Last month, we submitted two Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the University of Leicester about its ‘student sex work project’.
The first asked for information about the review of their ‘student sex work’ policy that was scheduled to take place in January 2022. The university responded to say that they don’t hold that information because the policy is still under review and this won’t be completed until June 2022. You can be sure that we will be re-submitting the FOI request in early July.
Our second FOI request asked the university for information about the funding of its ‘student sex work’ project. We have now received their response – or perhaps non-response is more accurate because they withheld some of the information we requested and failed to answer most of the questions.
We already knew that the project was funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) that is administered by the University of Leicester, but we wanted more information. We asked:
“Please provide records of the reasoning for the funding award, any special conditions or restrictions that applied, along with all of the ethical considerations.”
In response to this, the university said:
“We are withholding records in relation to the funding under Section 43(2) of the Act – Prejudice to Commercial Interests. A full refusal notice is below.”
The full refusal notice included the following:
“The University of Leicester confirms that it holds the information that you have requested. However we are […] withholding the information under the exemption at s43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000-  Commercial interests. Our reasons are set out below:
The Prejudice Test
The University considers that disclosure into the public domain of the documents detailed in your request would prejudice the commercial interests of the University of Leicester, specifically in relation to the documents for the specific project requested. Our reason for this is the supporting documentation for our grant application forms the basis of our outreach programme into higher education.
Disclosure of the requested information would provide an insight into the programme literature and content of our courses. Our training offers continued professional development both within the University of Leicester and also for external parties and outside organisations.
We consider that the disclosure of the material would make public the groundwork of our range of training packages, which are of substantial commercial value to the University.
The information sought is commercially sensitive because it informs the learning methodology taken by the University in respect of its course programmes; it would enable its competitors to have insight into the University of Leicester’s outreach programmes and the educational documents and solutions for these course programmes.
Having taken all these factors into account the University considers that the release of the information would prejudice the Universities [sic] commercial interests and concludes that the prejudice aspect of the exemption is therefore engaged.” [Our emphasis]
So, there you have it! The University of Leicester appears to see its ‘student sex work’ training as basically a money-spinning project!
We have written extensively about the training in question (both the first training session and the second one) and have shown that the training promotes an approach that will almost certainly lead to more young people being drawn into an industry that risks devastating their well-being and life prospects. It is shocking enough that the Leicester team received public ESRC funding to promote this approach to universities all around the UK. But now we learn that the university also considers it to be an important commercial opportunity.
The university is not content to simply groom the country’s young women to accept a life of objectification and sexual use by endless faceless men, and its young men to accept a life as sexual predators, it also wants to profit from that. Shame on them!
We have challenged the University of Leicester’s response through the FOI internal review process. We will keep you posted.