Dear University of York,

I am requesting the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

-York's relationship to contracted halls, which halls are contracted with what contractor.

-What profit York makes from the relationship with these contractors.

-The fees for all student accommodation provided by York, according to hall and room type if possible, preferably in the form of a spreadsheet.

-The past fees for all student accommodation provided by York since 2009, including according to hall and room type if possible, preferably in the form of a spreadsheet.

-The projected fees for all student accommodation provided by York for the next five years, including according to hall and room type if possible.

-The surplus profit the University makes through all student accommodation provided by York.

-Minutes from any meetings where rent rises were authorised.

-The number of complaints regarding accommodation provided by York has received from students.

-What accommodation is provided by York to staff.

-What fees do staff pay for the accommodation provided by York.

Under section 16, public authorities are required to provide the requester with advice and assistance while processing their request, please consider this in terms of my requests.

Yours faithfully,

Thomas Ward

Freedom of Information, University of York

Dear Thomas Ward,
Freedom of Information Request Ref: F19/263
I acknowledge receipt of your email dated 20 July 2019 requesting
information from the University of York.
Please be advised that the University will respond as soon as possible and
in any event by 19 August 2019. 
Yours sincerely, 
--
Information Governance Team
Legal Services 
Corporate and Information Services
University of York
Heslington
York YO10 5DD

 
  
Web: [1]www.york.ac.uk/records-management/
Email disclaimer: [2]http://www.york.ac.uk/docs/disclaimer/em...

show quoted sections

Freedom of Information, University of York

2 Attachments

Dear Thomas Ward,
Freedom of Information Request Ref: F19/263
Thank you for your request for information from the University of York.
Please see our response, which is attached to this email.
I hope this information is useful. 
Yours sincerely,
--
Information Governance Team
Legal Services 
Corporate and Information Services
University of York
Heslington
York YO10 5DD

 
  
Web: [1]www.york.ac.uk/records-management/
Email disclaimer: [2]http://www.york.ac.uk/docs/disclaimer/em...
On Mon, 22 Jul 2019 at 10:52, Freedom of Information <[3][University of York request email]>
wrote:

Dear Thomas Ward,
Freedom of Information Request Ref: F19/263
I acknowledge receipt of your email dated 20 July 2019 requesting
information from the University of York.
Please be advised that the University will respond as soon as possible
and in any event by 19 August 2019. 
Yours sincerely, 
--
Information Governance Team
Legal Services 
Corporate and Information Services
University of York
Heslington
York YO10 5DD

 
  
Web: [4]www.york.ac.uk/records-management/
Email disclaimer: [5]http://www.york.ac.uk/docs/disclaimer/em...

show quoted sections

Dear University of York,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of University of York's handling of my FOI request 'Student and Staff Housing Fees'.

I am unsatisfied with your response to' What profit York makes from the relationship with these contractors' and 'Minutes from any meetings where rent rises were authorised'. Chief reason that both of these requests were denied was because of an perceived notion that giving information the University acknowledges exists would, and I quote, "prejudice the commercial interests of the University" (and its contractor at Student Castle).

