Debate:

freedom
of
information

Universities and colleges are subject to FOI requests which take universities on average about five hours to respond to, at a cost of £99. In the search for online debate about FOI and how education providers are responding, we uncovered this variety of voices across the web. What’s your view?

 

“What is required urgently is an extension of the Freedom of Information Act to the private sector when it provides public services. The government has an active policy of encouraging private providers – whether charities, mutual or commercial companies – to provide public services.”

David Hencke, lobby journalist and former member of the Advisory Committee on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act between 2002-5

“The point is some FOI decisions may be controversial, but when it comes down to it, FOI provides plenty of protection for information that deserves protection. Not just exemptions, but also a veto in the last resort.”

Paul Gibbons, FOI practitioner

“Having recently come from an organisation that was subject to FOI, one of the challenges I found was affordable training for FOI staff and leaders about why FOI is important [and] for every member of staff to understand FOI requests.”

Rosemary Agnew, Scotland’s new Information Commissioner

“We want the Government to look closely at how FOI affects universities and particularly at aspects such as the charging rules, and how FOI relates to unpublished research.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of UUK

“There will also always be an element of luck involved with a question which one institution might find relatively easy to answer and another might find more difficult … However, a good records management system seems to have the potential to streamline the identification, location and access of required information.”

Steve Bailey, JISC Infonet

“The fact that I have been able to discover quite a lot about what’s being taught owes nothing whatsoever to the Freedom of Information Act. It is due entirely to the many honest individuals who have sent me teaching materials, often anonymously.”

Professor David Colquhoun, former professor of pharmacology

“Using FOI letters to bully academics is just plain wrong. Not only does it threaten academic freedom, but it potentially weakens our democracy. If academics can’t ask questions or feel pressured not to ask about forces that influence our democracy, then our country turns away more from being truly free.”

Andy Brack, former U.S. Senate press secretary and reporter

“We believe that the benefits to public accountability and transparency outweigh any burden that public bodies may feel in meeting requests, many of which come from non-media members of the public.”

Herald and Times Group, part of Newsquest

“Faced with the possibility that potentially controversial decisions could be released immediately into the public domain, politicians and civil servants might simply avoid committing themselves on paper, leading to an ‘oral’ culture of policy-making that renders government unaccountable, not only in short term, but also potentially damaging the historical record.”

Dr Andrew Flinn and Dr Harriet Jones, authors of Freedom of Information: Open Access, Empty Archives (Routledge, 2009)

“If you proactively make information available, then there’s no need for people to make the formal request in the first place.”

Jonathan Baines, information rights officer at Buckinghamshire County Council

How can JISC help?
We’ve produced comprehensive advice for researchers on what to do if someone requests your research data under FOI.

Our Q&A includes answers to questions like 'How long have I got to respond to a request?' and 'Can’t I just delete data I don’t want to disclose?'
 

 

Comment on this article…

You might like…

If you liked this article you might also find these of interest:

What does the Information Commissioner’s office say?

Your obligations to respond to FOI requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The Scottish Information Commissioner also contains a range of briefings and guidance.

UCL has recently published a report (PDF) showing the impact of FOI on academic researchers and their departments.

Read JISC Infonet’s recent research estimating the costs to institutions of responding to FOI requests.