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‘Student journalism will suffer’ as universities are to become exempt from Freedom of Information Act

Government green paper argues this will create a level playing field with private providers

Friday 15 January 2016 14:53 GMT
Warwick concerned burden imposed on universities under FoI is 'disproportionate to the public interest'
Warwick concerned burden imposed on universities under FoI is 'disproportionate to the public interest' (University of Warwick)

Student journalism will suffer after a government green paper stated educational institutions could be excluded from FoI legislation.

FoI is a tool used by students to gain access to an array of information and data that would otherwise be unavailable. Universities becoming exempt could prove to be detrimental to transparency, democracy and journalism, according to students.

The University of Warwick, which confirmed its desires to be made exempt from Freedom of Information requests in their green paper consultation response, told the Independent: “We are concerned the burden imposed on universities under the Act is increasingly disproportionate to the public interest in the public’s need to know.

“Evidence from individual institutions points to an increasing complexity of requests and substantial costs in complying, with the main increases in areas where all costs cannot be claimed.”

Students have argued universities becoming exempt from the Act takes away their greatest weapon in finding stories.

“Student journalism will suffer. FoI is our strongest weapon in gathering information for stories. Without it, we will see the end student journalism and universities know this,” a student journalist, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Independent.

In a statement speaking out against the proposal, the National Union of Students (NUS) said: “Freedom of Information requests are an important channel for students and the taxpayer to hold institutions, which receive Government funds, either directly or indirectly, to account.

“We understand FoI requests can be an administrative burden... We believe the Government should look into ways to ensure the FoI Act works in the interests of the public and the key stakeholders in higher education”

The Government argues the new policy would create a level playing field with private providers, which are not subject to requests.

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