Petition over “spying” foreign students

Academics shouldn’t act like immigration officers, says academic chief

10 December 2008. Academics and students have presented a petition to Downing Street, urging the government to withdraw new immigration rules for overseas students in the UK.

From next March, universities will be expected to report any absences by overseas students from lectures, seminars or tutorials, or any failure to submit any assessment on time. Many academics have complained they are being asked to "spy" on students in a quasi immigration officer role.

But the government says it it is crucial to prevent bogus students exploiting the system. The petition has 4,500 signatures and was delivered to Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon, BBC has reported.

The appeal has been organised by Ian Grigg-Spall, academic chair of the National Critical Lawyers Group and honorary fellow at Kent Law School.

Mr Grigg-Spall said there had to be trust between teacher and student.
"Now if they think that we’re wearing two hats – teacher, but also a hat labelled ‘immigration officer’ – I think that’s a complete contradiction," he said. "That’s why I say it’s a breach of our university autonomy and why in fact it’s a breach of academic freedom. "This is a slippery slope, this is a dangerous slope and as a human rights lawyer, I am very worried."

From next March, universities will have to have a licence to offer places to students from outside the European Union. Universities will also have to act as a sponsor for overseas students. Lecturers will be expected to monitor these students’ attendance at tutorials and report if they fail to attend.

A spokesman for the Home Office said for BBC: "Universities have a duty of care to all their students – checking that they are attending and making progress is part of that responsibility. "Institutions benefit from bringing foreign students to the UK, so they must share some responsibility for them whilst they are here. "These requirements were discussed at length and agreed with Universities UK and other representatives of the higher education sector as part of our consultation."

The petition is similar to the open letter of the University and College Union (UCU). Last month, the Union rejected new immigration rules for overseas students.

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