Freedom of information and course material

Many universities, colleges and schools will by now have received at least one Freedom of Information Act 2000 request, but it is never easy to know whether you are obliged to provide the information being asked for.

The 2000 Act gave individuals and companies the right to ask public authorities whether they hold certain information and to then be given that information.  This is in addition to the rights given by the Data Protection Act 1998 which deals with personal data and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 which cover environmental information held.

But where do you draw the line?

The Information Rights Tribunal has upheld a decision by the Information Commissioner that course materials (in this case, from the University of Central Lancashire’s BSc (Hons) Homeopathic Medicine degree) were not exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

A pharmacologist and research professor who was sceptical of the value of homeopathy had requested the material. The University argued that the course materials were exempt from disclosure on the basis that giving this information to the professor would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs and the commercial interests of the University.

The Tribunal dismissed both of these arguments.  They accepted that, even though it was a charity, the University’s interests in teaching materials produced for its degree courses were indeed commercial, but it did not agree that giving the information requested would in fact disadvantage its commercial interests.  It felt that competitors were unlikely to exploit the material and copyright infringements were unlikely within the academic community.  Indeed they felt that publishing the course materials might in the end prove to be of commercial advantage.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.