a proposal for a badge to identify where a decision has been taken by machine intelligence rather than a human.

Phil Richards, chief innovation officer at Jisc and a member of the inquiry steering group, welcomed the report, saying that its recommendations would increase people's confidence in artificial intelligence products and systems.

“As an organisation exploring the possibilities for  AI and data analysis in education, Jisc particularly welcomes the recommendations designed to improve the transparency around the use of data in organisations providing services to the public. Jisc has its own code of practice for data analytics and agrees that high standards of transparency and information sharing should be a requirement for any organisation providing such services.

“We support the proposal for Independent data ethics advisory boards for all key policy areas and offer our expertise to help develop a consistent ethics framework for the education sector.”

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