Past exam papers for 1st year of BSc Computer Science

Kevin Fakouri made this Freedom of Information request to University of Bristol

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was refused by University of Bristol.

Dear University of Bristol,

I request that you kindly provide the past exam papers from the academic years 2000 - 2018, or for as many years as possible from within that timeframe, for your 1st year modules (i.e., Level 4) of your BSc Computer Science course, including for any modules that have been discontinued or amended.

Yours faithfully,

Kevin Fakouri

University of Bristol FOI mailbox, University of Bristol

Thank you for your e-mail.  The University will endeavour to respond to
your request under the Freedom of Information Act within 20 working days.

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University of Bristol FOI mailbox, University of Bristol

Dear Mr Fakouri,

 

Freedom of Information Request FOI19254

 

I refer to your Freedom of Information Request received on 14th June 2019

 

Your Request and Our Response

 

Further to Section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the “Act”) we
confirm that the information requested is held by the University of
Bristol (the “University”).

 

"I request that you kindly provide the past exam papers from the academic
years 2000 - 2018, or for as many years as possible from within that
timeframe, for your 1st year modules (i.e., Level 4) of your BSc Computer
Science course, including for any modules that have been discontinued or
amended."

 

The qualified person for the University of Bristol, namely the Vice
Chancellor has decided not to release this information. The Vice
Chancellor is of the reasonable opinion that the Section 36 exemption is
engaged for the following reasons:

 

If the department were to release a number of past examination papers and
model answers then students could rely solely on the published solutions
without gaining a proper understanding of the subject matter and without
working out the appropriate solutions for themselves. As a result, tutors
would not then be able to gain an accurate picture of students' true
ability and understanding of the subject and offer further support where
necessary.

Additionally, questions from past papers for which model solutions are
not released are sometimes reused in subsequent years. If all solutions
were to enter the public domain, the department would not be able to reuse
any past questions. Disclosure would therefore be disruptive and
necessitate the preparation of entirely new questions for each set of
exams. This would increase the burden on staff within the department and
on the external examiners who would need to review and approve the new
papers which would have significant financial implications for the
University.

As s.36 is a qualified exemption, we have also undertaken a
public interest test. Although the University recognises that past papers
for exams can assist students in their exam preparation, there is a
public interest in the standard of teaching and assessment at the
University. It is the University's view that, for the reasons outlined
above, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the
public interest in this information.

Internal Review Procedure

 

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request then you have a
right under Section 50 of the Act to request an internal review.  All such
requests must sent to us within 40 days and must clearly state your
reference number and your reason for your request for an internal review. 
We will respond to your request for an internal review within 20 working
days of receipt.

 

Your request for an internal review should be sent to:

 

Director of Legal Services

Secretary’s Office

University of Bristol

Beacon House

Queen’s Road

Bristol

BS8 1QU

 

Or you can email your request to [University of Bristol request email],
quoting your FOI reference number at the head of this letter.

 

Information Commissioners Office

 

Should you remain dissatisfied with the final outcome of the internal
review then you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner (the
“ICO”) for an independent review.  The ICO is the Government’s Independent
Body responsible for overseeing the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the
Data Protection Act 2018 and The Environmental Information Regulations
2004.

 

Please note the ICO will only review cases that have exhausted the
University’s internal review procedure. All correspondence to the ICO must
quote the University’s reference number and your reasons for your appeal. 
The ICO’s contact details are as follows:

 

The Information Commissioners Office

Wycliffe House

Water Lane

Wilmslow

Cheshire

SK9 5AF

 

More information can be found at the ICO’s website
at [1]http://www.ico.org.uk

 

Kind Regards

 

Freedom of Information Team

University of Bristol

References

Visible links
1. http://www.ico.org.uk/

Dear University of Bristol,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of University of Bristol's handling of my FOI request 'Past exam papers for 1st year of BSc Computer Science'.

Dear Sir or Madam,
Although I find the Vice Chancellor's foundations for his argument reasonable, the extent to which he has applied them is very unreasonable indeed; surely you can afford to release at least one pastpaper per module, even if without the accompanying solutions, from over the course of the past 20 years - - that is, over 40 examination sessions.

