FoI case could set precedent for universities

April 30, 2009

Teaching materials used on a BSc degree in homoeopathy must be released to a campaigner against "pseudo-scientific" courses, the Information Commissioner has ruled.

The ruling will force the University of Central Lancashire to submit to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act by David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, and could set a precedent for the sector.

Professor Colquhoun, who is well known for a blog he writes attacking what he sees as phoney science, first submitted requests for the material to Uclan in July 2006.

The university refused to comply on the grounds that the material was commercially confidential and could be reasonably accessed by other means - namely, by enrolling on the course.

In addition, it argued that "the effective conduct of public affairs" would be prejudiced or likely to be prejudiced by releasing the requested information.

Despite Uclan's protests, Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, ruled that none of the exemptions that organisations can rely upon to withhold information applied in this case.

He said that the university could not be considered a commercial organisation for FoI purposes, and must now release the course materials, bar any case notes that refer to patients.

The course under scrutiny has closed, but Professor Colquhoun told Times Higher Education that this did not mean the information was no longer of interest or detract from the precedent set by the commissioner's ruling.

"The course that prompted the request is no longer the point," he said. "What matters is that all the usual exemptions claimed by universities have been ruled invalid.

"In future, they will not be able to refuse requests for teaching materials ... people will be able to get hold of whole courses if they want to."

A spokesman for Uclan said it would appeal the decision.

Professor Colquhoun's blog on the case can be found at: http://dcscience.net/?p=1364

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments