Southampton University wants to stop FOI requests
The University wants to be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act by identifying as a private institution.
The Russell Group claims its universities should not be tied to public institution transparency laws, since they are now more reliant on private funding. All 24 member universities of the Russell Group have agreed on a proposal which the government are reportedly considering as part of a review.
The Act, passed in 2000, provides public access to information held by public authorities. It does this in two ways: public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities, and members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.
The universities claim that the Act undermines them as profiting businesses, since private bodies are already exempt from information requests.
However, on average, universities still receive approximately £4 billion a year in public funding.
The Act is a way for people – from student groups to national publications and the government – to know what public institutions are doing and how they are spending their money.
Jake James-Knell, president of Southampton Uni’s Green Action Society, told the Soton Tab:
‘[Exemption from the Act] would be bad for our society because we have requested information for the Invest Positive campaign before, which ultimately seeks to help improve the University. Therefore it would be detrimental to the University also.’
He added, ‘Being exempt would ‘cast a shadow’ upon the Russell groups and potentially harm their reputation. I personally think it would be beneficial for them to be transparent in the long term and save money elsewhere.’
The Student Publication Association has started a petition to stop the proposal passing, and student publications up and down the country are calling on Parliament to reject the Group’s claim. If you think universities should continue to make public their actions and spending, you can find the petition to sign here.
Is it okay or downright wrong for universities to be exempt? Have your say below!