If his argument is to be maintained, then I wish to enquire as to how on earth your students are expected to prepare for exams if even just one single pastpaper cannot be released from over a duration of at least 40 examination sessions. Of course, should it be your policy simply to accumulate and archive every single examination's paper without permitting your students to even get a sniff, then all future applicants to your university, myself included, will surely not view this very favourably at all. (I was hoping to come to your university for my study of aerospace engineering at postgraduate level (i.e., from Master's level, and then onward and upward), but other universities, such as Cambridge and Imperial, with a policy 180° different to yours, are now far, far more appealing.)

Yours faithfully,

Kevin Fakouri

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/p...

Yours faithfully,

Kevin Fakouri

Henry Stuart, University of Bristol

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Fakouri,

 

Freedom of Information Request FOI19254

 

I refer to your request for an internal review of the University of
Bristol's response to your Freedom of Information request, which we
received on 14th June and responded to on 3rd July 2019.

 

Background

 

Your request was as follows:

 

"I request that you kindly provide the past exam papers from the academic
years 2000 - 2018, or for as many years as possible from within that
timeframe, for your 1st year modules (i.e., Level 4) of your BSc Computer
Science course, including for any modules that have been discontinued or
amended."

 

Our response refused to disclose this information on the grounds that the
section 36 exemption was engaged, as agreed by the Vice-Chancellor. The
Section 36 exemption allows a public authority to withhold information
where the qualified person, which for universities is the Vice-Chancellor,
reasonably believes that the disclosure 'would, or would be likely to
prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs'.

 

Request for an Internal Review

 

On 3rd July the University received the following request for an internal
review:

 

"Although I find the Vice Chancellor's foundations for his argument
reasonable, the extent to which he has applied them is very unreasonable
indeed; surely you can afford to release at least one pastpaper per
module, even if without the accompanying solutions, from over the course
of the past 20 years - - that is, over 40 examination sessions.

If his argument is to be maintained, then I wish to enquire as to how on
earth your students are expected to prepare for exams if even just one
single pastpaper cannot be released from over a duration of at least 40
examination sessions. Of course, should it be your policy simply to
accumulate and archive every single examination's paper without permitting
your students to even get a sniff, then all future applicants to your
university, myself included, will surely not view this very favourably at
all. (I was hoping to come to your university for my study of aerospace
engineering at postgraduate level (i.e., from Master's level, and then
onward and upward), but other universities, such as Cambridge and
Imperial, with a policy 180° different to yours, are now far, far more
appealing.)"
 

Our response

 

In order to reassure you that your request has been dealt with fairly and
judiciously, I confirm that I was not involved in the handling of your
original request in any way.

 

When considering my response to your request, I have considered the
[1]Information Commissioner's Office Guidance on the use of s.36 ("the
Guidance"), and the [2]Freedom of Information Code of Practice.

 

There are two matters that I have investigated as part of this review:

i)            The University’s procedural compliance with the Act; and

ii)           The University’s decision not to release the information
requested.

 

i.        The handling of the request:

The request was handled in a timely and professional manner and the
response was formulated in line with the obligations conferred on the
University by Sections 1 and 17 of the Act, i.e. the response confirmed
that the information requested was held and informed you of the provisions
contained in the Act that the University was relying on to refuse
disclosure. 

 

ii.       The decision not to release the information requested:

 

The s.36 exemption only requires that an opinion is reasonable (given its
everyday meaning of the word within the Oxford English Dictionary). The
Guidance states at paragraph 20 that "if the opinion is in accordance with
reason and not irrational or absurd - in short, if it is an opinion that a
reasonable person could hold - then it is reasonable". Having objectively
viewed the Vice-Chancellor's decision, I agree that a reasonable person
could come to the conclusion that the disclosure of past papers could
negatively impact the standard of teaching and assessment at the
University.

I understand your argument regarding how necessary past papers are for
students to adequately prepare for examinations. The University routinely
makes past exam papers available to University students so that they can
prepare for examinations alongside the support offered by teaching staff.
This, however, is not a disclosure into the public domain and there are
restrictions on what a student may do with that material, which is often
provided in a controlled environment such as within a University library
or within a password protected web account.

The initial response outlined convincing arguments around the negative
impact that the release of past papers would have on the integrity of the
academic process. This includes the ability of the University to ensure
that students gain a proper understanding of subject matter and to
accurately comprehend their true ability, as well as the disrupting impact
and increased burden that not being able to reuse past questions in a
responsible fashion would impose. This could conceivable have an adverse
impact on standards of teaching and assessment.

