The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was passed by the British Parliament in 2000. It allows members of the public to request any information held by public authorities. The act has been used by journalists to shed light on various aspects of government spending and decision-making. However, the majority of requests are made by individual citizens.
The Act can be a powerful tool: any information can be requested and if the institution holds it, it must provide it within 20 working days, unless it believes that the information falls under one of several exceptions. It is also easy to make of use of the act. A simple email can be a valid request. In addition, the website WhatDoTheyKnow facilitates sending FOI requests using a web interface and provides an archive of past requests and responses.
Freedom of Information requests [are] vital in maintaining transparent and accountable higher education institutions.
The vast majority of UK universities and colleges are publicly funded and therefore considered as public authorities for the purpose of the FOI Act. In 2015, the Russell Group, together with Universities UK (a body representing most British universities), attempted to get universities excluded from the act, but failed following opposition from student unions and journalists. As the president of the Oxford University’s Student Union said at the time:
Freedom of Information requests [are] vital in maintaining transparent and accountable higher education institutions. For the time being, publicly funded higher education institutions fall squarely under the Act.
Among other exemptions (see here for a full list), an institution may not release an information that is:
- already published - so it's a good idea to check their website first;
- intended for publication in the future;
- private - obviously, you cannot request someone's grades, for example;
- too expensive to extract - institutions may refuse requests that would cost more than £450 to handle. It is best to avoid overly complex requests;
- prejudicial to the institution's commercial interest.
The latter exemption is frequently used by some universities to refuse releasing application statistics.
Submit a request
You may use this tool to create a FOI request for admission statistics for the courses you are interested in.