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Pioneering freedom of information website for higher education sector

Experts from Liverpool John Moores University and MIMAS (University of Manchester) have been awarded £200,000 to develop a new online ‘one stop shop’ on the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and other pertinent governance legislation, such as the Data Protection Act.

The new Information Governance Gateway has been commissioned by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) following a survey of higher education institutions earlier this year.

Steve Bailey, JISC Electronic Records Manager says: "The Gateway represents the latest development in JISC's continued commitment to supporting the sector in this vital area. JISC was extremely impressed with the quality of the bid received from LJMU and MIMAS and is confident that the project team will deliver an extremely valuable resource of use to both practitioners and the public at large."

Evidence suggests that there is significant public interest in obtaining more information on higher education (HE) institutions. Furthermore, practitioners have also called for a centralised information bank related to the HE sector’s compliance with information governance legislation.

LJMU's Steve Wood, who is leading the project, explains: "The Freedom of Information Act came into force a year ago and the HE sector responded to it with a real spirit of openness, answering the majority of requests fully, on time and free of charge. The new Gateway is an example of higher education's pioneering work in this area and it will become an invaluable public resource thanks to the inclusion of sector-wide disclosure logs of releases made under the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act]."

He continues: "At the moment many practitioners are struggling to keep up-to-date with all the recommendations and guidance being issued by a wide range of different bodies. The new Gateway will help to solve this problem by analysing and providing links to all sources of relevant information generated by central Government, the Information Commissioner and other relevant agencies."

Over the next two years, Steve Wood and his colleague Chris Watts, who are both based in LJMU's School of Business Information, will be working in collaboration with Manchester Information and Associated Services (MIMAS), the national academic data centre based at the University of Manchester, to develop the new Gateway.

This partnership brings together key areas of expertise for the benefit of the whole sector: LJMU is a leading institution in information governance and developing web tools, such as 'blogs' and 'wikis' while MIMAS is expert in the provision of accessible online information.

Julia Chruszcz, Director of MIMAS, says: ""MIMAS are delighted to be involved in this exciting new, leading edge development and are keen to bring to the project our expertise in the delivery of national services. We are confident that the gateway will become an essential reference point for those interested in all aspects of information governance within Higher Education."

It is hoped that the new Gateway will become the essential resource for higher education practitioners dealing with data protection and freedom of information requests.

It will include up-to-the-minute information and analysis of key legislation, official guidance and best practice as well as relevant journals, magazines, books and blogs. Information will also be provided on other relevant areas, such as copyright and records management.

Steve Wood continues: "At the moment institutions are ‘re-inventing the wheel’ by individually reviewing legal compliance which actually applies to the whole sector. This is not only a waste of resources, but it also increases the potential for inconsistency due to differing legal advice."

The Gateway will enable practitioners to filter out relevant information, share best practice and enter into online debates via a password-controlled environment.

It will also offer members of the general public a centralised resource on how the English and Scottish higher education sectors deal with freedom of information requests.

The team are currently scoping out the project, with the aim of producing a pilot version of the website in September 2006. A fully functioning version is expected to be operational by January 2007 at

Steve Wood continues: "The public is becoming increasingly aware of their legal ‘right to know’ and that these rights are here to stay. The new Gateway will help ensure that the higher education sector manages FOI requests more effectively and efficiently, ensuring ongoing compliance."

Shonagh Wilkie | alfa
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