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Universities should NOT be exempt from FOI requests

This petition had 725 supporters


On page 68 of the government's green paper on higher education, there is a proposal to make universities exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. This is incredibly dangerous for student media who rely on FOI requests to hold universities and other HEIs to account, especially when the response from management is inadequate or ignored.

If this proposal goes ahead, it could spell the end of strong investigative journalism and make it almost impossible to independently hold these institutions to account.

Already, the Russell Group which represents 24 elite universities, have publicly supported this proposal: “The additional responsibilities created by FOI represent an unnecessary burden. Furthermore, changes in funding of higher education and the emergence of a private sector of higher education provision mean that continued application of the Freedom of Information Act to universities is unfair.”

It is also corroborated by Universities UK, which represents 132 vice-chancellors and principals, claiming in their response that it costs their members over £10m a year in answering requests. Many of the responses found in this consultation document talk about “levelling the playing field” between other private partners and students.

However, this is despite the fact that most university funding comes from Government-administered and subsidised student loans. And that this rebalancing will lead to a significant loss for students, as their needs are sacrificed for those in the private sector who choose not to be held accountable.

Cambridge and Warwick are known to be the first individual universities who support this proposal. However, those in the Russell Group include:

·         University of Birmingham

·         University of Bristol

·         University of Cambridge

·         Cardiff University

·         Durham University

·         University of Edinburgh

·         University of Exeter

·         University of Glasgow

·         Imperial College London

·         King’s College London

·         University of Leeds

·         University of Liverpool

·         London School of Economics and Political Science

·         University of Manchester

·         Newcastle University

·         University of Nottingham

·         University of Oxford

·         Queen Mary University of London

·         Queen’s University Belfast

·         University of Sheffield

·         University of Southampton

·         University College London

·         University of Warwick

·         University of York

If all of these universities become exempt (as well as those inevitably to follow as a result) then this will set a dangerous precedent and harm independent accountability. In this regard, we condemn this proposal and implore both the Russell Group and Universities UK to retract these statements and support strong investigative journalism.

We also ask individual universities to speak out against this proposal and celebrate the healthy relationship that exists between student media and universities currently in the UK.

Hiran Adhia, Editor-in-Chief of The Boar (Warwick's student newspaper)

(in partnership with Connor Woodman, Editor-in-Chief of The Warwick Globalist and the Student Publication Association)



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