Oxford University chiefs have noted that there are problems with current Freedom of Information laws, after being inundated with over 40 requests for information about a course from a failed applicant.
The University told a Parliamentary inquiry into FoI that the Freedom of Information Act provided insufficient protection from ‘vexatious’ requests such as the one by this student.
Oxford remarked that this case demonstrates that FOI laws, which ensure the public has the right to access information held by public authorities, should change.
A University spokesperson stated, ‘A lot of the current problems come from how many people use FoI to go on ‘fishing expeditions’ rather than making carefully considered and specific requests.’
The University received 330 FoI requests in 2011, compared to just 185 in 2005 when the Freedom of Information Act came into force. The spokesperson noted that just under a third of all requests have come from student journalists, with other requesters being the national press, special interest groups or ordinary members of the public.
However they stated that these requests can often appear trivial, commenting, ‘People should bear in mind that FoI uses up University resources and that material very similar to their request is often already publically available online.’
Merton College Dphil student Chong Chen disagreed with the university’s stance, saying, ‘I don’t see how this extreme example is a well-grounded reason to change the system. Honestly, I don’t even see 330 requests as a lot to handle.’ He added that the most requests are probably honest, and that this angry applicant was probably just a ‘nutter.’
First year PPEist Angus Barry agreed, stating, ‘My impression is that FoIs have done a lot of good and it would be difficult to change the laws about them to accurately remove those which are just wasting time.’
Law student Abigail Bridger added, ‘[Vexatious requests] are an inconvenience, but a trivial one compared to the other things that the Freedom of Information laws protect.’