Freedom of Information request: advertising for clearing
Dear University of Huddersfield,
Under the Freedom of Information Act, can you please tell me how much money you spent on advertising for clearing in 2019.
Can you please provide subtotals for the following categories (feel free to break them down further if that's appropriate):
3. Google - that is, search advertising
7. Other social networks (please specify)
9. Online - that is, on websites excluding social networks, or those websites those listed above (this includes advertising using Google's ad network)
11. National newspapers
12. Local newspapers
14. Posters and billboards
16. Public transport billboards
Can you also provide an example of an ad in each of the above formats.
For the online forms of advertising, can you also tell me how many clicks each advertisement received. Can you also provide any other data you have which indicates the engagement with each ad.
For Google advertising, can you list which keywords you advertised against. Can you please indicate the cost-per-click in each case.
For Facebook, can you please supply
- A list of the interests and/or demographics you targeted
- If you used custom audiences, where you derived the data to make that custom audience from
Can you please provide this information in an Excel format.
Thanks for your help!
I acknowledge receipt of enquiry received on 7 September 2019, which is being processed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Your request is being considered and you will receive the information requested within the statutory timescale of 20 working days, as defined by the Freedom of Information Act 2000, subject to the information not being exempt.
Please note that if the information you request contains reference to a third party then they may be consulted prior to a decision being taken on whether or not to release the information to you.
Information Governance Officer
Our response to your request for information dated 7 September 2019 is
The information requested is exempt under section 43(2) of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 and is therefore being withheld. The information is
commercially sensitive and the commercial interests of the University
would be prejudiced by its disclosure given the increasingly competitive
nature of the HE sector. Having considered the public interest, the
University's decision is to withhold the information.
if you are dissatisfied with the handling of your requests, you have the
right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be
submitted within 40 working days from the date of our response to your
original request and should be addressed to the University Secretary,
University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield HD1 3DH or by email
to [University of Huddersfield request email].
Please note that all copyright in this response belongs to the University
of Huddersfield; you are not permitted to publish, reproduce, copy or
otherwise use this response, except as permitted by the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act 1988.
Further information about the Freedom of Information Act can be obtained
from the Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF, http://www.ico.org.uk/.
Information Governance Officer
Dear University of Huddersfield,
I am writing to request an internal review of your handling of my FOI request 'Freedom of Information request: advertising for clearing'.
There is a strong public interest in showing how universities spend public money and student fees, as shown by the ongoing debate on university funding. More recently, there has also been increased public interest in university admissions, with a review into this subject by the Office for Students being backed by the education secretary. This information could help that review see how clearing operates and factor into its recommendations on the timing of clearing.
There is also a public interest in ensuring fair commercial competition in a mixed economy, which favours transparency on questions of procurement.
I am therefore very disappointed in your decision.
I also believe the decision reflects neither the exact circumstances of the advertising market nor the ICOs guidance on the subject.
In your response, you argue that releasing information about marketing for clearing would prejudice your commercial interests.
This is incorrect, given the facts of this case, for the following reasons.
1. The University makes money by providing courses to students. It does not seem possible that this information would discourage students attending university -- as ads are known to cost money, the University would not advertise at all if it believed that was the case.
2. The University has a commercial relationship with the advertising platforms (both online and offline) on which it places ads. It would harm the University’s commercial interests if releasing information about marketing caused the price to go up. This is not likely to happen, because:
- As I am asking for the total sums spent on different forms of marketing, I am not asking for price information, which could conceivably be used to drive up the University’s price per ad
- Even if the University did release the price per ad, this should -- according to the ICO’s own guidelines -- causes - prices to fall, by “promoting competition in procurement via transparency”
- In the case of online advertising, prices are set algorithmically, based on the total demand at that time. - Revealing the total spend would therefore not impact the price
- In the case of online advertising, you are competing against every conceivable advertiser at that moment, not just universities. Releasing details of spend is therefore extremely unlikely to raise prices
- Clearing for 2019 has already passed, so this is not relevant to existing negotiations. What’s more, as clearing will not happen again for another year, when the price will have changed, this information is unlikely to be relevant
There is an instance in which prejudice might occur. The University is in competition with other universities for students. It could harm the University if other universities changed their advertising expenditure as a result of the disclosure, thereby outcompeting the University for students.
However, this does not outweigh the public interest in releasing the information, for the following reasons:
1. The ICO’s guidance states that there must be a “causal link” between the disclosure and the prejudice claimed, you must be able to show that this harms you commercially by reducing the number of students on your courses. As students decide on numerous factors, including location, the reputation of the university and the number of places available at the time, the causal link in this case will be weak. There is also no evidence to show that the university “market” operates in this way.
2. The ICO’s guidance specifies that “the severity of the prejudice that may happen also affects the weighting.” As the causal link is extremely unclear, the severity is also likely to be limited.
This being the case, the strong public interest in revealing this information means that the exemption to the FOI Act should not be engaged.
I look forward to your response.
Further to your e-mail dated 30 September 2019 requesting an internal review of our response to your request under Freedom of Information Act (the Act) dated 7 September 2019, please find below my response on behalf of the University of Huddersfield (“the University”).
1. Review Process
In conducting this internal review I have carefully reviewed your request and the University’s response, which are summarised below:
•Your initial Freedom of Information request dated 7 September and our response dated 16 September 2019.
•Your e-mail dated 30 September 2019 requesting a review of the University’s handling of your request.
The University’s Response explained that the information requested was exempt under section 43(2) of the Act because it is commercially sensitive and the commercial interests of the University would be prejudiced by its disclosure, given the increasingly competitive nature of the HE sector. Having considered the public interest, the University's decision was to withhold the information.
3. Outcome of Internal Review
Having undertaken a detailed analysis, my review has determined that the University's response to this element of your request is upheld, relying on the same exemption under Section 43(2) of the Act
When considering the application of the S43 (2) exemption the following factors were taken into account:
• Whether the activity was being conducted in a competitive environment and would disclosure affect the University's ability to participate competitively in the commercial activity?
• Would the release of the information be likely to prejudice the commercial interest of the University?
The University operates in a highly competitive environment for student admissions, particularly with regard to clearing. The release of information relating to marketing activities around clearing is likely to prejudice the University's commercial interests because it would provide competitor institutions with insight into these activities and use this to their advantage.
As the S43 exemption is a qualified one, the University undertook a public interest test to examine if the public interest favouring disclosure outweighs the public interest in withholding it. In favour of disclosure we considered the principles of both transparency and accountability in the way a public authority performs its functions. Opposing this we considered the factors in favour of withholding the information, specifically related to the nature of the exemption, including the ability to recruit students if competitor institutions used such strategically useful information to encroach on the University's activities and undermine any competitive advantage in this area.
If you have any queries or concerns regarding the handling of the internal review, please do not hesitate to contact me via [University of Huddersfield request email].
If you are not satisfied with this response, you have a right of appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF: http://www.ico.org.uk/
Dr Tony Mears
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