University lecturers consider boycotting new immigration rules

Lecturers claim the new regulations will put off overseas students 27th May 2009: A new chapter on rules opened by the government in April for monitoring the foreign students has not gone down well with university lecturers. They believe the government rules may turn them into “Home Office agents” and "immigration snoopers" on foreign students; and are considering the feasibility of boycotting these.

Ministers introduced a new points-based immigration system for non-EU staff and students in April as part of its drive to combat terrorism. As a part of it, the students will have to carry biometric identity cards. The universities, on the other hand, are required to check students’ bona fides, monitor and report any unexplained absences to the Home Office.

Lecturers at the University and College Union (UCU) annual conference, starting in Bournemouth, are expected to take up the issue. One of the arguments is that the system turns "educators into immigration snoopers" and could irreparably damage the reputation of UK higher education.

A motion put forward by a UCU regional branch argues the new arrangements mean staff are in effect signed up as "Home Office agents" to carry out policing and surveillance work, and warns the lecturers could be liable to fines and possible jail sentences, if they fail to comply.

The development assumes significance as students from across the world come to the UK each year to study, an influx that generates about £8.5bn for the UK economy. Lecturers claim the new regulations will put off overseas students, damaging the international status of educational institutions.

The motion calls for the "discriminatory" rules to be scrapped.

If the motion is passed, UCU officials will be asked to campaign to repeal both the regulations and the overseas student identity cards.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: "Politically, UCU is absolutely opposed to this legislation and we know that many members have strong and principled moral objections as members of society and as professional educators.

"One of the more pernicious effects of this new system will be to turn our members into an extra arm of the police force, placing monitoring and reporting responsibilities on to academic and support staff. It is vital that we build the campaign against the new points-based system, working with external organisations, sister unions and students."

She, however, warned members against boycotting the duties. "Members need to be clear that these duties are part of a legal obligation on universities, and that the union’s protection of members cannot extend to endorsing a breach of the law relating to the points-based system, or defending members who do so."

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