Tip: finding leads in university council minutes

The minutes of meetings at public institutions are an often-overlooked source of possible story ideas and leads. Local authorities and hospitals regularly have their board meetings scrutinised by reporters – but university council meetings are less closely followed.

Many universities publish their minutes online: a search for:

"council minutes" site:ac.uk

…will bring back only pages containing exactly that phrase on university websites.

Here are just some leads we found in minutes we looked at:

  • Muslim societies were complaining that they were required to notify the university of any preachers and their sermon contents, but other societies were not subject to similar requests.
  • A declaration of a conflict of interest which was considered not strong enough for the individual to excuse themselves from the meeting.
  • A student union representative had highlighted big difference between the funding provided to student unions by three different universities – between £450,000 and £2m.
  • Surveyors had been appointed to work on a new facility
  • A new campus was being explored
  • “Deplorable personal attacks” on a senior member of staff on social media
  • 50 staff were leaving the university, with the expectation that 50 new staff would be recruited
  • A university was exploring intellectual property of students’ work and the subsequent commercial opportunities

Once you have found a page with council minutes, you can set up alerts for when the pages publishes new ones, using ChangeDetection.com.

If a university does not publish minutes online, you can request them using a Freedom of Information request. You may want to invite others to look at them and identify anything of interest.

About Paul Bradshaw

Founder of Help Me Investigate. I'm a visiting professor at City University London's School of Journalism, and run an MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University. I publish the Online Journalism Blog, and am the co-author of the Online Journalism Handbook and Magazine Editing (3rd edition). I have a particular interest in Freedom of Information and data journalism.
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