I am satisfied that the public interest test was sufficiently explained to
you in the initial response and that the public interest in maintaining
the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure of the
information. In this instance, the 'public interest' must be taken to mean
the public at large and not the interests of an individual member of the
public.

Having reviewed this request I am of the opinion that, as teaching
material is a commercial asset, the disclosure via the Act would be
prejudicial to the commercial interests of the University. There is no
requirement for the University to cite all exemptions used, however I wish
to explain why the University would also apply the s.43 exemption
(commercial interests) to protect the interests of the University and its
students.

The s.43 exemption provides that "information is exempt... if its
disclosure...would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial
interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)". The
University of Bristol operates in a highly competitive environment with
other institutions looking to marlet and sell products (i.e. degree
programmes) to potential students, and they create and maintain assets
upon which the recruitment of students depends. For a University to award
a degree (or other qualification), the University must deliver content and
assess the understanding of that content. Therefore, teaching and
assessment are explicitly linked and cannot be separated. Exam papers are
therefore an intrinsic part of the material that enable the University to
award degrees and maintain its market position. Releasing exam papers
would reveal the content of our vital material and intellectual property,
our assessment methods, the references used, the examples and case
studies employed, and technical methods that we use to teach our students.
All these factors are what allows the University to play a lead role in
the academic market.  

I appreciate that you have concerns around the extent to which the Vice
Chancellor has applied the exemption, however the above argument remains
relevant. The University may decide to return to a past paper but will not
be able to do so if copies are already in the public domain. This would
therefore impact future assessments and the academic process itself. The
subject matter assessed in the degree programmes relevant to your request
is objective in nature and therefore there are only a finite number of
questions and answers which may be used to assess student's knowledge.

The s.43 exemption is qualified and is therefore subject to the public
interest test. I have determined that the public interest favours
maintaining the exemption so that the University can be sure of protecting
its commercial interests, can continue to generate income  in order
to remain a world leading institution.

Information Commissioner's Office

 

If you remain dissatisfied with the University’s response then it is your
right to submit a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Further details can be found at [3]www.ico.org.uk, or you can write to: 

 

Information Commissioner’s Office

Water Lane

Wilmslow

Cheshire

SK9 5AF

Tel: 0303 123 1113

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Henry

  

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Henry Stuart

Information Governance Manager & Data Protection Officer

University Secretary's Office

University of Bristol

Beacon House

Queens Road

Bristol, BS8 1QU

 

Office location:

67 St Michael’s Hill

 

Tel: 0117 39 41824

[4][email address]

 

A top 10 UK university (QS Rankings 2019)

A top 6 European university for teaching (THE 2018)

A top 4 UK university with leading employers (High Fliers 2018)

A top 5 UK university for research (THE analysis of REF 2014)

 
 [5]www.bristol.ac.uk/

To: SecOInformation Governance ([University of Bristol request email])
From: Kevin Fakouri ([FOI #583107 email])
Title: Internal review of Freedom of Information request - Past exam
papers for 1st year of BSc Computer Science
Sent: 03/07/2019 12:09

Dear University of Bristol,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information
reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of University of Bristol's
handling of my FOI request 'Past exam papers for 1st year of BSc Computer
Science'.

Dear Sir or Madam,
Although I find the Vice Chancellor's foundations for his argument
reasonable, the extent to which he has applied them is very unreasonable
indeed; surely you can afford to release at least one pastpaper per
module, even if without the accompanying solutions, from over the course
of the past 20 years - - that is, over 40 examination sessions.

If his argument is to be maintained, then I wish to enquire as to how on
earth your students are expected to prepare for exams if even just one
single pastpaper cannot be released from over a duration of at least 40
examination sessions. Of course, should it be your policy simply to
accumulate and archive every single examination's paper without permitting
your students to even get a sniff, then all future applicants to your
university, myself included, will surely not view this very favourably at
all. (I was hoping to come to your university for my study of aerospace
engineering at postgraduate level (i.e., from Master's level, and then
onward and upward), but other universities, such as Cambridge and
Imperial, with a policy 180° different to yours, are now far, far more
appealing.)

Yours faithfully,

Kevin Fakouri

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on
the Internet at this address:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/p...

Yours faithfully,

Kevin Fakouri

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