Annual review of Common Data Collection Format (CDCF)

The request was refused by University Grants Committee Secretariat.

Dear University Grants Committee Secretariat,

I am very interested in accountability for public funded research. I note from your website that UGC funded institutions submit reports to the UGC via a Common Data Collection Format (CDCF).

I can find no definitive details regarding this CDCF other than it was created in 1992, is currently submitted using a CDCF DataMart software and the fields and tables demanded by the CDCF are reviewed annually.

http://www.ugc.edu.hk/eng/ugc/publicatio...
http://www.ugc.edu.hk/eng/doc/ugc/public...

I hereby request each annual review document and indeed all reviews of the CDCF since its inception in 1992-1993. I also request a copy of the current list of tables and fields specified by the CDCF.

Many thanks for your time taken in this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Rob Davidson

Dear University Grants Committee Secretariat,

I wrote to you recently requesting copies of the annual reviews for the Common Data Collection Format that is used by UGC to collect information from its funded institutions. That request was made under the terms of Hong Kong's code of access to information and as such ought to have been replied to within a set time-frame. From my calculations, the time for there to have been an initial response has passed.

I realise that it can be time consuming to respond to these requests and I appreciate your time taken in these matters. I do now request that you respond promptly with an estimate of how long it might take to fully address my initial request.

Yours faithfully,

Rob Davidson

University Grants Committee Secretariat

Dear Mr Davidson,

Thank you for the email.  Kindly note that we are processing your request.
 A reply shall be issued to you by mid September in accordance with the
Code.

You may contact us at [email address] should you have any questions on the
matter.  

Thank you.

University Grants Committee Secretariat

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Guy Freeman left an annotation ()

As far as I can tell, they are actually past the deadline. Paragraph 1.16 of the Code states:

"1.16 Where possible, information will be made available within ten days of receipt of a written request. If that is not possible the applicant will be so advised by an interim reply within ten days of receipt of the request. The target response time will then be twenty-one days from receipt of the request."

University Grants Committee Secretariat

Dear Mr Davidson,

Please note that we are still processing your request as longer time is
needed for searching of files relating to your request.  A substantial
reply will be issued to you as soon as possible.

Thank you.

University Grants Committee Secretariat

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Dear University Grants Committee Secretariat,

Please can you provide an estimate of the remaining time required for you to respond to my request for information under the Code on Access to Information? I realise some of these requests can take time to complete but an update would be greatly appreciated.

Yours faithfully,

Rob Davidson

University Grants Committee Secretariat

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Davidson,

I refer to your request made under the Code on Access to Information (the
Code) on 21 August 2015 regarding the Common Data Collection Format
(CDCF).  Subsequent to our interim reply on 1 September 2015, our
substantive reply is as follows.
2.        The CDCF is designed mainly to collect statistical data from the
UGC-funded institutions in a common, computer-processable form for all
University Grants Committee (UGC) and Research Grants Council purposes.
 The CDCF consists of the following 5 series of tables:

(a) General tables
(b) Staff tables
(c) Student tables
(d) Finance tables
(e) Research tables

3.         You may find the list of statistical tables from the UGC Annual
Report by the following link -
[1]http://www.ugc.edu.hk/eng/ugc/publicatio....
 Please refer to p.93-95 of the section "Figures and Statistics" of the
Annual Report which provides the detailed statistics on UGC-funded
institutions at the Statistics Page of the UGC website.  Also, you may
wish to find the statistics collected via CDCF from the institutions on
our website ([2]http://cdcf.ugc.edu.hk/cdcf/statEntry.do....
 For your easy reference, we enclose the attached list of statistical
tables published on our website.

4.        The UGC Secretariat has conducted annual reviews to the CDCF
since its inception to ensure the statistical data contained therein would
meet the present needs.  Those "annual review documents" involve
deliberations and discussion within the Government as well as comments
provided by third party (the institutions).  The request to disclose those
information is refused under provisions 2.10(b) and 2.14(a) of the Code.

University Grants Committee Secretariat

From:        Rob Davidson <[FOI #29 email]>
To:        [email address],
Date:        2015/09/26 上午 12:30
Subject:        Re: Fw: Freedom of Information request - Annual review of
Common Data Collection Format (CDCF)

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Dear University Grants Committee Secretariat,

Please can you provide an estimate of the remaining time required for you
to respond to my request for information under the Code on Access to
Information? I realise some of these requests can take time to complete
but an update would be greatly appreciated.

Yours faithfully,

Rob Davidson

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Dear University Grants Committee Secretariat,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of University Grants Committee Secretariat's handling of my FOI request 'Annual review of Common Data Collection Format (CDCF)'.

