15th January 2016

Defend the Freedom of Information Act at universities

We must back what is simply the only way to hold the institutions that have an impact on our lives to account. Stand with The Boar and Warwick Globalist

Freedom is information. When groups with power and influence have been shown time and time again to be willing to abuse said power and influence behind closed doors, how can we continue to trust them without some promise of it being brought to the surface?

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gave us some semblance of an opportunity to hold public authorities, including Parliament, higher education institutions, and the police to account. Clearly, groups are well within their rights to withhold certain information, and they do—it is not possible to invoke FOI for government intelligence, and if collecting the data would take unreasonable effort, bodies can reject the request for information.

In fact, the ball is often in the requested body’s court to cover their own backs as it is a representative of their own who puts together the information, and so names are often redacted—as could be seen when the highest-paid HE employees were revealed by the TaxPayers’ Alliance last year, since many of the most hugely-paid were simply filed as “Unknown”.

Amid the marketisation of Higher Education, we are also now told that the increased influence of shareholders can be used as a reason to exempt an institution from requests for information. People deserve to be able to get their hands on this information about bodies that influence their lives—and do universities not affect the lives of the general public?

At the very least, there are millions of full- and part-time students whose lives are inextricably affected by the actions of universities, so can you deny that they have a right to be able to look into what their institution is doing?

This move will mean that student journalism will become exponentially more difficult, and even mainstream media will be severely hindered. Students, who are some of the most intelligent, creative and politically engaged in society will be left without an avenue to make a real impact on how their institutions work.

Consultation closes at 11:45 tonight, so it seems that our efforts to get universities to change their minds are very much in vain. On the other hand, we can’t let this direct attack on democracy and transparency pass unnoticed.

As Editor-in-chief of The Mancunion I fully stand by Hiran Adhia of The Boar and Connor Woodman of the Warwick Globalist, as well as the Student Publication Association, in condemning Warwick University’s and the Russell Group’s decision to support exempting universities from the Freedom of Information Act. There is a petition here that you can sign to back them too.

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