University bosses are calling for an investigation after a hoard of confidential papers, including degree certificates and credit card bills, was found dumped in boxes outside a railway station.
The documents, mostly belonging to overseas students and containing personal information, were found at a recycling skip at Croston, near Preston, by villagers.
They were all addressed to different students at education consultants UKEC office in Preston city centre.
The firm acts as a middle-man handling university applications for overseas students.
Kath Almond, from Friends of Croston Station, was so shocked when she discovered the envelopes and papers that she collected as many as she could carry to stop them from blowing away.
She said: “We tidy around the recycling area every Sunday morning and this one day there were boxes on the floor with all these papers with UCLan all over them.
“There were masses and masses of them, some postmarked 2011 and earlier.
“We lifted the lid on the skip and it was absolutely full of them, hundreds and hundreds.
“There were so many of them and from different universities.”
Mrs Almond said some of the envelopes had been opened and she was concerned to discover they were degree certificates from the University of Central Lancashire.
She said: “I think it is curious how they ended up there and we were quite shocked to find all this stuff.”
The papers, all addressed to an office in Ormskirk Road, Preston, were “accidentally” discarded by staff at the Preston office.
Overseas students use the firm to submit university applications and others get help with dissertations.
UKEC is one of 300 partners which UCLan uses to assist international students who are seeking placements.
According to Huan Woodrow, office manager at EKEC, which is now in Lawson Street, piles of papers, some dating back to 2010, were cleared out when the company moved offices recently.
Miss Woodrow said that when the company moved a mountain of what were thought to be old prospectuses was discarded.
The office manager said she was unaware that certificates and other important documents – including a job evaluation and reference and English language test papers with personal data on them, as well as receipt, were among the haul.
She added: “We usually shred these.”
The Evening Post was told that the certificates, which were originals, were held by the agency for students who had already left the country but were applying for other courses.
They were not posted on because Miss Woodrow understood the university issued two degree certificates. However, UCLan said it only issues one certificate.
With offices in cities across the UK, the company also works with other universities.
A spokesman for UCLan said they were shocked by the find and added: “We are extremely concerned about this breach of data security. Clearly robust processes were not in place or adhered to on this occasion.
“We are seeking assurances from UKEC that they will fully investigate the matter and ensure it will never happen again.
“We would thank the Lancashire Evening Post for drawing this matter to our attention.”
The university said all international students are contacted directly and asked to confirm where they would like their graduation certificate sending to if they are not collecting it in person from the university.
All students studying on UCLan courses, both in the UK and overseas, receive only one graduation certificate from UCLan.
But, in a small number of exceptional cases, UCLan is aware of Chinese partner institutions issuing students with a certificate from the Chinese partner in addition to the UCLan certificate.
A spokesman for Lancashire Police said: “Identity theft can cause misery for individuals and cost huge amounts of money.
“Any information which is confidential or contains personal information and which is no longer wanted should always be disposed of appropriately.
“As well as shredding paper, don’t forget to destroy CDs and DVDs and always make sure that the information on old computers is wiped clean before throwing them out.”