The number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests received by UK universities has risen by 43% in just one year and by 147% in the last five years, based on Jisc infoNet analysis.
The average across the 53 participating institutions was 184 FOI requests with the highest of 426 reported by one participant.
As anticipated from anecdotal evidence, press articles and reports from information legislation practitioners, the number of requests being made under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act has risen sharply by 43% since 2012. FOI requests have, for the ninth consecutive year, seen another increase with an average monthly number of requests received per institution of 15.3 in 2013 compared with 10.7 in 2012 (having started from a base of just 2.8 per institution in 2005). Last year we speculated that perhaps request numbers were plateauing, however this year’s statistics have clearly proved us wrong.
In addition to being the busiest year in terms of request numbers since the survey began in 2005 it was also one of the more unpredictable in terms of when the requests were received with significant fluctuations between the months. While in an average month institutions received 15.3 requests, the lowest demand was experienced in February with only 11.2 requests, while the highest demand with 26.8 requests was seen in November.
The total number of requests per quarter have also changed its pattern compared with the previous three years. In 2013 the fourth quarter of the year was the busiest with 30% of all requests received, whereas in the previous three years it has always been the first quarter which witnessed the largest request numbers.
Such fluctuation from one year to the next will not help institutions with their forward planning or the allocation of resources to ensure they can prepare themselves for the anticipated ‘busy periods’.
Despite the evidence of an increased burden on the sector, 93% of the FOI requests were still answered within the legislative time limit of 20 working days.
The 7% of all requests received that were not completed within 20 working days in 2013 actually represents a small reduction from the 7.9% reported in 2012 and represents a considerable achievement when considered against the backdrop of the dramatic increase in request numbers seen last year.
The number of FOI and Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) requests which were answered in full has fallen from 62% in 2012 to 54% in 2013. The responses which were fully withheld have also shown a negative trend with a 9% rate in 2013, a 3% rise on 2012 figures. The rate of responses disclosed in part has seen only a small increase from 15% in 2012 to 16% in 2013.
2013 saw some shifts in interests in relation to FOI requests. Student issues and numbers retained the highest spot with 21%, while Financial information regained its second position with 13%. Meanwhile, HR and staff issues, whilst still in third place, represented only 12% of all requests received (down from 16% the previous year). It is interesting to speculate on whether changes to the funding of the higher education sector and tuition fees have in part led to this increased focus on student related subjects.
As with all previous years, Journalists continued to be the most active category of requester submitting 26% of all FOI queries in 2013, followed by Members of the public (17%) and Commercial Organisations (13%). All of these are broadly in line with the figures from previous years. Given the nature of the EIR it is, perhaps, unsurprising that the majority of EIR requests were submitted by Campaigning Groups which represented 30%, followed by Members of the public (15%) and Journalists accounting for 14% of all queries.
The data in relation to exemptions applied continued the trends noted last year. Section 12 (Excessive cost of compliance) was again the most heavily used, accounting for over 32% of all exemptions applied during 2013. This tallies with anecdotal evidence that the breadth of requests received, and volume of information being requested are also showing a discernable increase. It was followed by Section 40 (Personal interest) and Section 21 (Information reasonably accessible to the applicant by other means) which represented 22% and 15% respectively.
It is worth noting that 96% of institutions participating in the survey have a designated member of staff and/or a team responsible for information compliance, a reduction of 1% since last year. 74% of institutions reported having a designated records manager and/or team. In addition, 91% of institutions have a records management policy in place.
It is tempting to view these factors as obvious indicators of the importance attached to information compliance within the HE sector, though we should also bear in mind that we may well be seeing an element of self-selection at work here, with those institutions with recognised information governance related functions perhaps being more likely to respond to the survey.
A downloadable and customisable tool designed to help organisations to log and track information on the requests for information they receive under either the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), or FoISA for Scottish organisations, Data Protection Act (DPA) or Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). Find out more.
- 2012 information legislation management survey
- 2011 information legislation management survey
- 2010 information legislation management survey
- 2009 information legislation management survey
- 2008 information legislation management survey
- 2007 information legislation management survey
- 2006 information legislation management survey
- 2005 information legislation management survey