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Apparently The Public Might Not Have A 'Right' To Take Interest In Universities Anymore..

15/01/2016 13:38 GMT | Updated 15/01/2016 14:59 GMT

The public might not have the "right" to take an interest in universities anymore, after leaked documents prompted concerns of institutions prioritising stakeholders over students.

In a document leaked to student paper the Boar, a response from Warwick University to the government's green paper consultation on the Freedom of Information Act, said: "The 'right' of the public at large to have an interest in the ongoing contribution of universities to the wider public good is unclear, given the diminishing contribution of the public purse to the sustainability of UKHEI [higher education institutions].

"Institutions are accountable to their stakeholders."

Speaking to HuffPost UK, student editors Hiran Adhia and Connor Woodman, said: "In the increasingly "market-competitive" higher education sector as many of these consultation documents mention, students are always the first to lose out.

"It is clear from the document that students will be considered as 'primary stakeholders' in name only. This proposal, should it go through, is a huge loss for journalists and students in general as they will have to sacrifice their interests for private partners that they will be no longer be able to hold to account. It is a devastating double blow."

Regarding compliance with the FOI Act, the university added: "Universities should not remain within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act."

The paper says the proposal, would have a "catastrophic effect on student journalism" if accepted.

The paper's editors added the news was "devastating" for anyone who worked in student media.

"The Freedom of Information [FOI] Act is one of the few bastions of support that student journalists have to hold institutions, like universities, to account especially when we receive inadequate responses from them," Woodman and Adhia said. "If anything, from the record that Warwick has in answering FOIs, the Act should be strengthened.

"This could effectively spell the end of good investigative reporting for the sake of 'levelling the playing field' whatever that means. In the increasingly 'market-competitive' higher education sector as many of these consultation documents mention, students are always the first to lose out."

Although the document is marked "draft", the deadline for response to the government's consultation is 15 January, indicating it may very well be the final copy.

The Russell Group, which represents 24 of the UK's top universities, first suggested its members should be exempt last December. It reasoned its institutions are competing with private higher education providers who do not have to answer to the public.

The 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."

At the time, Conservative MP David Davis, who supports FOIs, said: "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."

Warwick University has been contacted for comment.

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