The Russell Group – of which Southampton is a member – has publicly supported a government act which involves scrapping the Freedom of Information Act, stating that:
The additional responsibilities created by FOI represent an unnecessary burden. Furthermore, changes in funding of higher education and the emergence of a private sector of higher education provision mean that continued application of the Freedom of Information Act to universities is unfair.
At 11:45pm today, the government is closing submission to the consultation of the ‘green paper on higher education‘. One of the many proposals includes a proposal to make universities exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
The Freedom of Information Act is an act passed in 2000 which gives ‘right of access” to information held by public authorities.‘ This includes the government, local authorities, universities and emergency services among others.
At Wessex Scene, and the other student media outlets at the University and nationally – the FOI is an essential tool to hold the University to account. It helps us – and many other outlets – uphold strong investigative journalism.
The proposal is also supported by Universities UK, the group that represents 132 vice-chancellors that new our new vice-chancellor, Chris Snowden, was President of until last July. They claim it costs them over £10 million a year to respond to FOIs. Institutions are exempt from FOIs if they cost over £450 to retrieve information, suggesting there are over 20,000 requests made to Universities each year.
The Student Publication Association – which Wessex Scene and the Edge are the founding members of – have condemned this proposal and ‘implore both the Russell Group and Universities UK to redraft their statements’.
You can sign the SPA’s petition to stop this here. We recommend you show your disapproval by emailing and tweeting the University.
Jem Collins, the chair of the Student Publication Committee told Wessex Scene:
FOI is one of the most fundamental tools for holding universities to account. This isn’t just about student journalists – it’s also about all student’s right to know how their, and the public’s money is being spent. Scrapping FOI for universities would be a disastrous move for student journalism – our recent awards alone have shown how many shocking stories would never have come to light without the help of the act.
Wessex Scene has contacted the University for comment and is awaiting reply.