FoI 2009 Response from Fraser Woodburn

On 23rd April 2009 Doug Paulley received the following full response from Fraser Woodburn, the Open University Secretary.

Dear Mr Paulley,

I have reviewed your Freedom of Information request and considered the points you raised in your emails of 18 March and 20 March.

I have decided that the University should comply with your request for the number of animals used in research and I have asked to be provided with this information as soon as possible. However, I understand we hold records for the last five years only.

I have decided that the information you requested about where animals used in teaching and research are sourced should be refused under Section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act – Commercial Interests and Section 38 (1) and (2) - Health and Safety. If this information is in the public domain for all organisations there is a possibility that these organisations could be the target of activities intended to disrupt their operations and commercial activities. If their operations were disrupted, this would of course, harm their financial situation and hence their commercial interests. This would not be in the public interest because their own suppliers and customers would be adversely affected and other public funds would be expended on activities such as police investigations. The exemption for Section 38 is claimed as employees of these organisations could be at risk of harm to their health and/or their safety endangered. There have been cases of employees of such organisations being targeted and harmed. It is not in the Public Interest for individuals to be harmed because of their place of work and it would involve further expenditure of public funds on activities such as police investigations. As the Officer of the University designated by the Vice-Chancellor to make decisions on the Public Interest Test, I consider that the public interest in maintaining these exemptions outweighs the public interest in releasing the information.

For further information on the membership of the AEAG, I took the decision to exclude students from the AEAG. That was on three grounds. First, its membership was reviewed as part of the academic governance review which I led. AEAG is an expert committee which advises me on ethical review of animal experimentation so that I can fulfil my obligations as certificate holder. As such the members should have appropriate expertise to conduct those reviews. Students do not in general have that expertise. Second, there is the potential for breach of confidentiality and risk to health and safety through student membership. Third, I could find no equivalent body in other universities that has student membership.

With reference to your point about the use of alternatives in education, I have asked our Freedom of Information office to provide you with a fuller response about the advice given to researchers and academic staff.

I have also noted your comments about students being discouraged from opting out and I am investigating this further with the Faculty of Science.

Thank you for drawing my attention to the OUSA policy statements in relation to this issue. Although the letter asking for information on use of animals refers to ‘research and education’, the specification in the letter of the information to be included in the report from the University does not. I followed that specification in providing the information this year and last and in doing so I believed that I had complied with the request as received from OUSA.

As there is a refusal of information in this letter, you have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner. Full details of how to complain can be found at Your right to know on the Information Commissioner's Office website.

Please contact me again if you do not receive the further information within ten days.

Yours sincerely,

Fraser Woodburn


The Open University