The Imperfect University: Free Information?

Revisiting this earlier post In the light of the fact that the University of Nottingham has received 50 FOI requests in November and 258 so far in 2013 versus 182 for the whole of 2012. And one of those is an FOI request asking for the number of FOI requests received…

Registrarism

Freedom of Information costs. But does anyone really benefit?

TIU

“You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.”

These are the words Tony Blair addresses to himself in his memoirs while reflecting on his government’s introduction of the Freedom of Information Act as noted in this BBC report.

Last year Times Higher Education ran a story suggesting that the average cost of FoI compliance equals £121 per request:

A study into the costs of answering Freedom of Information enquiries suggests that less than £10 million was spent across the sector last year.

When the House of Commons Justice Committee called for evidence on the effectiveness of the FoI Act, 23 universities submitted evidence, of which 18 complained about the cost burden, among other concerns.

But Jisc, the UK’s expert body…

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1 thought on “The Imperfect University: Free Information?

  1. An interesting point but the ‘each request costs £121’ figure doesn’t take account of the money which freedom of information saves the taxpayer in general by forcing public authorities to act in the public eye.

    For example, at Sussex, the student media frequently makes FOI requests to the university to find out what’s been going on. Earlier this year, we uncovered http://gabrielquotes.org.uk/2013/04/29/occupy-eviction-legal-fees/ the fact that the university spent over £40,000 on legal fees to obtain an injunction banning “any protest action” on campus for six months. Hopefully, the adverse publicity will deter Sussex and other institutions from spending their revenue so inappropriately again.

    A student media FOI request to the University of London revealed http://london-student.net/news/12/09/revealed-14-5k-spent-luxury-spa-trips-senate-house-library-managers/ that they’ve spent over £14,000 sending senior managers to posh, exclusive hotels in the countryside. “You don’t really want any hotel,” said a spokesperson; OK, so the shame factor didn’t work in that case…!

    Overall, it is impossible to calculate the costs and benefits of FOI. The number of expenditure scandals is dropping (it’s been a while since anything as entertaining as the ‘taxpayer funds civil servants’ trip to chocolate teambuilding day’ story http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/nov/19/government-spending-files-chocolate) and I like to think that this is because our public servants are now worried that their misdemeanours will be found out. Which is actually pretty good in a democracy.

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