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Russell Group Universities Say They Should Be Completely Exempt From FOIs

10/12/2015 11:20 GMT | Updated 10/12/2015 11:59 GMT
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General view of the Meadow Building, part of Christ Church College, Oxford

Russell Group universities have said they should be exempt from having to answer freedom of information (FOI) requests as the laws are "unfair".

The group, which represents 24 of the UK's top universities, says its institutions should not be subjected to FOIs as they are competing with private higher education providers who do not have to answer to the public.

Colleges at Cambridge University, which belongs to the Russell Group, argues they should not be subjected to FOIs because they are not funded by public money, the Press Gazette reports. However, the majority of university funding comes from student loans, which are provided by the government.

The Russell Group said its members had spent £1.1m answering FOIs in 2014, adding: "In this new market environment, universities and alternative providers are in competition for the same students and the same private-sector partnerships to augment their educational offering.

"The imposition of FoI regulation on universities, including the Russell Group universities, puts established providers at a significant disadvantage compared to alternative providers in the higher education market.

"Furthermore, this continued imbalance contravenes the UK Competition and Market Authority’s stated desire for ‘market neutrality’ in higher education regulation."

The Colleges of Cambridge University added: "“In this new market environment, universities and alternative providers are in competition for the same students and the same private-sector partnerships to augment their educational offering.

"The imposition of FoI regulation on universities, including the Russell Group universities, puts established providers at a significant disadvantage compared to alternative providers in the higher education market.

"Furthermore, this continued imbalance contravenes the UK Competition and Market Authority’s stated desire for ‘market neutrality’ in higher education regulation."

Conservative MP David Davis, who supports FOIs, told The Telegraph:

"What you are getting is a whole load of people being asked are you happy about being held accountable and answer no.

"It would be a return to a pre-FOI dark ages, when people simply didn't know what was being done in their name with their money.

"These people have to remember they are public servants. If you are a public servant you have to accept you are subject to public scrutiny."