Epigram Editorial: Transparency

This week I’m a bit angry…

The front page story this week is about the new green paper the government has issued, outlining proposals for widespread changes to higher education.

Naturally, the suggestion to increase tuition fees for the highest ranking universities in England has gained the most attention; it sets a worrying precedent for fee increases which has the potential to create an elitist, two-tier university system.

(My front page article can be found here: Tuition fees set to rise)

However, after researching more about the implications of the green paper, I was surprised that the policy could also have significant ramifications for student journalists.

Exempting universities from FOI requests, to place them on a ‘level playing field’ with private eduction providers, would undermine our ability and reduce our opportunities to hold the University to account.

Epigram, like student newspapers across the country, fulfils an important role in scrutinising both the Union and University. The government’s proposal to exempt universities from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, therefore, seriously limits our ability to do so.

1-protestfreeeducationsolo

Students demonstrate for free education outside Wills Memorial Building last year.

 

Over the last year, Epigram has broken several stories as a result of FOI requests. In fact, one particularly explosive front page article has recently won a Student Publication Association award for the best student story resulting from an FOI request.

Related Article: University spend 20k on VC’s Far East Trip

The story revealed that the University spent over £20,000 in January 2015 on flights, hotels and airport transfers for the former Vice-Chancellor and his wife as part of a two week tour around Asia and Australia, and struck a cord with students at Bristol who often wonder how our tuition fees are spent.

Another Epigram article, this time about University of Bristol research into nuclear deterrents, was also shortlisted for the award. This is a huge honour and demonstrates the strength of our journalism and ability to hold the University to account.

Related Article: UoB: we will never conduct research into nuclear weapons

Exempting universities from FOI requests, to place them on a ‘level playing field’ with private eduction providers, would undermine our ability and reduce our opportunities to hold the University to account. As such, it would be detrimental to Epigram, other student newspapers and also the national press.

Maybe I’m cynical, but if the University didn’t have to provide potentially damaging information to us and other media outlets, why would they?

Although the University have told Epigram that they ‘aim to work in a spirit of openness,’ and that only confidential information, which cannot be obtained from FOI requests anyway, would ever be withheld from students, I’m not completely convinced.

Maybe I’m cynical, but if the University didn’t have to provide potentially damaging information to us and other media outlets, why would they? We will have to wait and see and hope for the best.

Related: The future of UK Universities

But Epigram is, as I’ve mentioned before, about more than just holding the University to account. Indeed, we are a student newspaper and as such aim to report on every aspect of the student experience in Bristol.

This week, Epigram Features has drawn attention to the issue of student burglaries, which are occurring with worrying frequency. This is a prime example of a potential threat facing students which is all too easy to forget about.

Clearly we all need to be more vigilant to potential problems we can face – beyond work stress and that rapidly depleting student loan

As was discovered with the fire at 33 Colston Street, our lives at university revolve around our student rooms, where we keep everything from laptops to teddy bears. Unsurprisingly, a burglary, or a fire, has a hugely disruptive impact.

Yet the issue is not regularly discussed – despite advice from the police and University – and students often overlook burglaries as a potential problem until they have been targeted.

I know this is an issue I don’t think about enough and I expect there are lots of you who don’t either. Clearly we all need to be more vigilant to potential problems we can face – beyond work stress and that rapidly depleting student loan.

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