The University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) (Lancashire Law School) is one of a number of universities refusing to provide copies of past examination papers in criminal law.
My request made under the Freedom of Information Act was for copies of past criminal law examination papers set in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Interestingly, UCLAN not only claims exemption under s43(2) – the ‘commercial interests’ exemption – discussed on another blog post – but also relies on:
1. Section 36.
This provides an exemption if disclosure of the information requested would… prejudice, or would be likely to … prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.’
UCLAN states that examination questions in law are ‘recycled regularly’ and that information about past exam questions is not provided at the beginning of a course.
(My request was made in November and the University responded in December.)
The exemption is subject to a public interest test and UCLAN claims that disclosure of the information requested “would not be in the public interest… as it would compromise the process of formative assessments”.
Advance knowledge of the content of previous questions would “affect the integrity of the assessment programme”.
Thus, UCLAN asserts, disclosure would “compromise the academic standards” of UCLAN by conferring an “unfair advantage”.
2. Section 21.
This exempts a public authority from disclosing information which is ‘reasonably accessible by other means’. By s 21(2)(a) ‘information may be reasonably accessible to the applicant even though it is accessible only on payment.’
UCLAN, relying on s 21, states that “some of the information… requested” is made available to UCLAN’s fee paying students “towards the end of a course” and so would be available to me “by enrolling on the course for which you are free to do so if you choose”.
(Whether this amounts to an unconditional offer of a place on the course is an interesting side issue. If it is, then a request for information refused on these terms might provide an alternative route on to the course for those who do not otherwise satisfy the university’s entry requirements.)
I recently made an internal appeal to UCLAN against this decision on the grounds, inter alia, that:
1. The fact that information will be provided on payment of the enrolment fee does not mean that it is ‘reasonably accessible’.
( I believe that the current standard fee for the full time LLB course is around £3070 but this may increase for 2008/9. Please contact UCLAN for current fees. I don’t know if it is possible to study part time and if so what the fee is.)
2. Re – the s 36 exemption. There would be no unfair advantage if the information requested was published as everyone would have access to it.
( I have also appealed against the s 43 exemption.)
I will let you know the outcome of the appeal.