UK government agrees to amend the Freedom of Information Act so that universities are not compelled to release unpublished data

The UK government has agreed to amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) so that universities do not have to release unpublished research data, following a recommendation by the House of Commons justice committee in July. In evidence to the committee, several groups and universities called for the amendment to protect researchers from releasing unpublished or incomplete data. A similar exemption already exists in Scotland, but researchers in England and Wales will now have the same protections.

The protections will only apply to unpublished results, requests relating to published research should remain subject to the FOI. Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of research intensive universities, welcomed the news in a statement, saying: ‘Releasing complex scientific results too early and out of context risks leaving our academics’ work open to damaging misinterpretation. The government has recognised the fact that university research is subject to FOI and this can deter businesses from entering into collaboration with universities.’

The amendment, however, may cause concern to other campaigners and, in particular, to those concerned about animals experimentation, who will now be unable to find out where current animal experiments are occurring.