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UCU welcomes recommendation to keep universities subject to Freedom of Information Act

1 March 2016 | last updated: 9 March 2016

UCU has welcomed a government commission's recommendation that UK universities should remain subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and called for the Act to be extended to private providers of higher education.

The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information agreed with UCU's view that as recipients of public funding, universities should be subject to the Act which allows for greater public scrutiny of their activities and spending. Representatives of universities had argued they should be exempted from the Act.

The union welcomed Cabinet Minister Matt Hancock's call for greater transparency about senior executives' pay and benefits in the public sector, and has called for a national register of senior pay and perks to be compiled for higher education. UCU has used the FoI Act to compile its annual report of senior pay and perks in universities, exposing vice-chancellors' salaries of up to £462,000, alongside generous spending on flights, hotels and expenses.

In its report, the Commission, stated: "The opinion of the Commission is that it continues to be appropriate and important for universities to remain subject to the Act. They are highly important institutions that play a key public role. Although it is correct that the environment in which our universities operate has altered significantly since the Act was going through Parliament, they continue to benefit from large sums of public money (albeit that much of this comes to them indirectly)."

In his Ministerial statement on the commission's report, Matt Hancock MP wrote, "Further steps will be taken to ensure this transparency is delivered across the whole public sector. The default position should be that such information from all public bodies is published; that the public should not have to resort to making Freedom of Information requests to obtain it."

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'The Commission's recommendations chime perfectly with our view that as recipients of public funding which is spent on supporting teaching, research and student loans, universities must be transparent and open to public scrutiny.

'We would urge the government to go one step further and make any private providers of higher education that receive public funding, subject to the Act. This would create a level playing field where they are also forced to be open and accountable. We would like to see the publication of an annual list of the pay and benefits of vice-chancellors in every institution that receives public funding.'