JCRs unite to oppose Cambridge University’s claim it is EXEMPT from full public scrutiny

JCRs, MCRs and student journalists rally against the University’s attempt to obstruct freedom of information

| UPDATED Cambridge carbon CUSU cusu president divestment FOI freedom Freedom of Information human rights Priscilla Mensah Satow the tab The Tab Cambridge zero carbon

The University of Cambridge is attempting to exempt itself from public oversight under the Freedom of Information Act.

Plagued by serious accusations of unethical investing by the Divestment Campaign, the University has taken the unprecedented move of claiming that it is not a public body, as revealed by Press Gazette, and thus ought to be exempt from FOI legislation.

This is despite sharing in the £3.97 billion a year received by higher education institutions from the public purse, and most student loans being administered and subsidised by the government.

Cambridge’s Divestment Campaign manager, Angus Satow, proposed a motion at CUSU Council, co-written and seconded by Cornelius Roemer, Trinity’s JCR President, stating that the “demand for an absolute exemption on the grounds of not being public bodies is unreasonable.

“Universities are places for free debate in which the principle of intellectual discussion is held in high regard, and that exemption of Freedom of Information would harm this principle.”

His motion called for the issue to be “discussed between JCRs, MCRs and colleges; CUSU and the university; and the National Union of Students and the Government”.

Satow campaigning outside the Senate house – probably not the big ad opportunity Cambridge Party Supplies were expecting.

Angus’ motion was questioned by members defending the university, citing claims that FOI requests were draining resources. He responded by explaining that FOI takes up at most 0.1% of college funds, as revealed by an FOI request.

The motion, supported by JCR and MCR Presidents, resolved that President Priscilla “should lobby Cambridge MPs and the NUS to publicly and vociferously oppose this move”.

What’s more, it was agreed that “CUSU should scrutinise the colleges’ response and issue a response in turn by the end of February.”

Quick! Someone call the UN guy! He’s in town!

In a show of unity between The Tab and Varsity, representatives from each outlet were sent to support the motion at CUSU council, successfully passing an amendment in favour of the motion. (Representatives of TCS were not present as the CUSU meeting changed location and did not happen to occur directly outside their office on Mill Lane.)

In a tense moment from the Council, Priscilla refused to answer a question from The Tab about her new press policy, after an interjector implied CUSU Council’s “safe space” had been violated.

Despite their refusing questions from student journalists, The Tab has full faith in CUSU’s plan to make the university more transparent and accountable.

It is not the first time Cambridge has attempted to weaken the oversight of their massive public funding.

Despite employing 85 communications officers, the university does not employ a single administrator for Freedom of Information requests.

As testament to their enormous value for public oversight, Freedom of Information requests have in the past led to such revealing stories as:

  • The discovery that Cambridge spends £3 MILLION a year on wine;
  • That the Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham earns the most of any Vice-Chancellor in Britain at £600K, despite standards falling under his regime;
  • That the University of Sussex spent £55,000 on lawyering up to defend themselves for suspending student protesters – a move later ruled to be completely illegal.

Fortunately, for anyone concerned that an institution which manages the well-being of thousands of students is about to become almost completely unaccountable, Cambridge University had some calming words.

They said: “The Colleges publish a great deal of information on their websites.”

Correction 06/02/206: The interjector was in fact Brendan Mahon, Chair, Cambridge University Students’ Union.