It was brought to the attention of Wessex Scene during freshers that the University could potentially be making a profit from the printing charges they enforce students to pay. As a result we sent a series of Freedom of Information requests to the University FOI Office who are yet to respond despite the deadline having already passed. Why won’t the University tell us whether they are making a profit or not?
Our initial FOI request was sent on the 22nd September and reads as follows:
I hope this email finds you well. I am requesting the below information on printing and paper costs under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
- What were the total costs of the printing services that the university provided for each previous financial year since 2014?
- Of (1), what were the total costs for paper and ink of the printing services that the university provided for each financial year since 2014?
- What was the total revenue of the printing services that the university provided for each previous financial year since 2014?
- What percentage of total print usage for each financial year since 2014 was usage by students and what percentage was use by university staff?
- For each of the different sizes of paper available, how many sheets were purchased during each previous financial year since 2014?
The University FOI Office failed to acknowledge our email until the 17th October, but then responded to ask for clarification on our questions and reinforce that since they have asked for clarification they are given by law another 20 working days to respond:
We wish to seek clarification on your FOI request. When you state ‘printing services’ does this include the Print Centre?
We wish to point out that upon seeking clarification this has stop the 20 working day clock for FOI Request, the clock will restart once we have received your clarification.
Wessex Scene sent an email clarifying our question on the same day and agreed that the FOI office would receive an additional 20 working days as legally mandated under Freedom of Information laws. The deadline to respond was now the 14th November. As of yet we have not received any information as to whether the University is making a profit from charging their students printing costs despite sending another follow up email yesterday, on the 15th November.
In the meantime we followed up several of our other unanswered FOI requests, by arranging a meeting with Union President, Flora Noble, who then organised correspondence between us and the Vice-Chancellor. On the 30th October, the Vice-Chancellor emailed us to state that he would personally meet with the FOI office and ask for our requests to be addressed as soon as possible and that he was keen for the University to develop a positive working relationship with Wessex Scene. As we know now, his efforts have so far been ineffective.
This is not an issue that we face alone. One of VP Education, Sam Dedman’s core aims for the year is to achieve free printing for all students and as a result Sam has been extremely concerned at the prospect of our University profiting from this. You can read more on Sam’s struggle to implement free printing at the University on his blog post here where he states:
We asked the University for a justification of the pricing used in the current print offer at Southampton some months ago, which was subsequently followed by a formal Freedom of Information request on the same topic by the Wessex Scene. Neither group has received an answer as of yet, raising concerns that the University may be profiting off of student printing – a suggestion which is particularly worrying when considered alongside the current financial stresses placed upon the student body.
If students want to get involved in pushing the University to answer whether they are making a profit, then Sam requests that you get in touch with your academic reps or himself so with sheer numbers we can emphasise to the University that free printing is a high priority for students.