Turning first to Minutes from any meetings where rent rises were authorised. To quote the University itself, "The University recognises that release of the requested information would serve the public interest by allowing individuals to better understand how decisions are made. In addition, the University recognises that disclosure would demonstrate a commitment to transparency in relation to the pricing of accommodation". I believe the University makes a very strong case. It would not only serve the wider public interest, but also serve the public interest of members of the public who are also staff and students at the University of York, who deserve total transparency in the decisions made by the University.
The University has denied the request on the grounds that "release of the information requested would prejudice the University’s ability to compete within the range of purpose built student accommodation providers within York"; it also stated that "There is a strong public interest in allowing organisations to compete fairly. Release of this information would provide other providers of student accommodation in York with information about the University’s provision which would remove uncertainties inherent in the process of competition, meaning that those suppliers would be likely to adjust their own behaviours and commercial strategies accordingly, to the disadvantage of others (including the University) and the detriment of free and fair competition".
I fundamentally disagree with this reasoning for the following reasons. Firstly, this take on commercial interest is based in an economic analysis of market forces that is not grounded in the reality of the commercial strategies of student halls providers (private and the University). Rent rises year-upon-year in York, often above inflation, has created an environment where 'competition' disguises an unhealthy tendency for the University and private halls to put up prices. This is the trajectory all student hall providers over the next few years - something we can guess from recent media coverage of rent prices in York and the past behaviour of the University and private halls. Therefore, I reject the premise that revealing the minutes of rent-rise meetings impacts fundamentally on the ability of the University to 'compete'. Secondly, and perhaps more pressing still, I challenge the notion that it is in the public interest for the University to 'compete' at all. The sole mission of accommodation managed by and for the University of York should not be to make profit, but to house students. 'Uncertainties in the process of competition' brought about by release of this information are simply not as important as the public interest in transparency of actors. Finally, and most importantly, I believe the University misunderstands its position in the student rental market. The university has more of an onus to release 'commercially sensitive' information (information that is in the public good) because, unlike private student accommodation providers, the University of York is a public institution. It is funded, in large part, through public funds, and through tuition paid to the university by the government, in the name of students. As such the interest the public has, due to their tuition debt, and public funds invested in the University, means that the University must be more transparent with decisions it makes regarding such expenditure, profit-making, and rent-setting, than private companies who let student accommodation. Unlike the other providers of accommodation the University says it competes with, the University of York has a greater obligation to public and student transparency. Furthermore, as a signatory of the Prevent programme, the University has accepted the need to promote values of democracy and ethics. Surely transparency in the public interest (something the University has acknowledged in this case) is part of democratic and ethical values? It may be worth weakening the university's commercial position regarding the setting of rent in order that the public interest and transparency be served.

I believe these criticisms also stand regarding the questions of What profit York makes from the relationship with these contractors.

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

Yours faithfully,

Thomas Ward

Freedom of Information, University of York

Dear Thomas Ward,
Internal Review Request: F19/263
I acknowledge receipt of your email dated 19 August 2019 requesting an
internal review of the response to your Freedom of Information request
(Ref: F19/263) from the University of York.
Please be advised that the University will respond as soon as possible and
in any event by 17 September 2019. 
Yours sincerely, 
--
Information Governance Team
Legal Services 
Corporate and Information Services
University of York
Heslington
York YO10 5DD

 
  
Web: [1]www.york.ac.uk/records-management/
Email disclaimer: [2]http://www.york.ac.uk/docs/disclaimer/em...
Information Governance Team
Legal Services 
Corporate and Information Services
University of York
Heslington
York YO10 5DD

 
  
Web: [3]www.york.ac.uk/records-management/
Email disclaimer: [4]http://www.york.ac.uk/docs/disclaimer/em...

show quoted sections

Dear Freedom of Information at the University of York,

Thank you for acknowledging my request for an internal review.

To add to my criticism of the University of York's handling of my request I am linking to a similar FOI request made last year to Imperial College London. The University of York cited 'commercially sensitive' reasons for refusing to provide information (I detailed which aspects I was not happy with in my last reply).

I would like to point the University of York to the following exchange involving Imperial College London: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/s.... In this, Imperial College provides information that the University of York has failed to. I believe this further challenges the University's position that such information will damage their commercial and competitive financial position regarding student housing and rent setting. If one University body is willing to do so, in a student housing environment (London) much more 'competitive' and far busier than York's, then the University of York, I believe, has no reason to withhold the same information another University has released. It does not seem that this has fundamentally damaged Imperial College's competitive ability to offer students places in the student rental market.

I hope that the University takes this chance to reassess its position and offer full clarification, transparency and openness by releasing the information that I asked for in my request for an internal review yesterday (on the 19/08/19).

This reply is to further clarify my reasons for asking for an internal review.

Yours sincerely,

Thomas Ward

Freedom of Information, University of York

1 Attachment

Dear Thomas Ward,
Thank you for your emails dated 19 August 2019 and 20 August
2019. Please find attached the results of
the University's internal review. 

 

If you remain dissatisfied after an internal review decision, you have the
right to appeal directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office for a
decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:

 

Information Commissioner’s Office

Wycliffe House

Water Lane

Wilmslow

Cheshire

SK9 5AF

 

Tel: 0303 123 1113 (local rate) or 01625 545 745 (national rate)

Fax: 01625 524 510

Web: [1]https://ico.org.uk/global/contact-us  

Yours sincerely,
Information Governance Team
Legal Services 
Corporate and Information Services
University of York
Heslington
York YO10 5DD

 
  
Web: [2]www.york.ac.uk/records-management/
Email disclaimer: [3]http://www.york.ac.uk/docs/disclaimer/em...

show quoted sections