Research on Open Data and Transparency

A New Front? FOI and Universities

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According to the Guardian, the government is now floating the possibility of excluding universities from FOI. The green paper on Higher Education states on pg. 69:

Public body requirements
17. There are a number of requirements placed on HEFCE-funded providers which do not apply to alternative providers. Many derive from treating HEFCE-funded providers as ‘public bodies’. This is despite the fact that the income of nearly all of these providers is no longer principally from direct grant and tuition fee income is not treated as public funding. Alternative providers are not treated as public bodies. As a result there is an uneven playing field in terms of costs and responsibilities. For example, the cost to providers of being within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act is estimated at around £10m per year.

18. In principle, we want to see all higher education providers subject to the same requirements, and wherever possible we are seeking to reduce burdens and deregulate. However we may wish to consider some exceptions to this general rule if it were in the interest of students and the wider public.

You can see the paper here. FOI controversy has circled around universities for some time now, over climate change, level playing fields and the broader issue of access to research data. In 2014 section 22 of the Act was amended to give universities a research exemption and there has been a constant ‘hum’ of debate about whether they should be completely removed from the Act given that private universities are not covered. Is this a new front in the battle over FOI?

For more on FOI and academia you can see the Constitution Unit’s 2012 survey of university FOI officers here and this short article Worthy_et_al-2012-Political_Insight



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