Primarily I would like the review to consider why it took from 21st August (my original request date) to 5th October (the response that finally addressed my request) to produce an answer that amounted to 2 URL hyperlinks to readily available information and an excuse for not releasing any further information. The Code on Access to Information has quite clear guidelines for the time scales to be taken for responses and this effort by the UGC has failed quite spectacularly. If more information had been provided, the delay might be understandable but under the circumstances I do not see that a delay has been warranted.

Secondly, I would like the review to consider the excuse for not releasing documentation under sections 2.10(b) and 2.14 of the Code. To my interpretation those clauses require some sort of potential for embarrassment or harm to government proceedings and are not simply a blanket excuse for refusing to release any internal documentation. Can the review confirm that the clauses are being used appropriately and that the mundane discussions regarding the 'Common Data Collection Format' represent a serious potential for embarrassment or harm to the government or its advisors?

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://accessinfo.hk/en/request/annual_...

Yours faithfully,

Rob Davidson

Guy Freeman left an annotation ()

The Guidelines on the Code are instructive here (they can be found at http://www.access.gov.hk/doc/guidelines.....

2.10(b): "This provision does not, however, authorise the withholding of all such information - only to the extent that disclosure might inhibit frankness and candour. Thus, for example, information on the views or advice of an advisory body, consultant or other individual or group may be divulged if there is no such risk."

2.14(a): Was it implied that the comments by third parties were given in confidence? There should also be some comment on whether the public interest is sufficient to disclose these anyway.

Lastly, it's strange they can't even release the consensus/conclusion parts of the reports. Hopefully a review will get to the bottom of the matter.

University Grants Committee Secretariat

Dear Mr Davidson,  

Let me introduce myself,  I am Richard Armour from the UGC. I will be
conducting the internal review of the Secretariat's decisions and handling
of your request under the Code on Access to Information. It would help me
very much if we could arrange a time for us to meet, preferably at our
office in Wanchai so that I can hear more about your concerns before I
come to a view.

In terms of timing I have to travel overseas on business for three days
next week but I am back in the office from Thursday 22nd Oct.  I would be
very grateful if we could meet before the end of next week.

If you would call my office at the number below or reply to this email we
can try to make arrangements.

With best regards,

Richard
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr Richard T Armour JP
Secretary-General, University Grants Committee, Hong Kong
e: [email address] t: (852) 2524 1795 f: (852) 2523 1522

Dear Richard,

Thank you for offering to meet with me to discuss this matter. I note that you will be away for some of the coming week on business. I too will be away on business and will not return until 4th November. As is so often the case, being away from the office for so long leads to a rather hectic schedule upon return and so it would be difficult for me to schedule anything sooner than 10th November.

I feel that this sort of delay is perhaps unnecessary and that my rationale for requesting the review is fairly straightforward - first I felt that the time taken to produce the response to my original request was too long, especially given the minimal information provided; second, I felt that the UGC excuse for not providing more information was not likely to be valid.

That latter concern may sound quite strongly worded but I simply mean that it seemed unlikely that discussions about updates to a Common Data Collection Format would be likely to cause the sort of situation referred to by clause 2.10(b) and 2.14(a) of the Code. I am therefore requesting clarification that no information can be provided regarding the incremental updates to said data format due to the likelihood of this inhibiting frankness and candour in future business of the UGC (as per clause 2.10b) or that these discussions and their outputs were held under strictest confidence and all third parties are unwilling to have them aired (as per clause 2.14a).

If further clarification is required, I will be responding to email whilst abroad so please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours faithfully,

Rob

University Grants Committee Secretariat

Dear Mr Davidson,

Thank you for your reply, which is clear. I quite understand  your
position.

 From our own internal review procedure guidelines I should supply you
with my decision by Saturday 24 October - ten calendar days after receipt
of the request for review  (or  explaining the reasons why that needs to
be extended to a maximum  of 21 days in total),  I will endeavour to meet
the first deadline in full.   I met with officers this morning but I will
need to have more discussions/questions when I return late next week -
Thursday/Friday so you may not actually hear from me fully until Saturday
24th itself.

Like you I will be reading my emails overseas, so feel free to contact me.

When we get past this stage there may still be merit in arranging a
meeting for better communication but lets leave that for now

Best regards,

Richard
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr Richard T Armour JP
Secretary-General, University Grants Committee, Hong Kong
e: [email address] t: (852) 2524 1795 f: (852) 2523 1522

From:        Rob Davidson <[FOI #29 email]>
To:        [email address],
Date:        16/10/2015 11:51 PM
Subject:        Re: Code on Access to Information - Request for Review

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Dear Richard,

Thank you for offering to meet with me to discuss this matter. I note that
you will be away for some of the coming week on business. I too will be
away on business and will not return until 4th November. As is so often
the case, being away from the office for so long leads to a rather hectic
schedule upon return and so it would be difficult for me to schedule
anything sooner than 10th November.

