Academics balk at 'spying' on students to nail migrant scams
Monday November 10 2008 00.01 GMT
Universities are being asked to set up surveillance units to monitor the movements of international students in a government-led crackdown on bogus student immigration scams, academics say. New rules to force universities to report overseas students who miss too many lectures to immigration officers will harm the academic-student relationship because lecturers are being asked to act in a “police-like” manner, according to a group of 200 academics and activists opposing the moves.
A letter to the Guardian, organised by Ian Grigg-Spall, academic chair of the National Critical Lawyers Group and signed by leading academic lawyers, the head of the lecturers' union and Tony Benn, claims that the rules could breach the European convention on human rights, which guarantees the individual's right to privacy. “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,” it says. “University staff are there to help the students develop intellectually and not to be a means of sanctioning these students.”
The rules will require all universities to obtain a licence to admit students from outside the EU. They will then have to sponsor students, who will be required to have their fingerprints taken and be issued with ID cards. Lecturers will have to report any student who misses 10 or more lectures or seminars. Students will also have to prove they have funds to cover fees plus 800 a month for the duration of their courses. Universities have separately raised concerns that the system of registering overseas students, which is planned to take place at six centres around the country, will struggle to cope.
About 350,000 overseas students attend British universities every year. Universities are heavily dependent on the 2.5bn a year they pay in fees.
Almost 300 bogus colleges have been uncovered in the past three years, many involved in immigration scams.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “We have grave concerns that new rules on monitoring foreign students have been pulled together without any consultation with the people who would implement them. We do not believe it is appropriate or effective to task colleges and universities with the policing of immigration.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Those who come to Britain must play by the rules and benefit the country. This new route for students will ensure we know exactly who is coming here to study and stamp out bogus colleges who facilitate the lawbreakers.
“International students contribute 2.5bn to the UK economy in tuition fees alone. The student tier of the points system means Britain can continue to recruit good students from outside Europe.”