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Scholarly Communication


In certain circumstances restrictions may be applied to theses. Neither preparing your thesis for publication nor wishing to limit the scope for competition from other scholars to publish on the topic concerned are generally recognised as valid reasons to apply a restriction.

Can a thesis be made open access if it contains sensitive or restricted information?

Restrictions (embargoes) may be placed on theses which contain commercially or otherwise sensitive or restricted information, preventing them from being accessed in full or part until a set period of time has passed, when it is judged that no damage will be done by making the information publicly available.

In most cases the Board of Graduate Studies will limit the embargo period to two years from the date of the degree being approved and to no more than three months in cases where a commercial confidentiality clause has been signed. However it acknowledges that in some cases a longer embargo may be appropriate.

Generally the University will agree to reasonable restrictions placed by candidates on their theses. However if a requested restriction does not fall under one of the exemptions set out in the Freedom of Information Act 2000, access may have to be granted on demand.

How do I apply for a restriction?

If you believe that your dissertation contains sensitive information, you should make an application through your CamSIS Self Service, uploading any relevant supporting documentation. This should be done before you submit your dissertation for examination. If someone asks to see a dissertation, the University will use this information to decide whether or not to refuse the request.

Any restrictions on your thesis are automatically lifted at the end of the initial embargo period, unless a request to extend it is received and approved by the Board of Graduate Studies. If you wish to extend the embargo on your thesis, the Restricted Access to Thesis Renewal Application Form should be completed, well in advance of the expiry date, giving reasons for requesting a further period of restricted access. Please note that it is your responsibility to get the form signed by your Supervisor and Head of Department before taking/sending it to your Degree Committee.

What is considered sensitive or restricted information?

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 sets out the types of sensitive information to which legally-enforceable restrictions may be applied. The University of Cambridge is bound by this Act. It may decide to apply restrictions to other types of information, including theses deposited in the University Library or Departmental and Faculty libraries, but they are not legally binding if not falling under the Act.

The kinds of sensitive information most likely to be included in PhDs are:

  • Commercial (trade secrets or information which could damage commercial interests)
  • Health and safety (information which could damage the health and/or safety of an individual)
  • Information provided in confidence
  • Personal (as defined by the Data Protection Act 1988)

Sponsors may also impose confidentiality clauses.

Where can I obtain advice on what constitutes sensitive information and appropriate restrictions?

Your PhD supervisors should be able to advise you on whether your thesis contains information which would be considered sensitive, and the restrictions which may be applied. However, if further advice is needed, or issues arise which cannot be resolved at this level, see the links to the right of this page for sources that may be consulted.