I feel that this sort of delay is perhaps unnecessary and that my
rationale for requesting the review is fairly straightforward - first I
felt that the time taken to produce the response to my original request
was too long, especially given the minimal information provided; second, I
felt that the UGC excuse for not providing more information was not likely
to be valid.

That latter concern may sound quite strongly worded but I simply mean that
it seemed unlikely that discussions about updates to a Common Data
Collection Format would be likely to cause the sort of situation referred
to by clause 2.10(b) and 2.14(a) of the Code. I am therefore requesting
clarification that no information can be provided regarding the
incremental updates to said data format due to the likelihood of this
inhibiting frankness and candour in future business of the UGC (as per
clause 2.10b) or that these discussions and their outputs were held under
strictest confidence and all third parties are unwilling to have them
aired (as per clause 2.14a).

If further clarification is required, I will be responding to email whilst
abroad so please do not hesitate to contact me.  

Yours faithfully,

Rob

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University Grants Committee Secretariat

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Davidson,

        I am writing formally to convey my decision as the reviewing
officer of your request for an internal review of the UGC Secretariat’s
handling of your request under the Code on Access to Information (the
Code).

2.        Your two emails dated 15 and 16 October 2015 respectively are
attached for easy reference.

       
Your requests for review are two fold, in brief – firstly on the time
taken by the Secretariat to respond to your request for information which
in your view does not comply with the provisions in the Guidelines on
Interpretation and Application of the Code (the Guidelines) given the
limited information provided; and secondly the grounds for not disclosing
the information requested pursuant to paragraphs 2.10(b) and 2.14 of the
Code.

3.        I have carefully conducted the internal review and would like to
set out my findings in the following paragraphs.

Overall Findings

4.        I consider that the Secretariat acted in good faith and observed
the Code and Guidelines in handling your request and reaching the decision
not to release the requested information.  That said, with regard to the
timing of the reply, I consider that the Secretariat observed the letter
of the Code while the spirit of the Code should have been applied more
readily.  Also, the communication with you during the process could and
should have been much improved.

First Request for Review

5.        Regarding your first request for review concerning timing,
relevant officers required time to search manually through the voluminous
historical paper records concerning all annual reviews of Common Data
Collection Format (CDCF) which date back to 1992 when it was introduced.
 The officers assure me that they have been careful in their manual search
to ensure that no relevant records existed which could be usefully
released.  Thus, no implication on the amount of time spent can be drawn
from the fact that limited information was imparted.  However, I believe
that regular updates on the progress in handling your request, including
the search of records, should have been provided to you.

Second Request for Review

6.        On your second request for review on the decision not to release
your specified information, I concur with the Secretariat’s overall
decision pursuant to paragraphs 2.10(b) and 2.14 of the Code.  The
requested information related to the annual CDCF review contains advice
and views provided by the UGC-funded institutions.  The institutions have
been providing frank advice and views to the Secretariat on the
understanding of both parties that they would not be further disclosed.
 There is a real concern that any disclosure of such advice may prejudice
the frankness and quality of the advice from institutions in future review
exercises of the CDCF which will have a material effect on the usefulness
of the reviews.  According to paragraph 2.14.9 of the Guidelines,
paragraph 2.14 of the Code concerning third party information will apply
where “the release of the information sought would be likely to prejudice
the future supply of such information and this would have a material
effect on the conduct of the department’s business”.  

7.        That said, I consider that the above concerns and reasons should
have been better explained and regularly communicated to you during the
process and in the reply rather than relying on the invocation of the
paragraphs of the Code alone.  

Refinements in Procedures

8.        In this regard, I consider that the following should be done to
refine the current internal procedures in relation to handling requests
for information under the Code within the UGC Secretariat to enhance
communication with the enquirer -

(a)        enquirers should be provided with a weekly progress report on
the processing of the request for information, preferably by telephone, in
addition to the timeframe currently specified in the Code;
(b)        enquirers should be provided with clear explanations in the
case of decisions not acceding to their requests for information;
(c)        officers should be encouraged to communicate with enquirers to
better understand and thus to meet their needs; and
(d)        more importantly, officers are reminded that due regard should
be given to the spirit of the Code first, rather than the letter.  

9.        I hope that you would accept the above review result and welcome
the refinements to our internal procedures in handling future requests
under the Code.  I will be more than happy to meet with you to explain my
findings at your convenience.  In the event that you are not satisfied,
paragraph 1.26 of the Code specifies that “any person who believes that a
department has failed to properly apply any provision of the Code may also
complain to The Ombudsman”.  The address of The Ombudsman’s can be found
in that paragraph.

Yours sincerely,

Richard

Dr Richard Amour
Secretary-General
University Grants Committee

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