The 12th annual Jisc, GuildHE and Universities UK information legislation and management survey shows a return to the trend observed in every survey except 2015 whereby the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have increased year-on-year.
There has also been a modest decrease in the number of Data Protection Act (DPA) requests since last year. In contrast Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) requests appear to have reduced to pre-2009 levels.
The average monthly number of FOI requests received by UK universities has risen by 10% since 2015; a sevenfold increase since our survey began in 2005.
The average across the 56 participating institutions was 232 FOI requests with the highest of 550 reported by one participant.
Average monthly FOI requests have increased since last year (10%), reverting to the trend seen across all but one of the previous surveys (in 2015). In 2016, the average monthly number of FOI requests received per institution was 19.4 compared with 17.7 in 2015 (having started from a base of just 2.8 per institution in 2005).
Average monthly DPA requests have more than doubled since 2006 (from 1.00 in 2006 to 2.53 in 2016). However, requests have fallen 8% since 2015 (from 2.75) to levels similar to 2011/12.
The most noticeable change has been with the average number of monthly EIR requests; from 0.24 in 2015 to only 0.08 in 2016 returning to levels last observed in 2008 (0.06).
Request rates continue to fluctuate on a monthly basis however to a different pattern as seen in 2015. Although in an average month institutions received 19.4 requests, the lowest demand was experienced in August with only 12.8 requests, and the highest in February with 25.5 requests (in contrast May was the quietest and September the busiest in 2015).
The total number of requests per quarter has also changed its pattern to one more similar to 2010-2012; with higher volumes received in the first quarter and the remainder fairly evenly spread across the other quarters (29%, 24%, 22%, 25% respectively). However, average monthly rates are still quite variable within each quarter. For example Q3 2016 showed 15.0 in July, 12.8 in August and 21.8 in September.
The response time for FOI requests has remained fairly consistent in recent years. 94% of the FOI requests were answered within the legislative time limit of 20 working days (95% in 2015 and 94% in 2014), and 6% were not (5% in 2015, 6% in 2014 and 7% in 2013).
This year’s survey echoes the 2015 finding that institutions are taking less time to respond to DPA requests – only 24% of DPA requests were dealt with in under ten days in 2014 compared with 33% in 2015 and 39% in 2016. Furthermore, there has been an increase from 20% in 2015 to 30% in 2016 in the number of requests dealt with in under five days. But what is the reason for this; decreasing complexity of DPA requests, teams becoming more efficient at responding or more staff working on requests?
Interestingly in 2015 we observed an increase in the number of staff involved in responding to DPA requests which may have been a factor. However, in 2016 a higher proportion of requests are being dealt with by one or two staff (41%) than in 2015 (26%) and response times are still improving, potentially pointing towards increased response efficiency. This can be seen as a positive sign in view of preparations for compliance with GDPR in 2018.
As a result, 93% of all DPA requests were answered within the legislative time limit of 40 working days (95% in 2015).
Disclosure rates in 2016 are broadly similar to 2015. The number of FOI and EIR requests which were answered in full has fallen from 56% in 2015 to 51% in 2016. This change is largely accounted for by a small increase in the rate of responses partially withheld due to an exemption (from 16% in 2015 to 17% in 2016) and an increase in the proportion of requests being withdrawn (from 1% in 2015 to 3% in 2016). The responses which were fully withheld remains at 9% rate since 2014.
Over the last 12 years, the proportion of requests fully disclosed has decreased from 63% in 2005 to 51% in 2016 (with 51% in 2016 the lowest disclosure rate so far).
2016 shows a broadly similar profile to 2015 in the subjects of FOI requests; four of the top five categories remain the same. Management and administration has now pushed admissions out of the top five. The top subject remains student issues and numbers (27%) followed by financial information, HR and staff issues and management and administration (all at 10%). IT provision and use has slipped into fifth place (9% in 2016), down from 13% in 2015).
FOI requests relating to student issues and numbers have increased steadily over the last twelve years from 0% in 2005 to 27% in 2016, and continue to represent by far the most common category.
Although, the most common types of FOI requesters are similar in 2016 compared with previous years, the order in which they appear has changed slightly. Journalists continued to be the most active category of requester submitting 23% of all FOI queries in 2016, followed by commercial organisations (13%) and staff, researchers, students from other institutions (9%). In 2015, members of the public was the second most common type (15%) but now lies in fourth place (8%). Interestingly in 2016, there was a higher incidence of participants citing requests coming from WhatDoTheyKnow or origin unknown in the ‘other’ category.
In contrast the profile of EIR requesters has changed since 2014. Journalists (20%) are now the most common category pushing commercial organisations into joint second place with campaigning groups (both 16%). The next most common type is members of the public (15%). It should be noted that these changes may be a function of sample sizes given the smaller number of responding institutions subject to EIR requests in 2016 compared with 2015 (15 and 22, respectively).
The data in relation to exemptions applied continued the trends seen in previous years with the vast majority of exemptions falling under four sections.
Section 12 (excessive cost of compliance) was again the most heavily used, accounting for 29% of all exemptions applied during 2016. It was closely followed by section 40 (personal information) at 26%. Behind this was section 43 (commercial interests) and section 21 (information reasonably accessible to the applicant by other means) representing 16% and 13%, respectively of all exemptions in 2016.
All but one participating institutions have a designated member of staff and/or a team responsible for information compliance. 65% of institutions reported having a designated records manager and/or team, and 94% have a records management policy in place (for comparison the figures in 2015 were 73% and 90%).
As noted in previous years, it is important to remember we may 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.
In its twelfth year the information legislation and management survey continues to be a valuable source of information to participating organisations.
Around three fifths (60%) of participants have used the data from previous surveys to inform management of trends or impact and two thirds (56%) to benchmark performance or experience against others.
Responses: 56 (40 via survey, 16 via information request register).
- Full results dashboard / exemptions tab: requests can be subject to more than one exemption
- Trends dashboard / requester trends tab: ‘members of public’ and ‘student journalist’ have data missing for previous years due to question omission in previous years
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).
By using it organisations will automatically capture the data required as part of the annual information legislation and management survey – though it is entirely voluntary whether organisations wish to submit data in this way, or wish to keep its use for internal purposes only.
- 2015 information legislation management survey
- 2014 information legislation management survey
- 2013 information legislation management survey
- 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