Academics refuse intelligence work under new immigration rules

UCU: “Police-like surveillance is not the function of universities”

10 November 2008. The University and College Union (UCU) have rejected the new immigration rules for overseas students which would make universities and colleges act as immigration officers.

In an open letter titled “Academics are not immigration officials” published on The Guardian website, they said that the new rules which will be introduced in March 2009 by the Border Agency, would “require universities to report any absences by overseas students from lectures, seminars or tutorials, or any failure to submit any assessment on time. In other words, the university is being asked to act as an immigration officer and set up a surveillance unit over these students.”

They said such action “goes far beyond the present monitoring of student progress systems in universities, which has as its basic purpose assisting students to reach their full potential.” The university lecturers said that it was “hard to justify such detailed monitoring of overseas students, even for immigration control purposes.” It would be enough for the Border Agency to know that the students have registered and are at the university without carrying out constant monitoring.

UCU says in the open letter: “This police-like surveillance is not the function of universities, and alters the educational relationship between students and their teachers in a very harmful manner. University staff are there to help the students develop intellectually and not to be a means of sanctioning these students.”

The lecturers hold that the new proposals “are discriminatory as they apply only to overseas students and not EU students. They represent a possible breach of article 8 (right to a private life) and article 3 (degrading treatment) of the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.”

They are appealing to universities, MPs and others to join them in opposing these rules and calling for the government to withdraw them.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “We have grave concerns that new rules on monitoring foreign students have been pulled together without any consultation with the people who would be tasked with their implementation. We do not believe it is appropriate or effective to task colleges and universities with the policing of immigration.”

She said that “Despite writing to the departments involved, at no point have we been consulted by either the Home Office or DIUS (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills). At a time when we need to appear more, not less, attractive to students and academics from overseas, these proposals will fundamentally taint the UK university brand.”

Ms. Hunt affirmed that the UCU “robustly opposed” the new measures. “If people wanted to go into the monitoring or spying game they would have become spooks. We believe that, if implemented, the proposals could only harm the important relationship between staff and students, as well as having a knock-on effect in terms of work load for our members and therefore has contractual implications,” she added.

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